Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Cajun Cookin'

I found some shrimp in the freezer.  Two pounds of it that I refuse to let go bad.  I decided to make perhaps my favorite shrimp dish: seafood gumbo.  So I pull out my trusty Paul Prudhomme cookbook and open 'er up and got busy.

Gumbo is deceptively easy.  Sure, if you are going to make your own stock, you will have to start the day before  But you don't have to do that. I'll tell you about the short-cuts later.

First you chop some veggies.  I used two medium green bell peppers, a couple stalks of celery and at least two onions and about four cloves of garlic.  I was using rather large cloves, so if you have a normal-sized bulb of garlic, you might want to use six.  You'll need about two tablespoons worth.  I like the vegetables diced fairly small and  try to make all the cuts uniform.  Not quite a mince, maybe just a smidgen larger than a fine dice.

Next you need some shrimp stock.  Now under normal circumstances, you'd buy shell-on shrimp and peel the shrimp and use the shells to make your stock.  Making stock takes time, but it's actually a lot of fun. When else do you get to throw in halved unpeeled onions and an entire bulb of unpeeled garlic?  It is fun to watch the stock come together.  So much more fun that making chicken stock.  Unfortuantely, since I bought only tail-on shrimp, there wouldn't be enough shells to flavor a stock.  So I used some of this....

It really has decent flavor for bouillon.  These are large, oversized cubes.  Make a very dark, very pungent stock.  With stock ready, shrimp thawed, and vegetables chopped. I can get busy.  This dish takes a lot less time than you'd think for how great it tastes.

You create a spice mix, which is a combination of white, black and cayenne pepper, paprika, oregano, thyme and some salt.  Oh, and you'd better get the file and Tabasco ready.  This is Louisiana cooking after all.

Melt a stick of butter in a stock pot over medium heat.  When to temperature, add the chopped vegetables and cook for 6 minutes stirring constant.  Add two tablespoons of file, and the spice mix and a full tablespoon of Tabasco.  Heat over medium heat for 5 minutes.  The file will become very sticky, so you must stir the pan regularly.  Over time, the file will begin to stick to the bottom of the pan, make sure you scrape off any brown bits.  They add flavor and reduce the ability of file to thicken the final product.

Now all you have to do is add your stock and bring it to a boil over medium heat, then simmer over low heat for 45-60 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Look at that nice rich color!

Now is a good time to put on some brown rice.  You don't need a lot.  Gumbo isn't a rice dish.  The rice is an accompaniment.  After 45 to an hour, turn the heat off the stock and add the shrimp and crabmeat and cover.  Ha!  I didn't mention the crabmeat, did I?  But you can't just have one kind of seafood in gumbo.  You can also throw in oysters if you are made of money, which I'm not.  In any event, when the shrimps turn bright red, the meal is ready!If at all possible, you should only put in as much shrimp as you can eat in one meal.  If you cook the shrimp and let it sit in the broth, it will get tough.  This meal is so fluffy I think I'm gonna die!  Oh wait. Wrong movie.

Wow this was good.

Here's the full recipe from Paul Prudhomme's Louisiana Kitchen

1 lb medium shrimp
5 cups basic seafood stock
Seasoning mix:
1.5 teaspoons ground red pepper (cayenne)
1.5 teaspoons sweet paprika
1 teaspoon salt
0.5 teaspoon white pepper
0.5 teaspoon black pepper
0.5 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
0.5 teaspoons dried oregano leaves
1 bay leaf, crumbled

0.5 cup margarine
2 cups chopped onions
2 cups chopped celery
2 cups chopped green bell pepper
3 tablespoons gumbo file (file powder)
1 tablespoon Tabasco sauce
1-2 tablespoons minced garlic
1.25 cups canned tomato sauce
1.5 cups, packed, crabmeat (about 0.5 lb)
1 dozen shucked oysters (about 0.5 lb) (optional)
1.33 cups cooked brown rice

Peel shrimp, rinse and drain.  You can use the shells and heads to make shrimp stock if you want.  Otherwise, refrigerate shrimp while you make the rest of the dish.  Combine the seasoning mix ingredients in a small bowl and set aside.  In a 4-quart heavy soup pot, melt the margarine over medium heat.  Add the onions, celery and bell peppers.  Turn heat to high and stir in the gumbo file, Tabasco, garlic, and seasoning mix.  Cook 6 minutes, stirring constantly.  Reduce heat to medium and tir in the tomato sauce; continuing cooking 5 minutes, stirring constantly. Add the stock and bring gumbo to a boil; reduce heat and simmer 45-60 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add the shrimp, crabmeat and oysters (if desired); cover and turn off the heat. Leave the pot covered just until the seafood is poached, about 6-10 minutes.  Serve immediately.

For a main course, place about 1/3 cup rice in a bowl and top with about 1 cup gumbo.  For an appetier, serve about half that amount.

This is rich folks.  Rich, rich, rich.  And delicious.  And I gotta go eat.  :)

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