Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Here, It's Fat Tuesday Every Week!

I am surprised at how many people that I talked to today didn't realize that it was Mardi Gras, the last night of rich eating (and now, debauchery) before the religious ritual of fasting for lent beginning on Ash Wednesday. I am not saying that everyone should know the calender of every religion, but New Orleans has made it into such a legendary event in this country that most people are usually aware of it. Maybe it's been overshadowed by the Olympics, or maybe it's a regional thing.

Where I grew up it wasn't so much of a religious aspect of it as it was a festive aspect, because my family has a deep affinity for the city of New Orleans, starting with my grandfather, Paw-Paw, whom we even had a jazz funeral for per his request. Naturally this love affair with the culture, music, and food was passed down to his children, which lead to feasts and revel of Cajun-style dishes peppered throughout my childhood, which, combined with my own rite of passage there myself at the age of nineteen, have lent a hand in shaping who I am as a chef today.

As a tribute to Fat Tuesday and my family's home-away-from-home I decided to feature a gumbo dish as this week's special, complete with all of my own special little touches!

Probably the most important aspect of a great gumbo starts at the beginning with the roux (a combination of flour and some kind of fat used to thicken a sauce or stew) and the key is how long you cook it; the more you cook it, the darker it gets and the more pronounced the flavor becomes. In Cajun cooking the roux is cooked anywhere from a deep red to a coffee black, depending on the region and cook.

I personally like to use flour and lard, or in this case, bacon fat, to make my roux for gumbo, and I cooked it slowly over medium heat while stirring it constantly for about half an hour until it is a little darker than the color of melted milk chocolate before I added chopped bell peppers, celery and onion (a.k.a. the "holy trinity") along with some minced garlic, fresh thyme and bay leaves. Once the vegetables have cooked completely in the molten roux I slowly stirred in ground tasso ham that I cured and smoked myself along with a mixture of clam juice, oyster liquor, chicken stock and lobster stock as well as the poaching liquid for some chicken andouille sausage (the same kind that I use for our corndogs) that I finished ahead so that they wouldn't be overcooked in final product.

While the gumbo simmered and developed its flavor for about an hour I began work on the serving dish - an edible bread bowl.

While brainstorming for my snow crab special a couple of weeks ago I started thinking about the possibility of creating edible plates and bowls for certain dishes, and while using a squash or individual round of bread might not be unique, the process has led me to some interesting ideas to try out in the future. Meanwhile, there are few better companions than a hearty stew and fresh baked bread, so why not combine them!!

I removed the gumbo from the heat before adding local oysters, scallops, shrimp and the cooked andouille sausage so that they would cook just enough in the residual heat. Then I seasoned it with the same combination of Cajun seasonings and file powder that I use to flavor our happy hour Cajun Cheese Fries with Beer Cheese Sauce. I add okra (from which gumbo takes its name) to each individual order so that it stays crisp and keeps the trademark sliminess down to a minimum.

You can't say Bourbon Street without saying bourbon, so I pulled out a little treat to commemorate the spirit of Mardi Gras...

For the past few weeks I have been infusing a couple of liquors with dried fruit; one being a fig and rum combination to put the successful Fig Mai Tai on our actual menu, and the other is another combination with great potential: plum infused bourbon.

Since I don't want to disrupt this subtle flavor mixture, I used it as an approachable variation of a traditional cocktail along with a touch of sweet vermouth and a few dashes of quality Peychaud's bitters from New Orleans to make The Plum Manhattan!!!

To be honest, I don't need a religious holilday to come up with a rich and decadent special, and you don't need one to come and enjoy it. Afterall, we do it every week starting on Tuesday with the introduction of the new special along with our half-priced wine night!!

With Love,


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