The other day, Diane Whatley Nix, a friend on a social media cooking group called Wok Wednesdays, shared an image of Maque Choux made in a wok. Instantly, I was shown a flash of brilliance for the cooking method, and reminded of a delicious dish I hadn’t made since leaving Texas six years ago. Note: If you’re into wok cooking, then you need to check out the group – It’s dedicated to cooking our way through Grace Young’s The Breath of a Wok, and it’s a serious gas!
Maque Choux (AKA mack shoe, muck shoe, muck show, and so on), is the Cajun version of that venerable side dish, succotash. The name may sound French, but it’s probably a Creole derivation of a native term. This is a great side dish at any time of the year, but especially in summer, when all of the veggie constituents are right outside in the garden.
Many folks know of succotash and assume it to be southern, but that would be incorrect – Succotash came from some of the original occupants of New England – The name derives from a native term, possibly the Wampanoag word msíckquatash, (boiled corn kernels), or the Narragansett sohquttahhash, (broken corn kernels).
Succotash was, and is, a base of fresh corn, some kind of shell bean, and a little protein – nowadays, most commonly bacon, but back then in New England, fish or game. Any number of additional veggies and herbs might be added, like tomatoes, sweet peppers, chiles, fresh herbs and other seasonings – all of which are New World foods and therefore likely as authentic as anything else. There are a dizzying number of ‘authentic’ succotash and maque choux recipes out there, but the truth is that damn near anything you feel like doing will be authentic enough – These are dishes designed to use what was ready at the time, and later down the line, to clean out a fridge, maybe.
Succotash was popular because it was filling and nutritious. That base mix of corn and beans is rich in protein, carbohydrates, essential amino acids, vitamins and minerals. It’s still a popular side dish at many a New England Thanksgiving dinner, and was likely a main course at that original dinner hosted by the locals, to which a ragtag band of Puritans and Strangers were invited. Those settlers quickly learned that the key base ingredients lent themselves readily to drying, which meant a lifesaving, year round food supply for a struggling population.
As us white usurpers spread across the new land, (including my direct ancestor, who arrived in 1636), succotash came along for the ride, morphed by local crops as it travelled. In the south, dang near any corn and bean combo that’s fried up in lard or butter is called succotash, albeit the vast majority of the time, the bean in question will be a lima, and there will almost always be okra.
Those migrants included the Acadiens, French people exiled to the Canadian Maritimes by the Seven Years war between Britain and France in the middle of the eighteenth century. While many Acadiens remain in the Maritimes, a sizable group made their way south to warmer climes, specifically, Louisiana, which was a French colonial holding since about the time the Puritans hit the beach at Plymouth. And of course, Cajuns are in Louisiana to this day, and from that many good things have come, including maque choux.
Study up some on maque choux, and you’ll see one glaring difference from traditional succotash – It don’t have no beans on board. That’s not to say you couldn’t, or that beans aren’t popular in that neck of the woods, because you could and they are -But, when you see how the dish morphed, you’ll understand right away – It’s because of the only aromatic base that we here in the colonies can lay claim to – The Holy Trinity.
We have the Cajun folk to thank for our only original combo – onion, celery, and green pepper, and really, nothing else, (albeit when used in soups and stews and whatnot, some folk do like to whip a little roux right in with it as it cooks, to kind of get a leg up on things). Now, the key to aromatic bases is the ratio, and in that regard, there are a couple of camps for the Trinity – those who do equal measures of each, and those who portion like mirepoix, 50% onion, 25% each pepper and celery. For my mind, it kinda depends on when you’re making it. If we’re talking the non-growing season, I’d go for the heavy onion version, but if you’re in the sweet spot, where those things are right out there in your garden, I’d absolutely opt for equal shares.
As for the protein, again, you can do what you like with no shame. I like local, smoky pepper bacon myself, but down south, a lot of folks are partial to andouille sausage, and you’d be hard pressed to go wrong there. Honestly, anything you’ve got that needs using would be lovely, from pulled pork to shredded chicken, (or even beans.)
Finally, the wok as a cooking method/vessel is simply brilliant. As Diane noted, making maque choux in one adds a perfect crispy crunch to the dish that you’d be hard pressed to get anywhere else. It’s also fast, and fun, and very pretty, so give that a go. This recipe will make enough for four, and maybe some leftovers
Maque Choux a la Urban
3 ears fresh Sweet Corn
4 strips Pepper Bacon
1/2 small sweet Onion
1-2 stalks fresh Celery, including leaves
2 Anaheim Chiles
1 fresh Tomato
2 cloves fresh Garlic
4-5 fresh Chives
1 sprig fresh Thyme
1 Tablespoon Avocado Oil
A few shakes Go To Seasoned Salt, (I prefer our smoky version)
A few twists fresh ground Pepper
Cut kernels off the corn in two passes – Take the first to roughly cut the kernels in half,then the second to get what’s left – This gets all the corn milk in play and adds a bit more moisture to the mix – Cut the corn into a plate or shallow bowl. If you’re shy getting to the base of the kernels, flip your knife around and use the spine to scrape out those last, sweet bits – And don’t friggin’ cut yourself.
Stack your bacon slices, cut them down the middle lengthwise, then into roughly 1/2” squares.
Dice the onion, celery, and chiles into roughly equal piles.
Slice the tomato – You can gut it if you like, (M is always offended when I leave the guts in…), or not as you please.
Mince the garlic, thyme, and chives.
Set the wok over a medium high flame and heat through – A drop of water should vaporize pretty much instantaneously when it hits the wok, then you’re ready to go.
Stir fry the bacon, stirring steadily with a wooden spoon.
When the bacon is about 3/4 of the way you like it, turn the heat up to high and add the avocado oil.
When the oil is shimmering, (not smoking – That’s too hot), add the onion, celery and chiles.
Stir fry, steadily working the mix to incorporate. When the onions start to turn translucent, add the garlic and stir fry for a minute or so until the raw garlic smell dissipates.
Add the corn and stir fry steadily to heat through and incorporate – If things are getting a bit hot, turn heat down somewhat – I change heat constantly as I cook on a wok, and so can/should you.
Stir fry the mix until the corn starts to get a little crust and the smells are driving you nuts.
Add the tomato, chive and thyme, a few shakes of seasoned salt and a grew twists of pepper, and stir fry to incorporate all the seasonings.
Transfer to a bowl and serve hot.