ok, this weekend, i decided to make cajun food. its not something that i have had much experience with beyond the whole instant zartrains sort of thing but something that i consistently enjoy when i eat it. so why not? also, it gave me another excuse to use my crockpot. the love affair continues. i can’t help it, i love building a nice dish and then letting it cook until it a molten ball of goodness 7 or 8 hours later. the smells in the room, the occasional stir and taste (gotta make sure its seasoned right), it just turns the whole day into a feast. so, with that in mind, i decided on a gumbo.
the thing about gumbo is that almost every gumbo i come across is a seafood gumbo. not that there is anything wrong with that but i have been on a chicken kick as of late. it doesn’t hurt at all that the bags of chicken thighs are a meager $2.40 at the store. makes for an easy decision for me. a bit of hunting around and i found a recipe for chicken and smoked sausage gumbo. exactly what i had in mind, i call that a result. to go alongside, i thought it would be nice to have a bit of blackened catfish and a vegetable. well, okra is my first choice but the gumbo already has okra in it so i do some poking around. i come across a dish with the unlikely name of Maque Choux (pronounced “mock shoe”) courtesy of Emeril Lagasse. If there is one thing i will trust Emeril on, its cajun food so again, i will call this a result. ok, original plan was to make a nice batch of southern style biscuits but upon reflection, with the gumbo served over rice and the two other dishes, biscuits become extraneous. i’m really working hard to practice constraint because my natural inclination is to make six or seven courses but that would be entirely too much food. i enjoy leftovers but a bit of restraint and focus on three dishes is turning into my optimal planning pattern.
So, i mention over and over that the planning revolves around the meal that takes the longest. well, in this case, it was a bit extreme. i started prep for the gumbo at midnight the night before, setting the chicken thighs to boil and then reducing the heat to low and letting them simmer overnight. i generously spiced the water with salt, pepper, bay leaves, thyme, oregano and a large amount of cayenne. my thought process on this is that i will end up with a nice spiced chicken broth with extra to freeze for use in a future spicy meal. needless to say, it worked out well and at 7 the next morning, i removed the chicken from the water to cool and turned up the heat to reduce the broth a bit, cooking it for around another hour and a half.
with the chicken tender and falling off the bone, i skinned it, removed the bones and proceeded as below:
· 1/3 cup flour
· 1/3 cup cooking oil
· 3 cups chicken broth
· 12 to 16 ounces smoked sausage, sliced about 1/2″ thick
· 2 cups chopped cooked chicken
· 2 cups diced cooked chicken
· 2 cups sliced okra
· 2 cup chopped onion
· 1 cup chopped green pepper
· 1 cup chopped celery
· 4 cloves garlic, minced
· 4 diced jalapenos
· salt, to taste
· 1/2 teaspoon pepper
· 2 teaspoons ground red pepper
· 2 teaspoons thyme
· 2 teaspoons oregano
For roux, in a heavy 2-quart saucepan stir together flour and oil until smooth. Cook over medium-high heat for 4 minutes, stirring constantly. Reduce heat to medium. Continue to cook, stirring constantly, for about 15 minutes more or until roux is dark reddish brown. Let roux cool.
Add chicken broth to a 3 1/2 to 6-quart slow cooker. Stir in roux. Add sausage, chicken, okra, onion, green pepper, celery, garlic, jalapenos, salt, pepper, herbs and red pepper. Cover and cook on LOW for 8 to 10 hours, or HIGH for 4 to 5 hours.
Skim off fat. Serve with hot cooked rice.
the recipe above was acquired off the internet and modified with the addition of the herbs and jalapenos, increase in the amount of cayenne, okra and celery. the thing about gumbo is that its a nice hearty stew that blends really well with the long cook time so you can balance the ingredients however suits you.
Maque Choux… what can i say, i really really really like this dish. its like cream corn on steroids. far be it from me to steal Emeril’s thunder so please by all means, follow this link for the recipe… i made a few modifications, using both a green and red bell pepper and increasing the jalapenos to personal taste levels. i also added all the spices individually instead of using his ever present Essence. it still had a little bam to it in my opinion though. i used fresh minced garlic as well because, well, fresh garlic is good.
after cooking the Maque Choux on the stovetop, i transferred it to a baking dish to keep in a warm oven both for ease of serving and to free up the real estate on my stove which is at a severe limit as most of you know from my constant whining about same. i felt the time in the oven helped the creaminess develop a bit more, individual mileage may vary but i was happy with the result.
so, gumbo stewing away, maque choux in the oven, i make a quick batch of white rice, nothing fancy, flavored with a bit of the same herbs from the maque choux to tie the dishes together on the plate. i like having a common thread. i was very subtle with the herbs though, no need to overpower it, its gonna be buried in gumbo anyway.
while the rice is steaming, i heated up my cast iron skillet with a knob of butter and an equal amount of olive oil, medium high heat. take some catfish fillets and make sure they are as dry as possible. sprinkle both sides with a mixture of the following spices (yes i’m lazy and doing a little cut/paste instead of retyping)
# 2 teaspoons sweet paprika
# 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano, crumbled
# 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme, crumbled
# 1/4 teaspoon cayenne, or to taste
# 1/2 teaspoon sugar
# 1/2 teaspoon salt
# 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
press the spice mixture into the fish with a spoon or if you are me, with your hands. cook the fish in the heated cast iron skillet for about 4 minutes per side and serve immediately with slices of lemon on the side to squeeze over.
last step, bask in the glory and adoration of your dinner guests.
so, in the coming week, expect two posts… on saturday, i plan on a second bar food experience and on sunday, your regularly scheduled feast, still in the planning processes but most likely centered around spatchcocked cornish hens seasoned with a chinese five spice blend sort of thing. i’m considering a curried eggplant dish and a fried rice of some sort for the accompaniments but its just monday, give me a break!
oh, 56 days til i get to go home for a bit. keep the beer cold.