Mirliton & Shrimp Casserole





Posted by: David Hubbell

Our family comes from Louisiana, specifically the River Parishes.  These three parishes are included among the designated 22 in a region known as Acadiana, AKA Cajun Country. One of the many benefits our ancestors had living in this area was the melding of the foods typically associated with the Cajuns as well as the foods that were popular down river in New Orleans (normally associated with the Creoles).   Although we didn’t live in this region, we were blessed to be exposed to many of the Cajun/Creole dishes while growing up about a decade before the Cajun food craze hit in the 1980s.  Despite this, as a child, we weren’t always appreciative of some of the vegetable dishes associated with this type of cuisine. One in particular that comes to mind is the mirliton (pronounced MEL-lee-tawn ) which to those outside of south Louisiana is known as a chayote squash.  These squash grow on a vine, which can produce as many as 50-100 between late September and November. As such, they have traditionally been incorporated into Thanksgiving and Christmas dishes such as the one I discuss below: Mirliton & Shrimp Casserole.


It should be noted that the mirliton vine was a common fixture to many New Orleans backyards in decades past, but has diminished in popularity recently and further met its demise by the salty waters brought in by Hurricane Katrina. Despite being able to find chayote squash in a number of supermarkets, many of these are grown in areas such as Costa Rica and are a smaller variety than those traditionally grown in south Louisiana.




Mirliton & Shrimp Casserole:
click here for printable version
adapted from Chef John Folse and the other from our distant cousins on the La Vacherie Forum.


8 Louisiana mirlitons (or 11 smaller chayote squash)
4 tbsps crab boil (liquid)
1 cup onion, diced fine
½ cup red or green bell pepper, diced fine
½ cup celery, diced fine
1/4 cup butter

1 1/2 cup green onions, sliced
2 lbs shrimp, peeled & deveined (
cut or chopped into small pieces reserving 6-9 whole)
4 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup parsley, diced fine
1 cup Italian breadcrumb
salt & black pepper & garlic powder & Cajun seasoning to taste
1/4 cup butter

Directions:
1.)
Fill a large pot with water and add 1 tbsp salt and 4 tbsps of liquid crab boil. Boil mirlitons until tender, approximately 40 minutes.  Test by sticking a sharp knife into it. If it goes in easily as when testing a potato then they are ready. Do not overcook. 


2.) Drain and cool. Peel and cut in half removing the seed. It should be noted that they are somewhat sticky or gluey, so don’t be alarmed.

3.) Cube the pulp. Place in colander to drain some more.


4.) In a heavy skillet or pot, sauté garlic, bell pepper, celery, onions, green onions, and parsley in ¼ cup melted butter over medium heat. Approximately 3-5 minutes or until wilted.
5.) Add shrimp (excluding the whole ones) and sauté until pink, approximately 5-7 minutes.
6.) At this point you can either, chop the mirliton fine and mix with the contents of the pot or add the mirliton, mix with vegetables and shrimp then coarsely chop all of the mixture in a food processer.
7.) Add salt, pepper, garlic powder, and Cajun seasoning to taste (I start with ¼ tsp each then adjust to taste).

8.) Add Italian bread crumbs. (NOTE: If the mixture is dry once it is all mixed, you can add a little water or chicken broth a little at a time until it is just a just pasty.)
9.) Pour everything into a 9”x13” casserole dish, which has been greased with the other ¼ cup butter (NOTE: not all may be required).
10.) Sprinkle with additional bread crumbs.
11.) Sauté reserved shrimp in a tablespoon of the butter until pink. Arrange shrimp on top of the casserole and bake for 20-25 minutes at 350 degrees F or until browned and bubbly. Remove from the oven and let rest for 10 minutes before eating.

You can make this ahead of time and freeze before baking. 
Take it out the day before you need it and let it thaw in the refrigerator and bake right before serving. Serves 10-12 or 4 hungry Cajuns (just kidding).
* - This recipe is a combination of 2 others, one from Chef John Folse and the other from our distant cousins on the La Vacherie Forum.












3 comments:

Jean said...

Can you substitue any other types of squash?

David J. Hubbell said...

Jean,

A mirliton is a harder or more dense squash then say a yellow crookneck or zucchini. It has a very subtle sweetness in this casserole and I have read that some claim it taste somewhere between that of a cucumber and a zucchini. Basically I have read that there really isn’t a substitute. However, a quick search of what others have used as a substitute came up with eggplant and zucchini. While I am sure an eggplant would make a tasty casserole using this recipe (and there are several out there in the Cajun/Creole world of cooking – hey maybe a future idea for me to do), I think it would be too bitter and not a comparable substitute. The zucchini would probably be the better choice, but as I mentioned at the beginning, it is not as dense, so you wouldn’t cook it as long as you would a mirliton. In addition, it would be somewhat more watery than a mirliton, so I would advise to make sure you drain it as best as you can then possibly add more bread crumbs then I called for to make it pasty. From a number standpoint, a mirliton can weigh between ½-3 lbs. These were closer to the ½ lb range. I read a medium zucchini weighs around 7 oz, or a little more than a ½ a pound. Therefore, I would substitute on a one-to-one basis if you go with the medium zucchini. Hope that helps.

Thomas said...

To follow up a bit on substitutes...I believe that Chayote is a very common ingredient in Mexican cuisine. So, there is a possibility that you might be able to find it in any grocery that carries a number of Mexican items.

Secondly, as David mentioned, there are some very similar Cajun/Creole casseroles that use eggplant or yellow squash instead. However, I believe these recipes are somewhat different in their proportions of other ingredients.

David, maybe you can post one of these at some other point. Eggplant with crab and shrimp is one of my favorites!