Sunday, January 27, 2013

New Orleans, Day 2 - Seafood Gumbo & Chicken Creole

Gumbo Crabs
During the cooking demo, Poppy spent a fair amount of time teaching us how to make roux properly.  I don't cook much and I always considered roux to be flour and melted butter whisked together as a thickening agent for soups and stews.  In New Orleans, roux is flour added to hot oil and stirred with a wooden spoon, not a whisk, over medium to high heat until it's the brown color of milk chocolate (for the gumbo, dark chocolate for the chicken creole).  According to Poppy, brown means flavor.  Then you add chopped onions first to soften and add flavor before adding chopped bell pepper and celery.  She stressed the importance of adding the onions first before the other seasoning vegetables.  Many other cookbooks and chefs add them all in at once but her way was to add the onions first.  Considering how delicious her seafood gumbo was, I'm advocating her method.  Don't mess with what works.
A proper roux
Poppy breaking apart the crabs to add to the gumbo
The seafood gumbo was amazing.  There's something so appealing about knowing the seafood was purchased just that morning and it was probably pretty fresh when it went up for sale as well.  And I'm a sucker for shrimp so I was set to favor it anyway.  Poppy also showed us the simplicity of making shrimp stock from all the pairings of the seasoning vegetables, shrimp heads, tails and shells and water.  It was one of those so-simple-even-I-could-make-it type of things.  Next time I make anything with shrimp, I'm saving the shrimp parts to make my own shrimp stock.  Oh and I also learned you want to cook the okra separately before you put it in the gumbo or else your gumbo will have a slimy texture.  Good to know.
The picture does not do justice to the seafood gumbo

Seafood Gumbo, recipe from New Orleans Cooking Experience

1/2 cup oil
1 cup flour
4 gumbo crabs
2 pounds shrimp
1 onion, chopped
1 bell pepper, chopped
3 stalks celery, chopped
2 pounds okra, sliced 1/4"
oil for frying okra
1 1-lb can crushed tomatoes
1 gallon shrimp stock
1 clove garlic
2 tablespoons thyme
1 bay leaf
1 bunch green onions
  1. Peel shrimp and combine peels, onion skin and tops in a stock pot.  Cover with water and boil for 20 minutes.  Strain and reserve (this is the shrimp stock).
  2. Fry okra is very hot oil until lightly browned.
  3. Make a dark roux with the flour and oil, cooking to the color of milk chocolate brown.  Add onions, stirring together until the roux darkens to a bittersweet chocolate brown.  Add celery and bell pepper.  Saute for 5 minutes, then add the gumbo crabs, tomatoes, okra, herbs and the shrimp stock.  Add garlic and salt and pepper to taste.  Simmer 45 minutes or longer.  
  4. Towards the end of the simmering time, Poppy also skimmed the oil off the top of the gumbo.
  5. Ten minutes before serving, add shrimp and green onions.  Serve on top of cooked rice.
Browning the chicken for the Chicken Creole
The Chicken Creole was also quite tasty and started off with a roux.  What was most surprising to me is I had expected it to be spicy but it wasn't.  Poppy made a point of debunking the myth that all Southern Louisiana, Cajun and Creole cooking was spicy.  It isn't or doesn't have to be and it can still be tasty.  She proved it with the Chicken Creole.  It reminded me of a similar dish from the Philippines and was just a really good stew.
Seriously good Chicken Creole

Chicken Creole, recipe from New Orleans Cooking Experience

8 chicken quarters on the bone
kosher salt
all-purpose flour for dusting
bacon drippings
1/4 cup bacon drippings
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 large yellow onion, chopped
1 medium bell pepper, chopped
1 celery heart or three stalks with leaves, chopped (1 cup)
1 12-ounce can or bottle of beer, optional
1 cup chicken stock (add another 1 1/2 cups of chicken stock if not using beer)
1 small can whole Italian Plum tomatoes
2 large bay leaves
1 tablespoon dried thyme
4 tablespoons flat leaf parsley, chopped
1 small bunch green onions and tops, thinly sliced
salt, cayenne pepper and Crystal hot sauce to taste
  1. Season chicken with kosher salt and pepper; dredge with flour.  Shake off excess flour and brown chicken in hot bacon drippings (or flavorless oil).  Remove chicken when well-browned (doesn't have to be completely cooked, just browned).  In the same pan, add the 1/4 cup bacon drippings or flavorless oil and turn up the heat to high.  Add 1/4 cup flour all at once and stir constantly to make a dark-chocolate-colored roux, about 15 minutes.  Immediately add onions to the pan and stir well; cook for about 3 minutes.  Add bell pepper and celery.  Cook 3 minutes more.
  2. Slowly stir in the beef and chicken stock along with the whole tomatoes that you crush between your fingers into the pan.  Cook about 3 minutes.  Stir in the thyme, bay leaves and parsley.  Return chicken to the pan; stir well to cover with the sauce.  Cover pan and simmer on medium low heat until meat is tender and chicken is cooked through.  Season to taste.  Add kosher salt, cayenne pepper and hot sauce as desired.
  3. Serve over hot steamed rice and top with a sprinkling of thinly sliced green onions.


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