Mardi Gras is coming to a close, people. Ash Wednesday is day after tomorrow and this is the time when suddenly I begin to crave pork and beef and chicken and all manner of dishes that will be given up by me once I get that black cross of ashes traced onto my forehead. Every year I say “Oh, I don’t care about meat. I don’t even like it! I never eat it anyway.” That’s right about the time when visions of $12.00 bacon cheeseburgers, spicy, homemade jambalaya and hot, crispy chicken wings begin to pop up in my head. I pulled out my giant pot, the one big enough to bathe a baby, and set about to make the best pot of jambalaya I’ve ever had. I’ve been making this for the longest time and I think I’ve worked out the kinks. That said, no shortcuts may be taken ie: frozen bags of the Trinity which always leave you waiting for the promised burst of flavor. This iconic dish begs, no, DESERVES, to be prepared properly…leisurely, and it will reward you by delivering that slow and sultry combination of Louisiana flavors that cause you to roll your eyes back in your head. Well-made jambalaya, good jambalaya, is like finger-poppin’ music in your mouth. Layer upon layer of ingredients make themselves known, some subtly others not so discreetly. It is a one-pot marvel of unpretentious components that ultimately yield a sophisticated dinner of comfort food while at the same time an over-the-top indulgence. And it is the best possible way to celebrate Fat Tuesday. So put on some boom-boom radio or zydeco, haul out your big pot and get to it. Laissez le bon temps rouler!
Jambalaya is a great dish for a crowd. It’s best prepared in a large, heavy bottomed pot with a lid that fits well. Having all your ingredients cut, chopped and ready to go will also ensure a fantastic meal. If you’re not able to locate converted Louisiana white rice just substitute it for a good quality, converted, white, long grain rice. What cannot be substituted is the Andouille sausage. I get mine from the butcher’s and if they’re out I use Aidell’s brand which is stocked at Publix. I find using sausage other than Andouille in this dish ends up tasting like hot dogs. Not a flavor I want after I’ve been standing in the kitchen for a few hours. So put off making jambalaya until you can find the real thing. I use a mammoth, wooden spoon to stir this dish. You’ll want to use the largest spoon you can get your hands on as the ingredients become heavy and bulky as you get further into the cooking.
Wow, was last week great, or what? The week ended with a brilliant Easter day here in south Florida. I didn’t cook. Jimmy, ever so generously, took us all to brunch. James ordered Crab Benedict which got me to thinking THIS week about crab….and remoulade sauce. Homemade remoulade sauce. And not some chemical-laden, jarred mayonnaise with a bunch of dried up, processed herbs and spices thrown in. NO, I craved the mile-long list of ingredients remoulade from the likes of Craig Claiborne and Julia Reed sitting alongside Pat Conroy’s crab cakes. Lee Bailey’s recipe is also lovely but his makes up 6 cups. A little more than I need on this spring day. Easy and quickly made, the sauce does require quite a few components but I’ve got to tell you, you probably have all the ingredients in your pantry and refrigerator. I ate my weight in remoulade during the late 70’s in New Orleans. I was living in Atlanta and I was so lonely and lost. Those were bad…BAD years for me. Since I worked with Delta I would fly to N’awlins any chance I could and stay with a dear, sweet ex-neighbor from midtown Atlanta. His partner had up and left him for a richer man so my friend, Tommy, put in for a transfer to New Orleans and got it. We spent countless nights depressed and unhappy, losing ourselves in bourbon and gorging ourselves with the freshest of local seafood. Every time I left I was still a sad mess but I always welcomed the incredible escape of that city and its celebrated cuisine. Remoulade is spicy and the heady mix of ingredients will play in your mouth hard and long. It’s heaven. And it stays fresh in the refrigerator for a good week as long as you are diligent making sure your knives, cutting board, food processor and blade, etc. are spotless before using. Don’t skimp on the lemon and vinegar as those two ingredients also help to prevent bacteria. Furthermore it’s not just good with seafood. How about a BLT on a pretzel roll slathered with remoulade? Oh, and the tomato is a tart, fried green tomato. Mercy. This recipe is from Julia Reed’s book “Ham Biscuits, Hostess Gowns and Other Southern Specialties”. You’ll love it!
Lent is coming up, Gentle Reader, and as I say to myself EVERY year, “I’ll be ready. I’m ready.” I eat a little meat and think, “Okay. I’m good”. But a week or two later I start wanting chicken…in a Puerto Rican stew or Greek style with lots of lemon, olive oil and oregano. Or a little charred, grilled flank steak, rare and sliced thin on top of a HUGE salad. But that’s the name of the game. Sacrifice. Fasting. Sigh. Anyway, to circumvent that longing I’ve been meating up. I figured there’s plenty of time for shrimp gumbo so when I planned this batch I focused on the OTHER white meat. Smoked pork and Andouille sausage backed up with chicken. Sounds good, no? I thought I’d start with a dark, chestnut colored roux and masses of vegetables. The trinity, of course, finely chopped sweet onion, bell pepper and celery. Don’t be tempted to cut corners and buy that frozen stuff. It has NO flavor. Truly. Then heaps of freshly chopped garlic and flat leafed parsley. I’d use chicken stock as my broth and season with a heavy hand of cayenne pepper and Tony Chachere’s. If you don’t know the glories of Tony Chachere’s then you’re in for a pleasant surprise. It’s loaded with salt but it’s used in place of salt. So throw it on your chicken, fries, omelets, fish, really anything. But check it out. It’s got a great little kick. Tony Chachere’s can be found on the spice aisle in your grocery store. If your store doesn’t carry it you order it on Amazon. I started by making a roux. The darker the roux the less it thickens but that’s all right because I wasn’t going to make my gumbo soupy. I wanted my roux a rich, nut-brown color.
Into a big, heavy pot I added vegetable oil and flour. Yes, it’s a lot but, hey, it’s gumbo… you’re gonna cut back? Then it’s not gumbo. It’s like caesar salad without anchovies. It’s not a caesar salad. At a medium-high heat I continually stirred for about 15-20 minutes watching my roux like a hawk. It gets to a dark stage that can easily scorch if you’re not careful and then you have to throw it out and start all over. There’s no saving it once it’s scorched. I find if you use a wide, wooden spoon preferably flat, it’s easy to keep turning over the mixture. Once I got my roux the shade of brown I wanted I added all my vegetables except the parsley. I add that later so I don’t lose any flavor. I stirred the vegetables well until they were well coated with the roux and then I let them cook a bit…so the onions were almost clear. The Tony Chachere’s was thrown in along with a box of chicken stock. I use chicken stock for everything. I can’t find commercial beef broth that doesn’t have that horrible processed, dirty-foot taste so instead of beef broth I typically use chicken. I add just the chicken and let that simmer for a good half hour-45 minutes. The simmering process breaks the chicken down a bit so it’s tender. I don’t add the pork products at this point because it would boil out all the flavor. After 45 minutes I then add my chopped parsley, Andouille sausage, smoked pork. The heat is dropped to low as the sausage and pork just needs to heat thru and flavor the soup a bit. That’s it! Serve it over fluffy, white rice and cool the heat with a beer or some brown. And if you’re Catholic or Orthodox Christian you’d better hurry up… Fat Tuesday’s day after tomorrow. “Hey, mister! Throw me sumpin’!”