Maque Choux, pronounced, “Mock Shoe”, is a classic Southern dish. The dish is said to arise from the Native Americans influence of the Acadians (Cajuns)–fresh corn and tomatoes turned into an entire meal. For me, Maque Choux is a sweet reminder of summers long ago of days spent at my MeMaw and Pawsie’s house. Even as a child I enjoyed the gathering of food, picking the tomatoes from the garden and seeing them blossom into a savory meal. My favorite place in my MeMaw’s kitchen was on my step stool. It was from that perch in the summertime that I learned so much about Maque Choux and the seemingly endless possibilities it offers.
There are probably as many Maque Choux recipes as there are Gumbo recipes. Family recipes passed down from generation to next. Like a gumbo, there’s a basic base, but then the skillet opens itself to many different variations, some even with cream. Maque Choux is basically smothered corn with onion, garlic, green peppers, and tomatoes, and it is an incredible Makeover My Leftover contender, because just about any protein can be added– chicken, turkey, sausage, boudin, bacon, tasso, shrimp, crawfish, crabmeat…or almost any vegetable– zucchini, eggplant, squash, okra..or just about anything you have in the freezer!
MeMaw’s Maque Choux: Shuck 6-8 fresh ears of corn (save the husks and cobs!) I like to strip the corn over a large bowl so there is less mess and no waste of the luscious corn milk. A knife easily works, but I love kitchen gadgets…so I use my palm held corn stripper (I’m sure my MeMaw would not approve!). Roughly chop 1 onion (I like yellow), 1 bell pepper, 3-4 tomatoes. Mince 1 garlic clove and 1 seeded jalapeno (optional). Stir the tomatoes into the bowl of corn and set aside.
Fetch the iron skillet. (If using sausage, tasso, or boudin, or bacon, chop 1/2 cup to 3/4 cup and sear it in the skillet first and saute for five minutes. Drain or if using bacon, use 1-2 TBSP of the fat.) My MeMaw used the bacon grease from a metal coffee can on side of her stove, so obviously the added seasonings and flavors made her Maque Choux the best! If not, melt 2 TBSP butter over medium heat. (If using chicken, cut 1 skinless boneless chicken breast or 2 skinless boneless chicken thighs into cubes and saute them for 5 minutes in the butter.)
To the butter, add the onion, bell pepper, garlic, and jalapeno. Reduce the heat to medium low and cook for 20 minutes. Add the corn and tomatoes to the skillet and watch the skillet come alive with color. (In a pinch, 1 package frozen thawed corn and 1 can of tomatoes and diced green chilies can be used.) Add in 1/2 tsp sugar, salt and pepper to liking or Creole seasoning. Look at that delicious juice. (If using shrimp, add in 1/2 lb peeled, deveined shrimp.) Reduce heat to low and cook an additional 20 minutes. Stirring occasionally. (If using cooked crawfish or crabmeat, add during the last 10 minutes of cooking.) Look at my skillet filled to the brim with goodness.
For me there is only one way to serve up Maque Choux, just like my MeMaw, over a piece of crumbled buttermilk cornbread with a slice on the side. A Maque Choux dinner was always followed by a cold Maque Choux lunch the following day; a freshly picked cucumber or tomato, scraped out and mixed with the Maque Choux, stuffed back, and drizzled with olive oil and red wine vinegar. If I was really lucky there still would be some leftover and that meant I could start looking forward to my hot dog dinner-a hot dog topped with cold Maque Choux, pickle relish, and cheddar cheese! Today I’m opting for an avocado, but it works just as well, especially as a dip for tortilla chips.
Corn Cob Stock: Now for those corn cobs. Similar to Shrimp Shell Stock but a little easier. Put the cobs into a pot large enough to hold them. Cover with water (they will float a little, but put in enough water to reduce, at least 6 cups). Bring to a boil over high heat, add in 2 bay leaves (I like to keep the seasoning simple). Reduce heat to medium low, cover loosely with lid, and simmer for 1 hour, add in additional water, 1 cup at a time, if needed. Continue to simmer 1/2 -1 hour, the longer the more concentrated the flavor will be. Remove from heat. Strain. Use within a week or freeze. The aroma of popcorn that will fill your kitchen is just lagniappe. This simple corn cob stock will elevate the flavor of your next batch of chowder or soup, especially shrimp and corn soup, which is why I’m freezing it. It certainly is not soup weather here in Louisiana right now!
For the husks, if you are feeling crafty, make corn husk dolls. (Many easy to follow directions on internet.) I used to get one each year at a country fair. Too bad the internet was not around to teach my MeMaw how to make them. We loved to play with cut out dolls and that would have been a fun project for us. If you are feeling adventurous, dry the husks in a low oven for 6-8 hours and use them to roll tamales. If neither float your fancy, at least give your compost pile a feeding.
Put your TO COOK IS TO CREATE thinking cap on: Think about leftover Maque Choux as a stuffing for steamed zucchini or eggplant. Fill and bake 10 minutes. Top with favorite cheese. Bake 5 more minutes. How about as a topping for fried or grilled fish? Crawfish Maque Choux over blackened catfish is a fav! Made an all vegetable Maque Choux, add rotisserie chicken to it and make a quesadilla. Have some frozen creamed spinach? Cook it and add it in the last 5 minutes of cooking. Did you know a simple smothered corn dish could be so versatile? Put it into your repertoire as a leftover wonder!
FOOD FUN: Just like the old commercial, “Please don’t squeeze the Charmin,” keep the farmer happy and don’t peel back the husks to check the corn. For fresh corn, choose slightly damp ears of corn that are heavy for their size and feel plump. Run your fingers across corn, as if playing a piano, to check for any missing keys. Pick bright tightly wrapped green husks with no brown holes, but a lot of brown hair! (That’s what I call the strands sticking out the top of the stalk!) If the corn has dark black or dry hair, it is older and not as fresh. Like a cut flower, check out the stem end. Does it look like a fresh-cut, white, or an old one, brown? By doing these steps, not only will the farmer be happy but so will your corn. Without the embarrassment of being “exposed”, the corn will last a little bit longer in the refrigerator.