Recipes: How Layered Flavors and the Freshest Ingredients Inspired Legendary Cajun Chef Alzina Toops | Where does NOLA eat?

When I met Alzina Tups in 2006, she was 77 years old. She worked culinary magic in the Galliano welding shop her son gave her, cooking her parents’ Cajun dishes for one group a night. Most of the dishes featured impeccably fresh seafood straight from nearby Bayou Lafourche. Some groups ordered meals a year in advance.

In the years that followed, we visited several more times. I have a photo where my husband washes dishes after a common meal. Her fame spread; other reporters couldn’t resist her unique story. The last time we were, her granddaughters helped her cook.

Featured in 2006, Galliano’s Cajun chef Alzina Tups stirs up a sauce for a shrimp and pasta casserole while a chicken/shrimp stew, also known as chicken fricassee, simmers on the front burner.

After the recent news of her passing at the age of 94, I looked through all the recipes and articles about Alzina’s unique establishment. I will never forget her deep French-accented voice, the way she admired the ingredients she prepared. — Isn’t it beautiful? she said several times as we talked, while she moved.

Alzina layered flavors in a way I’ve never seen anywhere else, adding a couple sprigs of fresh herbs to the tomato sauce; removing them after they have boiled; then adding the same dried herbs. She would add half a pound of shrimp to the dish, cook it for a while, and then add another 1-1/2 pounds.

When I looked at her recipes, one thing stood out to me: their sheer simplicity.

She said she cooks like her father, a Cajun fisherman, and her mother, a Portuguese immigrant. As in the previous generation, salt and pepper were the main seasonings, but were added only at the end after tasting. She used garlic, yes, and sometimes jalapenos, sometimes a few red pepper flakes instead of cayenne pepper. Not all at once. She coaxed us into making incredible dishes with layered flavors, attention to detail and the freshest ingredients.


Five generations of the Tups family and their friends gather with Alzina Tups (center) at the head of the table at her great-grandson’s Kajun Twist & Grill in Lockport. (Photo by Chris Granger | The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate)

I made her a shrimp and pasta casserole for a recent quilt retreat. This is a great dish for company.

Alzina’s Chicken and Shrimp Fricassee contains far less oil than most roux recipes. Nevertheless, the lumpy mass eventually acquired a chocolate color, and after the addition of chicken broth turned into the finest homogeneous gravy. The rest went to friends who said they liked it.

Her recipe for spicy shrimp stew was featured in Louisiana Cookin’ magazine in 2014 and I’m so glad I made it. (Barely) “spicy” comes from Ro-Tel and garlic. Once you’ve processed the Ro-Tel tomatoes in a food processor until smooth, you’ll add them to a trio cooked well in equal parts oil and butter. After 25 minutes, add the shrimp with plenty of parsley and green onions. It might be your new favorite dish.

Judy Walker among the three home cooks who are NOT, was named one of the top 100 by Epicurious magazine.

Unforgettable Alzina Tups

Alzina published two long-out-of-print cookbooks in the 1980s and left behind many notebooks. She was so dedicated to her Catholic faith that I have no doubt that she is cooking for the angels today. I hope that someone from her large and friendly family will be able to republish cookbooks or some of her other recipes so that the rest of us can recreate her heavenly dishes.

In the meantime, you can remember her legacy with these.

Shrimp and pasta casserole by Alzina Tups

Since my first visit in 2006, we have been asking for this dish every time. Use all shrimp or half crab and half shrimp. Serve with a mixed green salad, Alzina ordered. Makes 10-12 servings.

6 tablespoons butter

1 large onion, finely chopped

1 garlic clove, crushed

6 tablespoons all-purpose flour

3-1/2 cups halved

1 cup shredded baby Swiss cheese

1-1/2 lb. blanched shrimp (blanch in hot water 1 minute (OR ¾ lb. blanched shrimp and ¾ lb. crabmeat, sort through)

Salt and red pepper to taste

16 ounces penne pasta

1-1/2 cups shredded mozzarella (for topping)

1. In a large saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add onion and garlic and sauté until soft. Stir in flour, mix well.

2. Slowly add in half, stirring until smooth. Discard the minced garlic. Add Swiss cheese and seafood.

3. Season to taste and cook over low heat until cheese is melted.

4. Boil pasta until tender; drain thoroughly.

5. Oil a large saucepan and add half of the pasta. Top with half of the cheese sauce. Repeat ending with cheese sauce. Cover with foil.

6. Bake in a preheated oven at 350 degrees for 20 to 30 minutes until bubbles appear. Uncover and sprinkle with mozzarella cheese. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes until the cheese is melted and the top is browned.

Spicy braised shrimp

This fresh-flavoured dish is perfect for a quick weekday dinner or for royalty. Alzina Tups shared this recipe with Louisiana Cookin’ magazine in 2014. Makes 4 or 5 servings.

1 (10 oz) can of green chile tomatoes, such as Ro-Tel

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3 tablespoons butter

3 tablespoons of olive oil

1 large onion, finely chopped

1 bell pepper, finely chopped

2 celery stalks, finely chopped

6 garlic cloves, finely chopped

1-1/2 pounds large fresh shrimp, peeled, peeled

2/3 cup chopped fresh parsley

½ cup chopped green onion

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Hot boiled rice for serving

1. In the work bowl of a food processor, process the green chilli tomatoes with their liquid until smooth.

2. Heat the butter and vegetable oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion, bell pepper, celery and garlic. Cook, stirring often, until soft, about 8 minutes. Mix tomatoes with green chillies. Simmer for 25-30 minutes.

3. Add shrimp, parsley and green onions. Cook until the shrimp are pink and firm, about 5 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve with rice.

Fricassee with chicken and shrimps Alzina Tups

If you’re used to making dressings, the butter-to-flour ratio seems odd here. This is right. Keep stirring it until it is well browned. The original recipe called for three chicken stock cubes; I used three teaspoons of chicken base. Makes 6 plus servings.

¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons oil

¾ cup all-purpose flour

1 large onion, chopped

4 boneless chicken thighs, fat removed, cut into pieces

dash sugar

3 cups hot water

3 chicken bouillon cubes (or 3 teaspoons chicken base)

1 jalapeno pepper, halved, no seeds

1 medium potato, peeled, diced (optional)

2 cups (1 lb) peeled shrimp

3 tablespoons chopped parsley

3 tablespoons green onions or green onions, chopped

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1. In a heavy saucepan, mix butter and flour thoroughly. Stir constantly over medium heat until the mixture takes on the color of chocolates.

2. Add onion, chicken pieces and sugar. Simmer/fry for 10-12 minutes.

3. Add hot water, bouillon cubes (or chicken base) and jalapenos. Remove excess fat, if any. Reduce heat; cook for 15 minutes.

4. Add potatoes, cook 15 minutes more until potatoes flake easily with a fork. Add shrimp, parsley and green onions. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Cook for 5 to 8 minutes until the shrimp turn pink.

5. Remove jalapeno halves and serve.

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