Bringing the Bayou Back

I felt it only fitting to cap my week of New Orleans posts by recreating a few bayou classics in my own kitchen. I had some successes and a notable failure. All of these recipes came from that lovely (and at times strange) cookbook I have used before, The New York Times Southern Heritage Cookbook by Jean Hewitt. As usual, I made a full meal—appetizer, main course, side dish, and dessert.

Shrimp Remoulade

Serves 4 to 6

Brought to Louisiana by the French, remoulade is a versatile and easily adapted sauce. This version falls decidedly in the oil-based variety. (And, I would strongly recommend cutting the oil down by about half.) Other than that, if you don’t like shrimp, you can use this remoulade on fish, chicken, and potatoes.

  • 2 lbs shrimp
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 rib celery with leaves
  • 2 sprigs parsley
  • 12 peppercorns (not 11, not 13… just 12! Silly recipe)
  • Salt
  • 3 T tarragon vinegar (don’t be afraid, it’s easy to find)
  • ¼ C Creole mustard (do be afraid, it’s a bit harder to find up North… use Düsseldorf mustard and add Tabasco sauce)
  • 5 anchovies, finely chopped
  • ¾ C oil (I mixed olive and veggie, but again I’d cut it to ½ C or less)
  • Ground pepper
  • ½ t fresh tarragon, chopped (or ¼ t dried)
  • 1 clove garlic, finely minced
  • 1 T chopped parsley
  • 1 scallion (including green parts), chopped
  • 3 T horseradish, preferably fresh
  • Tabasco sauce, to taste
  • Chopped lettuce (I used leaves of Bibb lettuce)

Day before, peel shrimp and make a small incision along the back. Reserve the shrimp shells. Rinse the shrimp under cold water to remove the sandy vein. (I LOVE how they call this a vein. It’s the shrimp intestinal tract, and that “sand” is shrimp poo. Will it kill you to eat it? No, it probably won’t even make you sick. But, seriously, do you like to eat poo? And, yes, you should get the kind with the shells. It will be tastier later on.)

Place the shrimp, shells, bay leaf, celery, parsley sprigs, peppercorns, and salt in saucepan and add water to cover. Bring to a boil and simmer about five minutes. Drain shrimp and let cool. (OK, so shrimp cooking quickly. I found that they were turning pink and cooking through long before the pot began to boil. My suggestion for next time: Bring everything to boil and then add the shrimp. Cook until pink. Then, drain and run cold water over them so they stop cooking.)

Place the shrimp in a mixing bowl. Chill. Combine the remaining ingredients except lettuce and pour over shrimp. Let stand overnight in the refrigerator. Next day, bring to room temperature before serving. Serve on chopped lettuce. (Again, I used Bibb leaves.)

Results

As you can see, the remoulade is yellow (whereas typical Louisiana remoulade tends to be more pinkish). Like I said, this was great on shrimp and would have been better with less oil. Next time, I may chop the shrimp and make it more of a shrimp salad. The leftovers tasted pretty good on toasted rye bread, as well.

Shrimp in remoulade sauce

Chicken Gumbo

Serves 6 or more (um, way more… I mean, you’re starting with 5 lbs of chicken for crying out loud)

  • 1 5 lb stewing chicken, cut into pieces (make sure you get stewing chicken… other chickens will get rubbery with the amount of boiling the bird has to go through)
  • ¼ C lard or bacon drippings (so, I cooked a few pieces of bacon and then added veggie oil)
  • 4 C boiling chicken broth or water
  • Salt
  • 4 ears corn
  • 3 ripe tomatoes or 2 C canned tomatoes
  • ½ lb okra, trimmed and sliced (either length- or crosswise)
  • 5 C water
  • ¾ C onion, finely chopped
  • ¾ C celery, finely chopped
  • ½ C green pepper, finely chopped
  • ¼ C butter or chicken fat (yup, that’s a half a stick of butter)
  • ½ t or more red pepper flakes or Tabasco sauce
  • ½ C uncooked rice
  • 1 t or more Worcestershire sauce (optional)
  • 1 to 2 t filé powder (optional… it’s dried sassafras leaves, so good luck finding it at your corner store)

Brown the chicken pieces in the bacon drippings and transfer the pieces to a casserole. (I used an 8 qt stock pot. You are going to need something rather large that is safe for the stovetop. So, I’m not really sure about the whole casserole thing.) Add the broth or water and salt and simmer partially covered, until meat is easily removed from the bones—1½ hours or longer. Drain and reserve the cooking liquid. Remove the meat from the bones and shred it. (Obviously, this is easiest to do once the chicken has cooled. You can shred with two forks, but where’s the fun in that? I used my fingers.) Add the meat to the cooking liquid and set aside.

