Catfish Courtbouillion

My friend Sarah Savoy, who's from Eunice, Louisiana, was ribbing me in an email a while back. "It's cool that you have all these New Orleans recipes, but what about Lafayette? These are all much more fancy-fancy, artsy Creole dishes. I've personally never heard of putting celery or thyme or any of that stuff in a gumbo."

My first impulse was to exclaim, "But dawlin' ... celery's part of Da Trinity!" Then I have to remember that while there are many similarities between the Creole cuisine of New Orleans and the Cajun cuisine of Acadiana and rural French Louisiana, there are lots of differences too. Creole food is fancy, particularly the things you find in restaurants these days. The cuisine of the Cajun people is less complex, usually one-pot, based on what ingredients the land and the water happen to give you at the time. The dishes may be simpler but they're hearty, full of flavor and no less delicious.

I'd actually been looking for some good recipes for pure, traditional Cajun dishes, examples of things that are the food of regular folks rather than what you'd see in a fancy restaurant. When I took Sarah up on her offer, I was thrilled with what she sent. Catfish courtbouillon (pronounced COO-bee-yon in Louisiana) is as down-home as it gets, and along with the recipe and details for preparing the dish she offers some conversation with her father, musician and accordion-maker Marc Savoy, her mother Ann, Marc's friend Albert Rozas, and Tina Pilione. They talk about making courtbouillon, why the type of catfish you use is important, the best kind of wood for a cooking fire, and some rather unorthodox methods of fishing, among other things.

This is taken from a project Sarah did for her Louisiana Folklore class at LSU Eunice (I bet she got an "A"). I'm really happy to be able to share it with you, with Sarah's kind permission.

Catfish Courtbouillon

by Sarah Savoy

I skipped work Friday afternoon to drive out to Eunice. The original plan was to go out to the woods behind my parents' home to cook a catfish courtbouillion with my dad Marc Savoy, my mom Ann Savoy, Albert Rozas, and Tina Pilione (see their biographical information at the end of the article).

The rain pushed our plan into my mom's kitchen. The kitchen is very large with a sitting area and a dining area at the end of the cooking area. The walls around the countertops are accented with tiles she painted that feature the bluebird design she uses on business cards and on the inside of her book Cajun Music: A Reflection of a People (which was published under imprint of Bluebird Press).

Thinking ahead because of the rain and the knowledge of the fact that we would all be hungry and excited, Albert arrived with the gravy already prepared. When informed of the details of my assignment, he and my dad showed my how to chop the vegetables and provided me with detailed information about the other aspects of the dish.

"We don't want to use fish filets. You don't want to use a pond-raised catfish because that doesn't make a very good courtbouillion", my dad said. I had no idea. He said the best catfish to use is a Spotted, or Opelousas Catfish because it eats only live bait, resulting in a sweeter, less oily-tasting meat. Many Cajuns catch or buy extra fish to fry as an hors d'oeuvre or side dish. When using catfish the sweet belly meat is removed when cleaning the fish. This tender, boneless meat is diced and battered in beer, cornmeal, flour, and a seasoning mixture, then deep-fried.

We ate a Blue Catfish that night that one of Albert's friends caught in the Intracoastal Waterway, which Albert says is the best place to catch catfish. He's been fishing there for thirty years. I thought the Blue Catfish was great both fried and in the courtbouillion.

(Catfish is not, however, vital to the dish. My dad once made a courtbouillion of gulf perch. It was delicious, and I may have actually preferred it.)

A large cast iron pot is crucial. A courtbouillion must never, never be stirred, so the heavy pot protects it from burning. "You want to insult and upset a lot of these old Cajuns, when you want to serve yourself the food you go stir it in the pot. That's a good way either to get thrown out of the party altogether or never to be invited again", my dad warned.

The pot is greased with about a tablespoon of cooking oil. This is followed by the layering of the different mediums that results in the art that is a perfect catfish courtbouillion. A mixed layer of chopped onion, bell pepper, and garlic is spread on the bottom of the pot. A layer of fish is then added, with the larger pieces at the bottom, as these will need to be closer to the heat to cook thoroughly. Flour, salt, black pepper, and cayenne are sprinkled very lightly over the fish. The flour is added to thicken the gravy. Finally, tomato sauce and water are dribbled sparsely on top. The process of layering the ingredients is repeated until there is either no fish left or no more room in the pot.

