I knew that going to New Orleans would be a culinary adventure- that I would be sampling some truly fantastic cuisine that I hadn't had much exposure to. I didn't know that I would be adding a whole new chapter of food to my internal catalog of recipes. I have made gumbo 3 times since getting back and I'm the kind of person who never makes the same thing twice. I mean, why bother? I wish I could be diligent like Deb over at Smitten Kitchen and make a recipe several times in a week to get it *just* right, but it's not in my nature (which is why I SO appreciate sites like Smitten Kitchen!).
In New Orleans, I signed Kris and I up for a cooking class which was really a cooking demo with lunch at the end. The online community had great things to say about this class at the New Orleans School of Cooking and I don't need too much convincing to do anything food or cooking related. But when we finally got there on our scheduled morning, Kris would barely stand in the shop that led to the classroom in the back. The shop was filled to the brim with capital-T-Tourists. I think a bus of old-timers (and I use that term affectionately) had also just unloaded and was being whisked in to the classroom like a bunch of VIP's. Kris would have none of it. I was still up for it. Also, I had already paid.
We shuffled into the classroom, picked a table off to the side and sat down with 4 strangers. The chef came in and I think we can safely call her the Paul Dean of New Orleans. She gave us the history of New Orleans, relating it to food and then started cooking. She made Gumbo, Jambalaya, Bread Pudding and Pralines (say it with me: Praw-leens). Watching the demo made all the difference. Reading the recipes on their own, I never would have understood how to make a roux. I always thought that a roux was flour and butter, cooked just long enough to get rid of the raw flour taste but not long enough that your butter burns. But it turns out that in New Orleans, people like to use vegetable oil (!!!) in a 12inch deep saute pan (!!?!) and can cook a roux for several hours (???!) while constantly stirring the mixture to make sure it doesn't burn. Those facts just don't compute in my head.
All of this to say that I made their Gumbo twice (and it's great) but the one I'm sharing with you today is from a cookbook I just picked up by Donald Link who is the chef at Herbsaint and Cochon- where we had a spectacular meal while in New Orleans (and I had my very first Head Cheese. It was awesome).
Chicken Sauce Piquant
Adapted from Real Cajun by Donald Link
My chicken pieces ended up being much smaller than the recommended 1'inch cube which meant that they were pretty much cooked during the browning phase so I sampled one and holy Jesus is that some GOOD chicken! Kris and I thought about forgoing the rest of the recipe and just eating these spicy chicken nuggets on their own!
- 1 1/2 tbls salt
- 2 tsp ground black pepper
- 1/2 tsp ground white pepper
- 2 tsp cayenne pepper
- 2 tsp chili pepper
- 1 tsp paprika
- 1 (3-4) pound chicken, boned and cut into 1-inch cubes
- 3/4 cup lard (or vegetable oil)
- 1 cup flour
- 1 small onion, diced
- 3 celery stalks, diced
- 1 small poblano, seeded and diced
- 1 tbls minced garlic
- 5 plum tomatoes, diced
- 2 cups canned tomatoes
- 5 cups chicken broth
- 1 tbls dried thyme
- 4 bay leaves
- 4 dashes hot sauce
In a medium bowl combine the salt, black pepper, white pepper, cayenne pepper, chili pepper and paprika. Toss the chicken with the spice mixture. In a deep, wide pan (dutch oven or large saute pan) heat the lard until almost smoking. Toss the chicken in the flour, shake off excess flour (reserving the excess flour) and portion of chicken in one single layer into heated oil. Turn chicken to ensure even browning then remove. Continue cooking chicken in batches, making sure not to overload the pan.
Once all the chicken is cooked, add the remaining flour to the lard to make your roux. Sitrring continually, let the roux cook down until it is thick and the color of peanut butter (maybe even the consistency of peanut butter). To the roux, add the onion, celery, poblano chili, garlic and diced plum tomatoes. Let it all cook for about 5 minutes. Add the canned tomatoes, chicken broth, dried thyme, bay leaves and hot sauce. Bring to a simmer and let it cook for about 45 minutes until it gets thick and dark red (or at least darker than what you began with). Serve with steamed rice with scallions.
Perfectly Steamed Rice with ScallionsAdapted from Real Cajun by Donald Link
This is the first time I made rice without having to check, stir and add more water the entire time. Maybe I was just lacking faith in the process?
- 1 cup long grain rice
- 1 1/2 cups water
- 2 bay leaves
- pinch of salt
- Half a bunch of scallions, thinly sliced
Combine everything but the scallions in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, turn heat down to LOW, cover and let steam for about 15 minutes. Fluff with a fork and add scallions.
Cast-Iron Hush Puppies
Adapted from Real Cajun by Donald Link
I'm not sure I've ever had hush puppies before so I don't really have anything to compare these to but I'm a fan. I took a few tablsepoons of honey, add a few teaspoons of hot water, whisk it together with some paprika and use this as a dipping sauce. It was also delicious drizzled over the gumbo (for those who can't quite handle the heat.. like me...).
- 1/2 small onion, chopped
- 1 small jalapeno pepper, stemmed, seeded and chopped
- 1 bunch scallions thinly sliced
- 2 tbls minced parsley
- 1 cup yellow cornmeal
- 1/2 cup flour
- 2 tbls sugar
- 2 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 tsp dried thyme
- 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
- 3/4 cup whole milk
- 1 egg
- Vegetable oil, for frying
In a food processor combine the onion, jalapeno pepper, scallions and parsley. Mix to a rough puree. In a medium bowl whisk together the cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, thyme and cayenne pepper. In a large bowl combine the milk and egg. Add the onion mixture to the milk mixture and combine. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and mix to combine. Apparently it helps to refrigerate the mixture for about an hour which I did (purely because I had to) but I imagine it would just be stickier should you choose not to wait.
In a cast iron skillet (or in my case, a deep saucepan), heat about 3 inches of vegetable oil to 350 degrees. While this is heating, form the dough into balls roughly 1 inch big (or in my unit of measure: 1 doughnut hole). Once the oil is hot enough, fry up about 6 hush puppies at time, making sure not to overcrowd the pan. Let cook for about 2-3 minutes or until golden brown. Remove to a paper towel lined cookie sheet. Repeat as necessary. Hush Puppies can be kept warm on a naked cookie sheet in a 200 degree oven.