Scrape the corn from the cobs into another saucepan (again, make it a big one). Add the tomatoes, okra, and water and bring to a boil.

Meanwhile, cook the onion, celery, and green pepper in the butter until the vegetables are wilted. Add them to the tomato mixture. Add the pepper flakes or Tabasco and rice and return to boil. Continue cooking until rice is tender.

Add the reserved meat and broth and return to a boil. Add seasoning, salt, pepper, and Tabasco as needed. Add the Worcestershire, if desired. Moisten (I loathe that word) the filé powder with water and add. Do not boil gumbo (um, what the hell have we been doing this entire time??). Serve immediately.

Results

This is not gumbo. As my sister said, “I have had gumbo. Most recently at the airport in New Orleans. And, this is a rather nice chicken soup, but not gumbo.” While we do not hold the airport gumbo to be a paragon of authentic food, this recipe didn’t even measure up to the airport. It just didn’t seem dark enough nor thick enough nor spicy enough to be gumbo.

Chicken Gumbo

A few changes for next time: Add a dark roux to thicken it up, and probably use more okra (cook the okra a bit longer as well). I’d also switch from fresh tomatoes to the canned. In addition, I thought it odd that rice was added to the gumbo rather than serving it over the rice. So, I’d omit the rice from the recipe (especially if I’m adding a roux to thicken, I wouldn’t need the rice to thicken it) and then just serve it over rice. Of course, I could just find a better recipe.

Black Beans with Rum

Serves 6 (way more… seriously)

  • 2 C dried black beans
  • 2 medium-size onions, coarsely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 T bacon drippings (because you just have them hanging around)
  • 3 ribs celery, coarsely chopped
  • 1 carrot, cut into a fine dice
  • 1 T salt, or more to taste
  • Ground pepper
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 T parsley, chopped
  • ½ t oregano
  • ¼ C dark rum
  • 1 C sour cream

Soak the beans overnight in water to cover or add enough water to cover the beans to a depth of 1”, bring to a boil and cook 2 minutes. Let stand one hour. (Again, use a very large pot.)

Cook the onions and garlic in bacon drippings until onions are wilted. Add to the beans. Add the celery, carrot, salt, pepper, bay leaf, parsley, and oregano. Cover and simmer until beans are nearly tender. (I like recipes that don’t give you a timeframe. This took a bit longer than expected.) Add more water if necessary as the beans cook.

Meanwhile, preheat oven to 350°F. Turn the beans into a casserole and add half the rum. Cover and bake until beans are thoroughly tender. Just before serving, stir in the remaining rum. Serve beans with sour cream.

Results

So, I usually have dark rum hanging around. Of course, I didn’t check before I started making dinner. Lo and behold, I only had clear rum. This basically means less flavor, more of an alcohol taste. These were some boozy beans. Good, but boozy. Also, the veggies that you add pretty much disintegrate during the incredibly long cooking time.

Black beans in a bowl with a dollop of sour cream

Rum Pie

Serves 6 (OK, what is wrong with this cookbook. This makes 8 servings of pie easy. Plus, it makes enough for a 9” pie with a lot left over.)

  • 5 egg yolks
  • ¾ C granulated sugar
  • 1 envelope unflavored gelatin
  • ¼ C water
  • ¾ C dark rum
  • 2 C heavy cream
  • 1 baked 9” graham cracker pie shell, cooled (or in my case, store bought and opened)
  • 3 T raw sugar

Beat the egg yolks until they are thick and lemon-colored. Gradually beat in the granulated sugar.

Soften the gelatin in the water and add ¼ C of the rum. Heat over boiling water until gelatin dissolves. Pour the gelatin mixture into the yolks, stirring briskly (you don’t want scrambled eggs). Stir in the remaining rum.

Whip the cream and fold it into the custard. Pour the filling into the pie shell and chill. When filling is set, sprinkle the pie with the raw sugar and serve.

Results

One tip on the raw sugar: Don’t buy an entire box of raw sugar. You are just sprinkling it on top of the pie. Take a few packets from your favorite restaurant. It will save you a bit of cash.

Slice o' rum pie with raw sugar on top

Again, had to substitute the rum. The leftover filling also tastes good as a dipper for strawberries.

So, that is it for the New Orleans freak out. I am now back to my usual Northern environment (as evidenced by the lovely “spring” we’ve been having).

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