Upon completion of the arrangement of the ingredients the pot is covered so that the liquids from the vegetables will form a gravy. This dish must be cooked over a very low heat. Albert showed me how slowly it should boil. The bubbles were slow-forming and the size of pinheads. To avoid the food sticking to the bottom of the pot, the pot is picked up by its rings or handles and twisted back and forth, swirling the ingredients in the pot. A large pot of fish courtbouillion is cooked thirty to forty-five minutes once it starts to boil. When the fish is cooked, add green onions and parsley and cook five more minutes.

This dish is often cooked outside on a rack over an open fire. The best wood to use to do this is oak. Oak forms actual coals when it burns that can be removed from the fire to lower the heat. The most wonderful thing about cooking over a fire is when the lid of the pot is lifted to check the status of the food -- the smoke from the fire seeps into the pot, infusing the the gravy and the fish with a rich, velvety smoked flavor. This is my favorite way to cook anything.

Courtbouillion, like most Cajun food, is served over rice. If the rice is cooked outside it is again important to use a cast iron pot. Most pots can be used to cook rice inside. My dad and I both measure by the first knuckle of our index finger. The water should cover the uncooked rice at a depth equal to that of the first knuckle of your index finger when it is lightly touching the top of the rice. I suppose it is important to note here that we have big hands, so the first knuckle is about an inch and a quarter from the tip of the finger. Add about a quarter of a teaspoon of salt when cooking four cups of uncooked rice. The rice should boil rapidly, uncovered, until all of the water is boiled off the top. The pot is then covered immediately and the rice cooks over very low heat for about seventeen minutes.

"You need to tell her about the gratin", Albert reminded my dad. "Oh yeah! The gratin!" my dad exclaimed. Gratin is basically burnt rice. Albert said that it should be against the law to eat fish without gratin. Personally, I don't like gratin. It is made by cooking the rice, still covered and still over low heat for an extra ten to fifteen minutes.

"And that's the recipe for the most fantastic courtbouillion you'll ever eat in your life!" my dad promised. He was right.

I've included a transcription of my interview and a few photographs because I am sure most people will agree that a dish like this is more than just the ingredients and directions.

Catfish Courtbouillion: Recipe

Put 1 tablespoon of cooking oil in a #14 cast iron pot. Put a thin layer of a mixture of all the vegetables but the green onions and parsley on the bottom of the pot. Follow with a single, loose layer of fish pieces. Sprinkle some of a mixture of the seasonings and some of the flour on top of the fish. Drizzle some of the tomato sauce and water over the seasonings. Repeat the layering process, adding more flour, seasonings, vegetables, and tomato sauce as needed until there is no more fish left. Boil, covered, over a very low heat for thirty to forty-five minutes. Add the green onions and parsley and cook for another five minutes. Serve over boiled rice.

YIELD: serves 6

This is my youngest brother Wilson's favorite. It's a delicious dish that's quite pleasing to the eye, as well. Though we often cook it outside over a burner or raised above an open fire, it's great on the stove, too (although you don't get the great, smoky flavor from the open fire that way).

Marc Savoy: The first thing is the right kind of fish. We don't want to use fish filets. You don't want to use pond-raised catfish because that doesn't make a very good courtbouillion. You want to use a fish with the bones in it.

We always try to get a spotted cat, which is also called an Opelousas cat because it's a much better fish. The reason why it's better is because it's not a scavenger like the blue cats or channel cats are. You want to catch them you have to fish them with live bait. They won't eat on dead bait. The result of that is that the flesh is a lot sweeter, a lot less oily. We always try to use that. It's our favorite.

It's totally shaped different, too. They do have little spots on them. They're a different color. They're not shaped like a shark like the blue cat. The spotted cat is flat; it has a flat head. We always try to take the belly when we butcher the fish, when we clean it we take the belly off. We always try to take the belly off which is real succulent flesh and there s no bones in that and we ll use that to fry. And the other part is what we're gonna make the courtbouillion from. We cut up a whole bunch of onions, garlic, and bell peppers.

