Tag Archives: food

Christmas on the Bayou

It’s only May, but I’ve already jumped the gun and wrote about Christmas, so I’m in the mood to talk about Christmas at my house. There is, of course, plenty of food for everyone, turkey (fried and baked), ham, casseroles, rice dressing, cornbread dressing, etc. However, the only thing that I enjoy more than the food is the craziness of all my family being together.

About two years ago Edmund decided to show up for Christmas. I’m not entirely sure how Edmund is related to us, but he’s older and I think he may have been related to my grandfather. Everybody just rolls their eyes when Edmund shows up because they know he’s going to ask them for something, usually money. Edmund wears blue jeans, a denim shirt, and a cowboy hat. He drives an old Ford F-150 and is the kind of man who probably has a bunch of money stuffed in a mattress somewhere yet acts like he’s poor.

He’ll say, “Mais, you got any money to help the pauvre misérable?”

Do you have any money to help the poor miserable?

So he’s at my house for Christmas, and he’s standing in the kitchen. He starts talking to my Aunt, Bernadette, and he says “Mais Bernadette, you need to go a diet and lose some weight.”

She turned around, face hot with anger and said, “Edmund! I may be fat, but you’re ugly and you’re gonna die ugly!”

And that was the end of that. Christmas at my house isn’t usually that dramatic, but that particular time was a bit crazy because of Edmund and his mouth. It’s usually just a food filled festivity, and there are always leftovers for days afterwards. The story about Edmund coming over for Christmas will remain one of my favorite stories about the holiday.

My dad is really good at carving a turkey

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Gumbo

Gumbo is a good and hearty meal. Photo from http://www.myrecipes.com

Gumbo is a dish that many people know about, but few people know how to make well. It can take on many forms, but the basis of gumbo is always a good roux. If you read my last post and tried your hand at making roux, this post will show you how to use that roux to make a delicious gumbo.

Gumbo is defined by the ingredients that you choose to put in it. Your gumbo can be chicken and sausage, seafood (crabs, shrimp, oysters, or even shrimp and okra. There are a few other varieties, but the three that I mentioned are the most common at my house.

For this post I’ll focus on a chicken and sausage gumbo, it’s pretty straightforward to make, and the ingredients are easy to find at most grocery stores. This recipe is modified from Tony Chachere’s Cajun Country Cookbook to be closer to the way my family cooks it.

You’ll Need

  • A large stock/soup pot. 12 quarts will be plenty
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 green bell peppers, chopped
  • Cajun seasonings (Tony Chachere’s or Slap Ya’ Mama)
  • 1-2 cups of roux depending on how thick and dark you want your gumbo
  • 3 lbs smoked sausage, sliced
  • 1 4-6 lb hen, cut into pieces and seasoned with Cajun seasonings
  • 2 cups rice

Fill the pot a little less than half full with water, set to boil.  Add roux once the water starts boiling and stir to ensure that the roux mixes evenly. Add chopped onion and bell pepper and simmer for 20-30 minutes. Add chicken and sausage and cook on medium low heat for 2-3 hours until chicken is tender. Stir regularly so the chicken and vegetables don’t stick to the bottom. Be careful to not overcook the chicken because the meat will start falling off the bone.

Once the meat gets close to being done, cook 2 cups of rice. Skim any excess oil off the top of the gumbo before serving. When gumbo and rice are cooked, serve gumbo over rice and enjoy. I usually make a potato salad to go with the gumbo as well, and it helps if the gumbo is really spicy. Here’s how I make it:

  • 5 russet potatoes, peeled and cubed
  • 7 eggs
  • mayonaise
  • mustard, to taste
  • Cajun seasonings, to taste

Boil potatoes and eggs. Peel eggs and put boiled potatoes and eggs in a large bowl. Mash until you have a mixture of small pieces. Add mayonaise until the mixture is smooth. Add seasonings to taste. Enjoy!

This recipe can be cut in half if you want to make less, but it’s better to make a big gumbo because it takes so long to cook. Gumbo can be frozen and reheated later. I usually make a large gumbo, eat it for 3-4 days and then freeze the rest, that way I only have to cook my rice and I have a quick and easy hearty meal. Gumbo is always better the next day because all of the flavors have really sunk into the meat.

Sometimes the leftovers will be mostly the juice from the gumbo, but even that is worth freezing. When reheating the gumbo, bring it to a low boil and crack a few eggs in it. Don’t stir. The eggs will cook and help you stretch the gumbo. This tastes good in all gumbos, and it is actually one of my favorite parts about eating a gumbo.

Cooking a gumbo is more about taking an afternoon to just let it cook than about any fancy cooking technique. The main things to remember are:

  1. Make sure you’ve added enough roux so your gumbo isn’t too watery
  2. Make sure you have enough water so your gumbo isn’t a stew
  3. Stretch it as much as you can because it’s delicious

Beyond that, gumbo is done more by feel than by recipe, so use this as a guide and you’ll be able to learn the basics and then see what works. Bon appétit!


