Saturday, February 9, 2008

Le Bon Temps Roule!

For those who didn't know, Tuesday was Mardi Gras. New Orleans is my adopted second home, so Mardi Gras is an important holiday for me. Mardi Gras is best celebrated with a crowd, so I decided to invite my team from work to my home for a good New Orleans meal. We were due for a teambuilding exercise anyway. (This pic came from Go there to check out more.)
The menu was ambitious: cheese straws, gumbo, dirty rice, red beans and rice, chicken étouffée and hurricanes. Now of course I promised beignets and cafe au lait, but I was just too tired to make those happen. I made the dirty rice Thursday morning and brought it in for lunch. (We ate the other half of the gumbo for lunch on Wednesday.) I did bang out bread pudding and a Doberge cake. We'll focus on the gumbo and red beans and rice here. This meal is best prepared and served with good music. Make sure you throw in a Rebirth CD too.

Now that the mood is set, let get to cooking. This meal is built around the trinity -- celery, onion and bell pepper. The bell pepper replaces the carrot in the traditional mirepoix.
Lay hands on some dried red beans. I was all about authenticity, so I had my aunt ship me some Camellia red beans. Pick through these and soak them overnight.

When you're ready to cook the beans, start by giving your veggies a sweat in a little oil. Season with kosher salt, freshly ground black pepper, cayenne and thyme. As the veggies soften, add minced garlic.

Once the veggies are soft, add your seasoning meats to the pot. I used smoked turkey necks and wings and smoked turkey sausage. Cube the turkey sausage.

Add the soaked and drained beans and cover with water. Season with salt and pepper and add bay leaves. Cook until the beans are tender, about 2-2 1/2 hours. Now, remove the turkey necks and any wing bones that are meandering around in the pot. Grab a potato masher and smash about a quarter of the beans. Stir the mixture and cook for another 30 minutes.

Serve with rice and with green onions and parsley for garnish. Okay so I forgot the garnish. I'll garnish the leftovers.

Moving on to the gumbo. Gumbo is time consuming. It is a labor of love and requires patience. Start with your shrimp. Yes, I peeled and de-veined four pounds of shrimp. I bought the shrimp wholesale. After your shrimp are peeled, refrigerate the meat and add the shells to a stockpot. Add celery, onion and garlic. Bring to a boil and simmer for two hours. Discard the solids and bring the stock to a boil.

Use the two hours wisely. Peel, seed and chop your tomatoes. Prep your trinity and make your roux. The roux will require equal parts of flour and oil and your undivided attention. I used a cup of canola oil and a cup of flour. Heat the oil over medium heat. Whisk in the flour. Switch to a wooden spoon and stir constantly. The OXO wooden turner is my preferred tool for this. It's so much better than a spoon for scraping the bottom of the pot. I cannot emphasize this enough -- stir constantly. If you burn your roux, you will have to start over.

Roux can range from blond to chocolate brown. For gumbo, my roux is about the color of caramel. For the chicken étouffée, it was chocolate brown.

After your roux is ready, toss in the trinity. Season with kosher salt, freshly ground black pepper, cayenne and thyme. As the veggies soften, add minced garlic. Sound familiar?

Here are the roux and veggies for the étouffée, note the darker color of this roux.

Once the veggies are soft, drop the mixture into the hot shrimp stock, stirring well after each addition. Now add the okra and tomatoes. Reseason and simmer until the mixture is thick and the flavors have melded, about 45 minutes. Add your reserved shrimp and other seafood. I added crab. When I can find them, I add crawfish or langostino. Make sure the heat is on low and cook just until the shrimp is done. Toss in some filé powder.

Serve with rice and garnish with green onion, parsley and filé powder. This bowl is already decorated with hot sauce!

A note about rice: the gumbo, chicken etouffee and red beans are all served with rice. You have to season your rice. I can make this real easy for you. Once you get your water in the pot, add several shakes of Tony Chachere's. That's all you need! Tony Chachere's is also used to season the above dishes. Gumbo tasting flat? Add some Tony Chachere's.

Tools of the trade:

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