The way that I learned how to make a courtbouillion was from my father. What he would do, he'd put a real light film of cooking oil in the bottom of the pot. Sort of like grease the bottom of the pot. He would put a layer of fish into the bottom of the pot, sprinkle a little bit of white flour, sprinkle some salt, black pepper and red pepper, then the vegetables mixture, and repeat the process. The white flour is for the gravy. Repeat this until there's no more fish or the pot's full. We always tried to cook this outside because it tastes much better, it looks like, cooked over an open fire. We would make a fire with oak because it makes coals. A lot of wood that you burn doesn't make coals, but oak makes very good, very, very hot coals. We make the fire, but we don't put the pot on the fire immediately because you don't want to put it on while it's flaming. You make the coals and when the fire just about goes out and there's just some glowing red coals, then you put your cast iron pot on top of that. Real low heat. You don't want to heat it up too fast.

I'd usually start with the lid on top of the pot because if you do that -- (don't add water. only one can of tomato sauce in a #14 cast iron pot) -- if you start it real slowly with the lid on, it begins to steam inside the pot and the juice comes out of the onions and bell peppers, parsley and onion tops, and it begins to make a gravy. You cook it very, very slowly with all these ingredients inside.

And you never, never stir inside the pot. A lot of these old black pots have rings or handles. You take the handles and you twist it counter clockwise and clockwise. You take it off the coals and you give it a twist. You never, ever stir it. You want to insult a lot of these old Cajuns, when you want to serve yourself the food, you go stir it in the pot. That's a good way either get thrown out of the party all together or never to be invited again.

When it's just about cooked, then you can take the lid off and let it make sort of like a thick cream on top. It doesn't have to cook that long. For a large pot of fish, maybe like only 30-45 minutes after it starts boiling. And that's the recipe for the most fantastic courtbouillion you ll ever eat in your life.

Ann Savoy: Tell her about the rice, too.

Marc: The rice is the same way. You start the rice on a real high heat. All of this is done in real thick cast iron pots. You start it uncovered, on a real high heat. My measurement is fill up the pot with rice and put the water up to the first ring of your finger over the rice and a little bit of salt. That's all you have to do. You cook it real fast. It has to come to a boil real, real fast because if it doesn't your rice is going to be real, real mushy. So what we do we start it on a real high heat and it boils. Then as soon as all the rice is boiled off the top, you put the lid on and lower the heat by getting rid of some of the coals. Get a stick and push out some of the coals. You want to let it cook very slowly.

Albert Rozas: I grew up in Choupique. It means fish. Tonight we knew it was gonna rain, so I went ahead and got a jump on it and made the gravy ahead of time. I put very little water. I just washed out the tomato sauce can. Ha ha. I put one can of water. Choupique is a scaled fish. It's very plentiful in the bayous and in this area. I don't know where the name originated. The place is about two and a half miles southeast of Chatagnier. I cooked outside a lot. My dad taught me. We do it the exact same way Marc did. Why change it? It's good.

Marc: The people in Lafayette put tomato paste in it. They put tomato paste and tomato paste and tomato paste.

Albert: I know!

Marc: I remember, my father had gone to cook some fish in Washington [Louisiana]. He was telling us about a guy from Scott. He watched him open 14 cans of tomato paste. 14 cans. Dad said, "What are you doing?" And the guy said, "I'm making a sauce." The guy said, "Isn't that what you cook?" And Daddy said, "No, we don't cook it that way." So the guy said, "When you cook I want to go watch you." So when Daddy started cooking the guy came over to watch and Daddy opened one can of sauce. The guy said, "Well, that's all you're gonna put?" And Daddy said, "Yeah." So after it was cooked Daddy went to sample it and said it was un-eatable and so sour with all the cans of tomatoes. And then he said the guy came and said, "Let me taste yours." And the guy said, "Gah-lee, well that's a lot better than mine!" You know, for a cook to admit that.

Albert: See, I don't know if you can see the color, but it's not red, it's pink. It's not red. And then when we put the fish it's gonna get even more pinkish. You don't want it to be red. And Marc, you need to tell her about the gratin.

Marc: Oh yeah! The gratin!

Sarah: I don't like gratin.

Marc: You don't like gratin?!?! You must not be related to me!

Albert: It is so good with fish. It should be against the law to eat fish without gratin.

We fish a lot in bayous. I used to go on my bicycle when I was a boy and the water wasn't as polluted as it is today. I'd come back with fish in my basket on my bicycle and I furnished fish for my dad s family and my mom s family for quite a few years. But now we fish a little further south in the Intracoastal Canal. I have a little camp and we catch fish. We probably consume at least 500 pounds of fish per year. We grew our own vegetables in the garden. Garlic, onions, bell peppers -- I planted the elephant garlic one year, but I didn't like it. It wasn't as strong as the smaller garlic.

