Saturday, August 02, 2003

Cooking Gumbo

I was at the Famers Market this morning and bought half a pound of the prettiest okra.

I like okra. Not everyone does. Last summer the French kids were over and they fought for the okra cooked in the crowder peas. It impressed the hell out of me. But I'm digressing. I'm talking about gumbo, not French kids and not okra.

For three years now I've donated a gumbo cooking lesson for 4 to the San Francisco Choral Society. It's a huge success. For me, it's a chance to be the center of attention and share a tradition given to me by the women of my family and community from when I was growing up. Although I ate a lot of good gumbo at my grandmother's table, it was Hilda Roberts Marioneaux, a neighbor, who taught me to cook gumbo.

Okra is used in gumbo to thicken the broth. The alternative to okra is file, which is ground sassafras leaves. Bet you didn't know that. Most of the time, I cook gumbo I use file, but this okra was too pretty and I decided I was going to do a chicken and andouille gumbo with okra.

First you make a roux. Using about half a cup of oil and a half a cup of flour, begin stirring in a large cast iron skillet. Does it have to be cast iron? Yes, now hush. Cook the roux slowly, taking your time. We don't want to burn the roux. Used to, I'd get ready to make my roux by freshening up my drink and calling my cousin Sue on the phone.

When the roux is dark brown, and I do mean dark, as dark as brackish swamp water, I add about a cup each of chopped onions, bell pepper and celery. My aunt Winnie calls this the "holy trinity." It with the roux is the basis of 90 percent of Louisiana cooking. Personally, I like the taste of garlic, so I ad about 4 or 5 cloves of chopped garlic and cook it with the rest of the holy trinity.

After about 15 to 20 minutes of cooking the vegetables (I'm calling the holy trinity and the garlic vegetables, so y'all stay with me here), I add about a cup or so (this isn't rocket science) of sliced okra, and continue to cook until the okra is hot, then I add my vegetables to a large soup pot of heated chicken broth (approximately 4 cans). Now, I live in the city, work full time, and have a very busy social schedule, so yes, I use canned chicken broth. If you've got more time than me, make the shit yourself. I don't have time.

At this point, you add the chicken and the sasage, which you have previously sauteed a bit. When I was growing up, the chicken might have been pecking in the yard a couple of hours before I started the gumbo, but see the above paragraph about living in the city and being busy, so now I buy chicken parts. Quick and easy. I especially am fond of chicken thighs. Make it easy on yourself and buy 3 or 4 pounds of chicken thighs, season them, dredge in flour, and saute for a few minutes and they're ready to add to the gumbo. Prepare the sausage by cutting it up into bite sized pieces and searing before adding to the gumbo.

SECRET INGREDIENT: I add about a spoonful of liquid crab boil after everything is in the gumbo. Not more than that 'cause it's hot, very hot. Just about a spoonful.

At this point, everything is in the gumbo. Cook it for about an hour and let it sit for awhile. If I'm doing a dinner party, this is all done in the afternoon. Then I take my nap. Naps are very important. About the time your company arrives, put the rice on to cook (this takes 20 to 30 minutes), and put the gumbo back on the fire at a low heat and bring to its serving temperature.

When the rice is done, we're ready to eat. What kind of bread, you ask? Well, if you're going to be traditional, throw a slice of white bread at them. I prefer to be fancy and will often serve a hot baguette if I haven't had time to make cornbread. My people are bayou people, without pretention to being French. We're a lot more likely to serve cornbread than store bought bread, but you do what you want. Bread don't matter. This is about the gumbo.

Bon appetit!

(Note: Gumbo is a soup made in Louisiana and East Texas made from vegetables and meat (such as chicken, or seafood, and is thickened with okra or file powder). (That's pronounced fi'lay. Please bear with me since I can't figure out how to do an accent aigu on my blog.) It's one of those "culturally defining" dishes of the French in Louisiana, like chicken soup is to Jewish cooking, or haggis is to the Scots.)

Determining Priorities

I'm with this guy. I'm copying rather than linking because that's all I can do. I just want him to get the credit for highlighting an important point that no one seems to have raised. It is about priorities.

"Guns vs. Butter, or Children vs. Seniors.
"So we're gonna hand $400 freakin' BILLION dollars of cash to drug companies, as a freebie to seniors. Is this really and truly the best way that we could be spending our health dollars? Is this the single most effective place, in terms of return on investment? Let's rephrase the question: Exactly how far would $400 freakin' BILLION go when it comes to insuring the uninsured children of this country? As hard as I might, I just can't seem to find a scenario under which I'm more sympathetic to a senior citizen, living in his own home, driving his cadillac to the doctor four times a week because of aching back, than I am sympathetic to the child of a poor single mom somewhere in an inner city...where a tiny fraction of that drug money can save a life or provide the regular medical care that is so important in a young life.

"Where does the AARP get off, exactly? Let's call this what it is: A gigantic giveaway to the drug companies. We're just going to take out a huge debt and hand the slip to them. We'll say to them, "Come up with the most expensive drugs you possibly can! Do it now!".

"You can BET on the fact that drugs are going to get more expensive. Why? Because as these drugs are directly marketed to senior citizens through the airwaves, they'll be going to their doctors and demanding these medications, which will now be covered under these stupid programs; drugs companies know this, and will raise prices, knowing they're gonna get paid. And as the population continues to age, this voting block gets stronger and stronger, wants more and more under these programs, and will finally succeed in burying a younger generation under the weight of their parents' greed."

All I can say is amen.