candice poss shares her family cajun recipes like red beans and rice. photo by carmen troesser

7 Cajun recipes from chef Candice Poss' Mississippi childhood

Born into a small-town Mississippi family, Candice Poss has Cajun cooking in her blood. “My mother and grandmother were both great cooks,” she said. “Everything we do in our family largely revolves around food.”

Poss has been sharing those Southern traditions with St. Louis for seven years. Aficionados may remember her killer shrimp and grits at Eclipse in the Moonrise Hotel on Delmar Boulevard, her fried green tomato BLT at Cork & Barrel Chop House and Spirits in St. Peters or her superb fried catfish at 909 Public House in Wentzville.

chef candice poss will open graffiti grub food truck in march. // photo by carmen troesser

Now Poss is preparing to open her own place: Graffiti Grub, a food truck she’s planning to launch with former 909 sous chef Katie Sheets this month. Here, she shares some of her favorite Cajun and Southern comfort recipes, from her mother’s red beans and rice to her grandmother’s coconut pie. 

shrimp and grits // photo by carmen troesser

Shrimp and Creamy Grits
6 to 8 servings

3 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium green bell pepper, finely diced
1 medium red bell pepper, finely diced
1 small onion, finely diced
5 to 6 strips bacon, fully cooked and chopped (optional)
½ lb. andouille sausage, quartered lengthwise and cut into ¼-inch pieces
3 garlic cloves, minced
3 to 4 Tbsp. Cajun spice (recipe follows)
1½ lb. medium-sized shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 cup chicken stock, plus more to taste
4 Tbsp. (½ stick) butter, cubed
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Creamy grits, for serving (recipe follows)
Green onion or chives, chopped, for serving (optional)

• To a large saute pan over medium-high heat, add the oil, then the green and red bell peppers and onion and saute 3 to 4 minutes. 

• Add the bacon, andouille, garlic and Cajun spice and saute 1 minute. Add the shrimp and chicken stock and simmer 3 to 4 minutes, flipping shrimp to ensure even cooking. 

• Reduce the heat to medium, add the butter and simmer until slightly thickened, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the salt and pepper, to taste. 

• Serve immediately over grits garnished with green onion.

Creamy Southern-Style Grits
6 servings

Any combination of water, stock or milk works in this recipe, as long as there are 4 cups liquid to 1 cup grits. Just save the heavy cream for the end, or the grits will be crunchy.

3 cups whole milk, plus more to taste
1 cup chicken stock
1 cup stone-ground or regular grits (not instant) 
2 tsp. kosher salt, plus more to taste
½ to 1 cup heavy cream, plus more to taste
4 Tbsp. butter
Cheese, for serving (optional)

• In a heavy saucepan over high heat, bring the milk and stock to a boil. Add the grits and salt, whisking continuously to prevent lumps. Bring back to a boil, then immediately reduce the heat to low. 

• Cover and simmer 45 minutes to 1 hour for stone-ground grits or 25 to 30 minutes for regular grits, stirring occasionally so they don’t stick. When the grits become smooth instead of crunchy, they're ready. If the grits become too thick, add cream to thin.

• Stir in the cream, butter, salt to taste and cheese, if using.

Cajun Spice
¾ cup

4 Tbsp. paprika
2 Tbsp. kosher salt
1 Tbsp. cayenne
1 Tbsp. onion powder
1 Tbsp. dried oregano
1 Tbsp. dried thyme
1 Tbsp. white pepper

• Combine all ingredients and store in an airtight container.

red beans and rice // photo by carmen troesser

Red Beans and Rice
8 to 10 servings

“This is my mama’s recipe and was my favorite meal growing up.” – Candice Poss

2 Tbsp. olive oil
2 jalapenos, seeded and finely diced
1 green bell pepper, finely diced
1 onion, finely diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1½ Tbsp. dried basil
1½ Tbsp. dried oregano
1 Tbsp. paprika
½ Tbsp. cayenne pepper
3½ quarts plus 2 cups water, divided
3 bay leaves, divided
1 lb. red beans, soaked at least 8 hours or overnight
1 Tbsp. plus 1 tsp. kosher salt, divided
1 lb. andouille sausage, quartered lengthwise and cut into ¼-inch pieces
1 cup white rice

• In a 7- to 8-quart soup pot over medium-high heat, warm the oil. Add the jalapeno, bell pepper and onion and saute 3 to 4 minutes. Add the garlic, basil, oregano, paprika and cayenne and saute 1 minute. 

• Stir in 3½ quarts water, 2 bay leaves, beans and 1 tablespoon salt and bring to boil. Reduce the heat to medium, cover and simmer until the beans are soft enough to mash, about 1 hour.

• Transfer 2 cups beans to a large mixing bowl, mash them with the back of a spoon and return to the pot.

• Add the andouille, reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer 1 hour. 

• Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

• In a small casserole dish, combine the remaining 2 cups water, rice, the remaining bay leaf and 1 teaspoon salt. Cover with foil and bake until all the liquid is absorbed, 20 to 25 minutes. 