Marc: Albert, where'd you get that pot?

Albert: I won that pot when I was in the Boy Scouts. That was a long time ago. There was a parade in Ville Platte. I lived in Evangeline Parish and there was a parade. We did a cookout on the bed of a big flatbed truck. We had a big tub, a washtub, and we built the fire in the tub. We cooked while the parade was going on. We came out first and I won that pot. I was probably nine or ten years old. I was born in 1943. Marc and I grew up together. He's much older than I am. I can only say that 'cause he stepped out of the room.

Ann: Tell more about the cast iron, Albert.

Albert: This is the old-time cast iron. You feel how heavy that is? It's not the same as they make them today. It's a different cast. This cast is tight. The newer pots are more porous. You can tell it's different. You have to burn them before you use them. I grease mine with hog lard. You put it in the open fire. We call that seasoning the pot. If you do it that way you can wash it and it won't rust. You can re-do it, too, if you have a rusted one. You can use vegetable oil too, but I was taught to use hog lard, so that's what I do.

Marc: This pot here was my momma's momma's pot. The other ones we have are from the Fifties.

Marc: Sarah, you really need to stress the importance of the fish. Here's a good picture. That's me cleaning the fish.

Sarah: That's not fish guts. That's a pig.

Marc: No, that's the fish.

Sarah: No, it must be a pig. It's too big.

Marc: No, that's the fish.

Sarah: Well, how big a fish is it?

Marc: It's about that long (holding hands about 4-1/2 feet apart). That's the guts.

Albert: Blue cat's pretty good fried, but in a gravy you can't beat the spotted cat. The reason we're cooking blue cat tonight is because spotted cat's hard to find this time of year.

Marc: You can't raise spotted cat in a pond.

Albert: Yeah, they have to be in the bayou. They're wild. They usually weigh 10-15 pounds. The biggest one I caught was 53 pounds. It's best to use the 10-15 pound ones to make a gravy, though. Sometimes you hear about people catching ones that way a hundred and something pounds.

Marc: In the Nile they can get over 200 pounds.

Albert: An old man caught one 287 pounds in the Atchafalaya Basin. He caught that in a net. The best time for fishing is in the spring, but we catch spotted cat all summer long until the fall.

Marc: When you take the lid off, the smoke from the wood goes into the pot and gives the food a smoked taste.

Albert: The whole ordeal is just fun. It's so much fun too cook outside. It was normally just the men. Sometimes those things weren't planned. Sometimes we'd just meet up around 3:00 in the afternoon and say, "Hey, let s go cook some fish." So we'd go find some fish and just cook it right there. Spur of the moment, you know? The women sometimes came with us, but the men did the fishing usually. Most women didn't like to do that. Rose always came fishing and hunting with me.

Marc: The spotted cat is real flat and the blue cat is shaped like a torpedo.

Albert: There are some cats that are yellow, yellow, yellow...

Marc: Boy, those were good to eat. You don't see that in the bayou anymore.

Albert: No, the last time we caught some was at the Channel 3 Tower. We'd go over there with some chicken hearts in the spring. Man, we'd mop up. We'd catch them and we'd cook them right away. The water used to be clean. You could eat them like that.

Ann: Tell about that, Albert.

Sarah: Well, we already heard Barry talking about it on the video.

Ann: Yeah, but get Albert to tell you. Barry never did it.

Albert: You could eat fish from anywhere. It's not like that anymore. There's a lot of places now you can only eat fish so many times a month. Expectant women can't eat fish from a certain area anymore. If you're younger than 7 or 9 years old, the Wildlife & Fisheries committee will tell you, don't eat the fish from a certain body of water. And there's a lot of bodies of water in Louisiana that are that way. They're polluted by farming, chemicals, acid rain... It wasn't like that when I was young. No, no. You could eat fish from anywhere in those days and it was good and it was healthy.

