Archive for the ‘R-Rated’ Category

The Best Gumbo Ever

May 12, 2009

I’ve had stuff in my freezer for months waiting to go into my next big pot of badass gumbo, and finally I decided to clean out the freezer and do it—leftover turkey from Thanksgiving, turkey stock (I thought), shrimp, sausage, and a couple of squirrels from Terry my neighbor (the same one who gave me the trout in an earlier posting).

The squirrels were the wild card here—new for me—but sheesh, they more or less have parts like a chicken, right, except for arms where wings would be? And except for the fact that they kind of look vaguely fetus-like…

I started out with what now has become a normal gumbo beginning—first you make a roux.
(Traditionally gumbo could be thickened with roux, or okra, or filé powder, but not all three. Today, roux-based gumbos are common, with okra thrown in, and filé as a kind of condiment seasoning at the end.)

A gumbo roux is dark, and it’s easy to burn, so I keep the fire low. I used 10 tablespoons each of olive oil and flour. It takes two hours for me to produce a good roux on low heat, but at least I don’t ruin it. Here’s the roux at the beginning

and the end of the two hours.

Then into the roux went 4 cups of chopped onion, bell pepper, and celery, and that cooked for 10 minutes.

Then in went what I thought was frozen turkey stock—except that it wasn’t. It was another roux + vegetables gumbo base that I had frozen for a quick start next time. So now I had a gumbo base cooking that was as thick as paste. I had to thin it out with lots more canned stock and chopped tomatoes (and a bottle of beer), which gave me a lot of liquid to work with. This was going to be a big pot o’ gumbo, really big.

All I could do is try to fill the void with whatever I had—in this case, two pounds of smoked sausage, two pounds of shrimp, two squirrels, 8 cups of chopped turkey. In case it wasn’t enough, I took out the fryer I had and began to thaw that.

The shrimp I boiled for 5 minutes, cut each in half horizontally (to allow more shrimp pieces to permeate the soup), and boiled the shrimp water down to concentrate the flavor before putting it in the gumbo.

A classic formula for gumbo has a trio of meats: a red meat, a fowl, and a fish or shellfish. The squirrel was an odd West Virginia touch—Creole meets Mountaineer.

I had no experience with squirrel, so I tried first just cooking the whole squirrels in the gumbo liquid for 30 minutes and then trying to cut them up. I wasn’t very efficient, so I put all the mutilated parts into a strainer and continued to cook the squirrel in the gumbo. Twenty minutes later, they were still tough, so I took the parts out and braised them in a separate pot with some wine. The meat is very lean, but not at all gamey.

The whole process took most of Mother’s Day, but since my recently deceased mother was a great cook, she would have been right there with me. And she was. OK, except that mother only made seafood gumbo, with shrimp, crabs, and oysters, and she might have winced at the squirrel carcasses.

I like serving gumbo with the rice on top for color contrast, garnished with chopped parsley and green onions. And in this case, a bit of braised squirrel in the bowl.

Happy mother’s day, mother. Except for the sausage, turkey, and squirrel, my gumbo is your gumbo.

Nothing Fishy

April 22, 2009

Wednesday, April 22

My neighbor, Terry, is a good fisherman, and the local streams here are stocked with trout. Terry’s wife doesn’t particularly like to gut fish for cooking, so I often get the fruits de mer of his labor.

I love fresh trout, not only because of the great taste fresh fish has, but because of a couple of good lessons it teaches me. One is what fresh fish look and smell like. The trout that Terry gives me has virtually no smell (they’re fresh water fish) except a kind of clean fish smell.

This gives me a comparison when I want to buy fresh fish at a market. I have no difficulty asking the person behind the fish counter to let me smell the fish before I buy it. If it smells ‘fishy’ or off in any way, I don’t bother. I can get something better in the freezer aisle.

A clean fish smell, except when I gut them. Then it’s easy to understand why Terry’s wife might not want to do this. But that’s the second lesson. You remind yourself when you disembowel a whole animal that you are eating something that was alive recently, and you try to appreciate the ladder of life that permits one species to consume another one.

I can understand vegetarianism, but I can’t understand people who eat animal protein but who do not want to know that it comes from animals. Such culinary denial. If we all had to catch and slaughter our own animal protein, we’d probably eat a lot less of it.

Thank you, Messieurs Trout (and Fisherman Terry). That I am higher on the food chain than you may just be an accident. But in this universe, my culinary spirit is grateful. Excuse me while I go get some flour and oil for the pan.