• Discard the bay leaf, fluff the rice with a fork and serve with the red beans.

chicken and andouille gumbo // photo by carmen troesser

Chicken and Andouille Gumbo 
8 to 10 servings

5 celery stalks, divided
3 yellow onions, divided
4 garlic cloves, divided
1 4-lb. chicken, rinsed, dried and cut into pieces
2 bay leaves
1 Tbsp. plus 1 tsp. kosher salt, divided
1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
2 green bell peppers
1 cup butter
1 cup plus 2 Tbsp. flour
2½ Tbsp. dried basil
2½ Tbsp. dried oregano
2½ Tbsp. dried thyme
2½ Tbsp. paprika
½ Tbsp. cayenne pepper
1 lb. andouille sausage, quartered lengthwise and cut into ¼-inch pieces
2 12-oz. packages frozen okra
1 Tbsp. gumbo file*
White rice or cornbread, for serving

• Roughly chop 2 celery stalks, cut 1 yellow onion in half, leaving the skin on, and smash 2 garlic cloves. Place all the vegetables in a 7- to 8-quart soup pot and add the chicken, bay leaves, 1 teaspoon salt and pepper. Cover with water by 1 inch and bring to a boil over medium-high heat.

• Reduce the heat to medium, cover and simmer gently until the chicken is falling off the bone, adding water if needed to keep the chicken submerged, 45 minutes to 1 hour. 

• Meanwhile, finely dice the remaining 3 celery stalks, 2 yellow onions and 2 green bell peppers and set aside. Mince the remaining 2 garlic cloves and set aside. 

• Remove the chicken from the pot. Strain the broth, discarding the vegetables, and set aside to cool. When cool enough to handle, shred the chicken, discarding the bones and skin.

• In an 8-quart Dutch oven over medium heat, melt the butter, then whisk in the flour. Once the flour is incorporated, continue to stir constantly with a wooden spoon so the roux doesn’t stick or burn, reducing heat if necessary, until the roux reaches the color of peanut butter, about 15 to 20 minutes.

• Add the reserved celery, onion and bell pepper and saute until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the reserved garlic, the basil, oregano, thyme, paprika, cayenne and remaining 1 tablespoon salt. Stir to toast the spices, 1 to 2 minutes.

• Add the andouille and stir to combine. Add the cooled stock 1 cup at a time, whisking continuously to prevent lumps. Cook, stirring to make sure the roux doesn’t stick to bottom and burn, 25 to 30 minutes, then reduce the heat to low and simmer gently another 45 minutes. Stir in the chicken, okra and gumbo file, and simmer 20 minutes. 

• Serve over white rice or with cornbread.

* Gumbo file is a powder made from sassafras leaves used in Creole cooking.

coconut pie // photo by carmen troesser

Coconut Pie 
8 servings 

“This is my grandmother’s recipe and a family favorite. The base is an old-fashioned buttermilk pie recipe with coconut added, giving it a perfect sweetness to complement the tang of the buttermilk.” – Candice Poss

3 cups coconut flakes, divided
3 eggs
1½ cups plus 3 Tbsp. sugar, divided
1 cup buttermilk
3 Tbsp. flour
3 Tbsp. melted butter
Juice of 1 lemon
2 tsp. vanilla extract, divided
1 9-inch pie crust (recipe follows)
1 cup heavy cream

• Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. 

• Spread ½ cup coconut flakes evenly on a baking sheet and bake 5 minutes. Stir to ensure even toasting, then bake until golden brown, about 5 minutes. Set aside and increase the oven temperature to 350 degrees.

• In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs and 1½ cups sugar. Add the buttermilk, flour, butter, lemon juice and 1 teaspoon vanilla extract and whisk until combined. Stir in the remaining 2½ cups coconut flakes.

• Pour the mixture into the pie crust and bake until golden brown and the center is set, about 40 to 45 minutes. Let cool completely. 

• Meanwhile, make the whipped cream topping. In a cold bowl, combine the cream, the remaining 3 tablespoons sugar and 1 teaspoon vanilla extract and beat with an electric mixer until medium-to-stiff peaks form, being careful to not overbeat. Refrigerate while waiting for the pie to cool.

• Top the room-temperature pie with the whipped cream and sprinkle with the reserved ½ cup toasted coconut.

Butter Pie Crust
1 9-inch pie crust 

1¼ cups flour
½ cup (1 stick) cold butter, cubed
1 tsp. kosher salt
2 to 6 Tbsp. ice water

• In a food processor, pulse the flour, butter and salt until a coarse meal or small pea-sized balls form.

• Add the water 1 tablespoon at a time, pulsing until the dough just comes together, being careful not to overwork. 

• Roll the dough into a ball, pat it into a disk, wrap it in plastic wrap and refrigerate 2 hours. 

• Working quickly so the dough doesn't get too warm, roll it out into a 13-inch diameter circle. Place the dough in a 9-inch pie plate and gently press it into the bottom and sides. Trim so it’s even and flute the edges by pressing the dough between your thumb and index finger. Prick the bottom of the pie crust evenly with a fork, 4 or 5 times. Refrigerate 20 minutes before filling.

Lauren Healey is associate editor at Sauce Magazine.