Marc: When your mommy and I played in Breaux Bridge, Sarah, and Mary, from Peter, Paul and Mary, came to meet us and came over to eat, Red Bird had given us a lot of fish to eat. I went in the barn and cleaned one for Mary and her husband and it was so stinky and so oily. It was so bad! Supposedly it was from the Calcasieu, and we were so disappointed. You know, wow, Albert and I used to swear by the fish from the Calcasieu. When I skinned that one fish I could not get that smell off my hands. And when we cooked it the whole house smelled like that. I went and threw the whole box away. I couldn't eat it. I was telling that to Albert. I said, "Man, that fish from the Calcasieu was bad! It was uneatable!" He said, "Really?" So he has a brother that lives in Lake Charles that gets fish from Red Bird. So guess what, that fish that Red Bird had given me, Albert found out from his brother, did not come from the Calcasieu. It came from a bayou that he was fishing in. His brother had had the same experience. So, the Calcasieu above Lake Charles is good, at least.

Tina: Lake Charles has oil refineries and chemical companies.

Albert: Now we're gonna layer the fish. We always try and put the thickest pieces of fish at the bottom because it's gonna take longer to cook.

Marc: I want to say something about catching spotted cat. They only bite on live bait, so if you want to catch them you can't, you know... most of the blue cat, you fish with a piece of rotten meat and they ll bite on that. Even soap -- they ll bite on anything. But spotted cat, a lot of times, it's been known that a lot of times, people caught a small fish, like a small blue cat on a rotten piece of bait, then a huge spotted cat goes and feeds on the little blue cat.

Sarah: Do you have any stories about this, Albert?

Albert: The only story I have is that it's good.

Marc: My daddy said that he and one of the neighbors over here, a big, big eater... He loved to eat and he could eat -- I remember the old man very well, Noah Young. He'd eat like five men and he was also a great cook. They'd bring this old man to cook when they d go fishing. He'd always bring all his ingredients in a big dishpan. After he had everything cooked, when people started serving themselves, he'd say, "Dad-gummit! I forgot my plate at home!" And he'd always do that. He did it on purpose. He'd say, "Dog-gone! I forgot my plate. I guess I'll have to eat out of the dishpan." He'd forget his plate on purpose so he could eat out of the dishpan. That way no body could see how much he was eating. And he'd eat and eat and eat.

Albert: Now this is the last time this pot is going to see a spoon. It's boiling at the right speed now, real slow. I used to spoon to get that fish down under the gravy a little more. I'm going to cover it now and let it cook.

Marc: Albert, tell Sarah about when you went hand fishing.

Albert: It was bad at first. I remember I had the jitters at first.

Marc: Yeah, you just drank a lot of beer and you were okay...

Albert: I went with Polan. Marc, you remember Polan?

Marc: Yeah.

Albert: I went with Polan to go hand fishing. I was in the boat and he was doing the hand fishing and all of a sudden he says, "You'll have to come in." There's a bunch a bunch of fish. There was a sink, like a hole in the bank. He says, "You'll have to go in the other end. It's too big. I can t get the other side." I got down and I went in the water and I felt the hole. And man! All of a sudden I put my hand in there and there were fish just floating around all over the place! And I looked up and there was this branch over my head and there was a snake about this big (about a two inch diameter) and I think I walked on water. I didn t stop till I got to the boat. Man! That snake scared me! And he caught enough for us to eat, but I told him, "I'm not going back in that water. That s it, that snake scared me.

Marc: Albert, tell Sarah about that time we had gone with the dynamite to catch all that fish. Remember?

Albert: Oh, my God! (laughs) I don't know if we should say that... (laughs more)

Albert: Yeah.

Marc: They had this deep hole...

Albert: Yeah, before we went with the dynamite -- it's a good thing that keg of Carbide didn't go off because... you remember that?

Marc: Oh, yeah, I remember that!

Albert: Yeah, Marc had got a keg of Carbide from his dad. It didn't go off and it's a good thing. I think maybe it was too old or something.

Sarah: Carbide? What is that?

Marc: It's an element. When it hits the water it creates a gas and if you can figure out a way to ignite it it'll blow up.

Albert: It causes a concussion and it breaks the insides of the fish and they float.

Marc: We'd run. We'd throw the Carbide in the water and we'd run, you'd swear like--

Albert: You don't need a lot of Carbide to do this. My dad told me after this incident that they'd use some little cans (gesturing about half a liter). We had about a five gallon drum -- a keg. If that thing would have went off they'd still be raking our pieces out from around there.

(Marc laughing in the background.)

Albert: We weren't supposed to use that much.

