One day at work, while I was enjoying my lunch of leftover crawfish etouffee, my co-worker walked by and said, “That smells good. Your wife must be a good cook.”
“Actually,” I said, “I cooked this.”
Looking at me dumbfounded, he stood silent for about a minute, and then said, “If you’re going to cook, why did you get married?”
His ignorance troubled me, especially in this era of Bobby Flay and Emeril Lagasse. Although women have made tremendous strides in social, political and business arenas, they are still expected to cook any bacon they bring home. I cook because I enjoy doing it, and I’m the better cook. My wife manages the rest of the household because she is much more organized than I am. We chose which responsibilities we wanted without regard to gender, and I believe our relationship has benefited because we aren’t pigeonholed into traditional male-female roles.
For me, the kitchen has always been a special place. It is the soul of any home, the place from which all the warmth and nourishment radiate. When I was younger, I’d spend holidays in the kitchen chopping onions, basting turkeys and preparing salads instead of watching sports with the men. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy spending time with my uncles and cousins. It’s just that the buzz of the kitchen was much more exciting than football games. My male cousins chided me for being a “mama’s boy,” but I never allowed their insults to damage my self-esteem or lessen my desire to cook. Even then, I realized knowing how to cook was much more valuable than knowing Walter Payton’s stats.
My mother, realizing the value in honing my culinary acumen, insisted that I sit in the kitchen with her as she prepared dinner. While she baked, sautéed and stewed delectable dishes, I noted each step and stored them all in my mental recipe book. I also retained the lessons on self-reliance, independence and creativity that my mother imparted as she cooked. Through these stove-side sessions, I learned not only how to be a good cook, but also how to be a good man.
Eventually, with my mother working all day and attending classes at night, cooking dinner became my responsibility. I started slowly with simple dishes such as chili, hamburgers and spaghetti. Although these early meals were barely edible, my mother ate them as if they were manna from heaven. Her quiet encouragement gave me the confidence not only to attempt more difficult recipes, but also to make them palatable.
My first challenge was my mother’s gumbo – a mixture of chicken, seafood and Cajun spices. I was so nervous when I first attempted the recipe because I knew that it would never compare to hers, but I had to try at least. The most difficult step was making the roux. Only the most skilled chef can fuse flour and oil into the golden-brown paste that is the soul of the gumbo. It took me five attempts to make the roux the right color and consistency. But when I finally got it right, the sense of accomplishment was immeasurable. The satisfied nod my mother gave me after she finished a bowl of my novice gumbo let me know that my lessons had paid off.
Now I’m sharing these lessons with my own children. They are always eager to help daddy in the kitchen. At 7 and 5, the kids are not old enough to handle knives or the stove, but they chip in by stirring batters or pouring seasonings. When they help to prepare the meals, they are more likely to eat their dinner because they have some ownership in it. Cooking meals together also allows the kids to spend a few minutes of uninterrupted time with dad. These special moments are what memories are made of.
Of course, cooking meals isn’t my only responsibility around the house. I still perform “traditional” male tasks such as fixing, installing, and lifting things. None of these will ever replace my love for cooking. Even if this confession forces me to rescind my membership in the “Macho Man” club, I am not ashamed.
Join the conversation: Who does the cooking in your household?
P.S. – A few people have asked for the Crawfish Etouffee Recipe so here it is. I usually don’t measure things when I cook, but I tried to estimate as best as I could:
2 pounds crawfish tails (shelled)
1/4 pound butter
1 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup chopped bell pepper
1/2 cup chopped celery
2 cups seafood stock (or chicken stock)
1 tablespoon corn starch
1/4 cup chopped green onion
Tony Chachere Creole seasoning blend, to taste
Dash dried thyme
1 bay leaf
Tabasco Sauce to taste
- Add about a tablespoon of butter to a sauté pan over medium heat and sauté the onion, bell pepper and celery until translucent
- Add the remaining butter and 1-1/2 cup seafood stock and season with Creole seasoning, thyme, oregano, bay leaf, and Tabasco sauce
- Add crawfish tails and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer for 30 minutes
- Dissolve the corn starch in the remaining 1/2 cup of seafood stock and add to the mixture
- Add the green onions and cook an additional 5 minutes
- Serve over hot long grain rice