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How to Make a Roux

I wrote about how my grandmother’s mean chicken made its way to the gumbo pot in an earlier post, and this post will be about the key ingredient in Gumbo, the roux.

I believe that the most essential part of a good gumbo is a good roux. Pronounced roo, it is the basis for the gumbo’s flavor. If you can make a good roux, you can probably make a good gumbo. There are only two ingredients in roux, oil and flour.

To make a roux, take about equal parts oil and flour (I go a little bit heavier on the flour than the oil) and mix them together in a cast iron pot. I usually use about 1 cup of oil and 1 1/4  cups of flour. Make sure they’re mixed very well and then turn on the stove and stir the mixture with a wooden spoon as it cooks. Scrape the bottom of the pot to make sure that none of the roux sticks and burns. Do not stop stirring. You have to start over if you burn the roux.

The roux needs to cook to a nice dark brown color. Most of Cajun cooking is done by feel and not by recipe, and knowing the right color is something learned over time. Roux has a very distinct, smoky flavor, and the darker the roux, the bolder the flavor.

When the roux is nearing completion, pour it into a glass bowl so it will stop cooking until you’re ready to put it into the gumbo. The roux is by far the trickiest and most intensive part of making a gumbo. The rest is easy! Roux keeps well in the refrigerator, so you can always make it in advance and store it when you need it.

A good roux takes about half an hour to make. Photo from http://www.thekitchn.com

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Crawfish Boil

Food is central in south Louisiana, and the crawfish boil is a good example of how food brings Cajun folks together. A crawfish boil is similar to what other folks in the south call a low country boil, but I’ve found that nothing else in the south tastes quite like a Louisiana crawfish boil.

A crawfish boil is a big ordeal that takes all afternoon to prepare and eat. The crawfish needs to be fresh, so they need to be bought the day of the boil. The main things you need for a crawfish boil are:

  • a large pot with a strainer basket between 65-80 quarts
  • a larger propane burner
  • a 140 quart ice chest
  • crawfish boil seasoning

The first thing we’ll do is set the water boiling and add the seasoning because it takes awhile to bring so much water to a boil. Crawfish boil seasoning contains salt, cayenne pepper, paprika and a few other spices. After that, we open up the crawfish sack and put all the crawfish in the ice chest. We then fill up the ice chest with water to clean the crawfish. This helps to clean the dirt off the crawfish, and it also helps to purge the crawfish’s system. After the water gets dirty, we dump it out and then refill the ice chest. Three rinses usually suffice.

Crawfish aren’t the only thing eaten at a crawfish boil. In addition to crawfish we also boil red potatoes, onions, corn on the cob and mini sausages. Those are boiled first as a precursor to the crawfish.

Once everything is boiled, we serve the crawfish on large plastic trays and then go at it. Everybody sits around a patio table for a few hours just peeling, eating and talking. We usually mix together a dipping sauce with mayo, ketchup, garlic and onion juice, and cayenne pepper for the crawfish. The sauce is always mixed to taste, and I’ve never used a recipe for it.

Crawfish boils bring everybody in the family together, and they are one of the things about south Louisiana that I love most. The closest thing that I’ve found to a crawfish boil in Georgia is a shrimp boil, but I definitely miss eating crawfish.

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Boudin and Cracklins

Boudin is an another essetial Cajun food group. Yes, it is that important. Pronounced boo-dahn, it is a fairly simple food with old origins that. Boudin essentially a mixture of pork meat, rice, onions, bell peppers and seasonings that are cooked together into what some people know as a rice dressing. After everything is cooked down, the mixture is put into thin casings and boiled. After that, it’s ready to eat.

NOLA Cuisine has a pretty good recipe for boudin. My only critique is that you should definitely put the mix into casings, otherwise you just have rice dressing. I’d also only put the meat through a grinder, not the whole mixture. Everything else sounds très bon!

Boudin makes a quick and tasty snack. Photo from Nola Cuisine

In the old days all the people of the town would get together for a boucherie, a butchering. They would slaughter a couple of pigs and work like a big family to clean the meat and cook. They would make boudin and use the pig intestines for the casing (synthetic casings are used today). They would also make cracklins, which are fried pork skins.

Today there are many boudin and cracklin shops all over south Louisiana. Some places are known to have much better boudin and cracklins than others, and some folks take their boudin quite seriously. Apparently, the issue of what town could be called “Boudin Capital of the World” became a cause of disagreement within the Louisiana House of Representatives.

If you’re ever in Louisiana, Don’s Specialty Meats in Carencro has what I consider to be some of the best boudin around. Some places put too much rice in their boudin because they’re trying to save money, but Don’s has a good mix of meat, rice, and spice. If there is one food from Louisiana that I miss when I’m in Georgia, it’s boudin.

Don’s in Carencro makes their boudin hot and fresh. Photo from thenewsstar.com

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