Marc: Where was that, Albert?

Albert: Place Fabousse

Marc: I don't remember it.

Albert: It's on the other side of where y'all went get that tree. It's a little bit west of that.

Marc: Bayou de Cane.

Albert: Bayou de Cane, yep, there was a big deep hole.

Marc: That was a long time ago, huh Albert? When was that?

Albert: It was a long time ago. And it was far. We had to drag the boat through the woods.

Marc: I guess it was about thirty-five years ago.

Albert: I was in back of the boat, Marc was in front. Sometimes I think he would drag the boat and me.

(everyone laughing)

Albert: Anyway, that didn't work so we got together with a friend of our, Dore Frugé, and he got us some dynamite. And went went there one day and, man, let me tell you something -- the water flew and I don't remember how high--

Marc: I think we put one stick with a blasting cap and we threw that in there--

Albert: Oh, no, we--

Marc: No, but then we tried two sticks and nothing happened again. \ So I told that to Albert, I said, We're gonna tape it all up. So we taped--

Albert: It was a pack of dynamite that big! (gesturing about a ten inch circle)

Marc: We must have had seven or eight sticks and we'd run! We'd hide behind the cars. So when we taped the whole thing together--let me tell you -- everything came out, some logs...we just blew up the whole thing. And you know what came out? We got one-- After all the water cleared out, only one old bullfrog came out to the top, just paddling away, looking around, seeing what was happening, you know, not a fish.

Albert: Normally, though, some people got a lot of fish that way. But I remember somebody telling me afterwards--I had put the caps in my pocket. We had to keep the caps and the dynamite separate. So I had put the caps in my shirt pocket. Somebody told me when it was all done--we were talking to somebody about it, I don't remember who, but they said, Man, that is the most dangerous thing you probably ever will do is put caps in the pocket of your shirt because It's very easy to go off, those caps.

Sarah: What is a cap?

Marc: That's what detonates the dynamite.

Albert: Yeah, and if I'd have fallen or something or something would have hit that cap it could have blown my chest out of my body. We didn't know what we were doing.

Marc: No, we had no idea what we were doing. It's funny we didn't get blown up. *tsk-tsk* We didn't get any fish, I remember that.

Albert: No, no -- no fish at all.

Marc: I remember that was a real pretty spot we had gone out to. Whose property is that?

Sarah: Albert, this is boiling now, is that what it should look like?

Albert: No, that's a little too high. I gotta turn it down. You need a real slow boil. Just a real small bubble every now and then.

(bubbles the size of pinheads, very slow)

Albert: It belongs to the Lores, Carl Lore's daddy--

Marc: Is he still living, Carl Lore?

Albert: No, he's deceased. He s been deceased for years.

(Wilson, the youngest Savoy boy, comes in)

Wilson: Mom said we were eating at six, so I wanted to be here.

Marc: You're not gonna miss it.

Albert: 'm going to go ahead and cover it now. Now, this is what we have to fry, over here...

Sarah: So that's the belly of the fish?

Albert: Some of it, and some of its fillet, yeah...

Sarah: Is this all one fish?

Albert: No, this is two. This comes from the same place I usually fish, Intracoastal Canal. A friend of mine just caught that. That's the best place for me to fish because I like to fish catfish. We fish with throw lines. I tie my line to the bank and I back off. I have eight and ten hooks per line. We bait the hooks as we back off in a boat and then we drop a weight at the end. They fish all night. We go back to the camp and we cook and we eat supper and we sleep, then the next morning we run our lines and there's the fish!

Sarah: Where is Intracoastal Canal?

Albert: It's about eleven miles south of Kaplan and it runs coast-to-coast, California to the east side.

Sarah: Is that man-made?

Albert: Yes, it's man made. It's a good body of water. The water always moves in there. You got water from Vermillion Bay that comes in there from the east, and from the west you get water from White Lake or Lake Charles or Big Lake and those places always have catfish. That s how come we always have so much catfish. I ve been fishing there for about thirty years.

Sarah: Where else do you go?

Albert: We used to go to Toledo Bin to fish. That s a good place. We don't fish catfish there, though. We used to fish Brim and Sac-au-lait [which, Albert informed me, is the state fish of Louisiana]. But they went ahead and stocked Toledo Bin with catfish and they tell me they got catfish in there big enough to swallow a man. I don't know how true that is, but they claim there's some big catfish.

Marc: The last time I went fishing with Albert, Sarah, we fished, we fished, we fished. We caught choupiques. Remember that, Albert? As fast as we could pull them out of the water we'd catch another one.

Albert: Yeah, that was just before [Hurricane] Audrey.

Marc: We were at my uncle's camp. We cleaned the fish. I was seventeen. How old were you then, Albert?

Albert: I was about fourteen.

Marc: We cleaned out fish and put them in a freezer and a few days later, Hurricane Audrey came and wiped out the camp. We found the freezer miles off in the marshes full of rotten food. So all the food was lost. I think that's the last time Albert and I went fishing. We opened up the freezer and it just exploded.

Albert: And I had begged Momma and them to bring that fish. I said, "We can't leave that fish!" They said we d come back in a few days.

Marc: We worked like slaves. We were so proud of our choupiques.

Sarah: And you don't know what kind of fish a choupique is?

Marc: What is that, Albert, a mudfish?

Albert: Yeah, they call that a mudfish.

Marc: They consider that a trash fish, but if you want to have a fish that really fights on your line it's a choupique. Boy, those things can fight.

Albert: Oh, yeah. It's a fun fish to catch. We barbequed them already and they were pretty good.

Marc: They're cottony.

Wilson: Are y'all actually gonna fry fish or no?

Albert: Oh, yeah! And you smell that courtbouillion?

Wilson: Yep, that's my favorite.

Marc: My grandmother would make the courtbouillion with a white sauce. I've never eaten it. Tina was telling me she made one recently.

Albert: I've made that, yeah. It's good. You just do the same thing but without tomato sauce. I did it because the store at the camp was closed and we were stuck without tomato sauce. So I did it and it was good, but--

Marc: But not as good at--

Albert: No, I prefer it with just that little bit of tomato sauce. Sometimes we used to make tomato sauce. We still do sometimes, but we buy most of it. We make it, I guess, just to keep the, uh-- But it's pretty good.

Marc Savoy has a degree in Chemical Engineering that he put aside in 1965 to open Savoy Music Center. Here he makes diatonic (Cajun) accordions under the trademark "Acadian". He was the first person ever to use a clear lacquer on the wood of the accordion to allow its natural beauty to show. Before, accordions were only available covered in black paint. Since then he has used a variety of beautiful woods such as African Purple Heart, Walnut, and Sassafras to enhance the aesthetics of the instrument. He began learning to play the accordion at the age of twelve. Today he plays in the Savoy-Doucet Cajun Band alongside Ann Savoy and Michael Doucet. He has played for two presidents and is a recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship Award. Most importantly, however, he has devoted his life and work to the preservation of the Cajun culture and music. National Geographic magazine called him "the godfather of Cajun culture."

Ann Savoy was born in Richmond, Virginia. She majored in French at Mary Baldwin College in Stanton, Virginia. She met my dad at a folk festival in Washington, D. C. and married him in 1977. She moved to Louisiana, where she has become an important figure in Cajun music. Not only does she lend her rhythm guitar and vocal talents to the Savoy-Doucet Cajun Band, but she also began the all-female band The Magnolia Sisters with her friend Jane Vidrine. Most importantly, however, she has done extensive research concerning Cajun musicians of the past and present. She wrote, edited and published Cajun Music: A Reflection of a People.

Albert Rozas was born and raised on a farm in an area just outside of Chatagnier called Choupique. He farmed for twenty years, then sold life insurance until his back problems forced him into early retirement. Albert plays accordion and is learning to play fiddle. He was Captain of the Eunice Mardi Gras and of the Children's Mardi Gras for many years. Albert recalls a day when he was very young upon which the principal of his elementary school visited his father's house. The principal told Albert's father that he would expel Albert and his siblings if they did not attend school Mardi Gras day. Albert's father immediately replied, "You may as well expel them now, because they re running Mardi Gras."

Tina Pilione was born and raised in Fremont, California. She has a degree in Biology and is a trained educator for Holistic Resource Management. She is also a vital assistant to my dad at Savoy Music Center. She worked for the Department of Environmental Quality for three years and now strives to educate people in protecting natural resources, and native wildlife and plants. Tina is also a musician and plays with The Magnolia Sisters and with Jesse Leger.


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Chuck Taggart   email chuck (at) gumbopages (dot) com