Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Promised recipes.

Nice for when warmer weather sets in and regular chili seems too heavy. For me this is a 'Non-recipe recipe.' Saute chicken and whatever vegetables you want. Add spices, canned green chilies, tomatoes, and drained rinsed beans. Simmer for 30 minutes. For you die-hards who want/need a recipe, see below.

Chicken Chili
1-2-lbs Chicken Breasts or thighs
1 T oil
1 T cumin
1 T paprika*
1/2 t cayenne*
1 t pepper
3 garlic cloves, chopped
1 large onion, chopped
1 large bell pepper, chopped*
3 stalks celery sliced*
2 cans beans, rinsed and drained.
2 Can diced tomatoes or rotel
1 can diced green chilies

Cut Chicken into bite sized chunks. Heat 1 tbs oil in pan on med high. Sauté onions, celery, and peppers until caramelized. Add meat and garlic, sauté until brown. Add cumin, cayenne, pepper, and paprika. Add undrained cans of tomatoes, chilies, or rotel. Add drained/rinsed beans. Simmer for 10 minutes and salt to taste. Continue to simmer until chili is thick and flavors meld, ~ 20 -30mins.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Mad Skills-Gumbo

As someone who is known for having fairly mad kitchen skills, I often get requests for recipes. I freely share what I can, but more often than not I find myself at a loss as to how to go about it. See, the problem is that, for the most part, I don’t cook using recipes. The overwhelming majority of things I prepare come from my head and never contain exactly the same blend of ingredients. This is not a problem until you want to share a dish via recipe OR you want to teach someone how to cook the dish in question. Additionally, I want to start archiving some family recipes for my daughters as two of them seem to be taking an interest in cooking (the third is still all about the boob-milk). But as I start writing recipes down, I notice that it isn’t combining the proper ingredients that makes these dishes great. Recipes are a dime a dozen and do not a delicious dish make. It’s the technique that makes things taste…well…the way they taste.

For example, I recall a request by a dear friend to teach her how to make a real Cajun gumbo. Now gumbo’s list of ingredients is fairly simple and can be quite varied by region. But the truest predictor of a good gumbo regardless of the ingredients is the quality of the roux. ‘Gumbo’ without roux is chicken and rice soup and if someone serves you chicken and rice soup and calls it gumbo you should throw it in their face and punch them in the throat while they are screaming about the hot soup you just threw in their face. But I digress…

Roux is a mixture of equal parts flour and either oil, lard, or butter that is the foundation of many French sauces. It is also the basis of many, many Cajun dishes. You can buy a good quality roux in southern grocery stores but I always require that anyone who wants to learn to make gumbo, make their own roux first so they know how it’s done. I taught my friend to make a roux and I think she even grumbled about it at first but now she’s an old pro and actually makes roux more than I do. Yes…I usually buy roux and my Maman says that’s ok, so suck it.

Making Roux
It’s less about perfect measuring of flour vs oil and a lot more about the consistency of the mixture, proper heat control, and length of contact with the pan. You will need a pan with a heavy bottom, cast iron is best but any thick bottomed, heavy pot will do. Start by warming a pan to a medium heat. Add ½ cup of vegetable oil to the pan, and when the oil is hot start sprinkling flour into the oil, stirring constantly with a wooden or metal spoon. Continue to add flour until the mixture is about the consistency of runny paste (or as I prefer 'puppy poop'...gross but accurate). If its starts to smoke a lot, turn the heat down a bit, stir faster, or add a little more oil if it is smoking too much and seems too thick. The mixture will start out a beige color; darken to tan, then caramel, then almost brownie colored. To get from beige to brownie takes about 45 minutes of constant stirring and I DO MEAN CONSTANT. You see, what you are really trying to do is to slowly scorch the mixture, giving it that very distinctive, smoky flavor. If you leave it unattended for more than a few seconds, it will burn and you will have to throw it out. Most gumbo uses a brownie-dark roux, but other dishes may only require a caramel one. Many French dishes and even my homemade mac-n-cheese use a very light roux that is just cooked enough to take the ‘raw’ taste out of the flour. But gumbo is hardcore and therefore requires its roux to be pushed just to the brink of burnt.

And that’s it…a core technique of Cajun/French cooking in a nutshell. The roux is the hard part. In the right container it keeps in the freezer for a long, long time.

A Non-recipe gumbo recipe

Add as much or as little of the following ingredients as you like: Onions, celery, bell pepper, garlic, chicken, chicken stock, sausage, salt, pepper, green onions (scallions), and roux. Combine first 9 ingredients and season until it tastes like a good chicken soup. Add roux (again as much or as little as you like; I like a dark gumbo some prefer it lighter), simmer 30 minutes, adding green onions (scallions) at 20 minutes, serve over rice.

As the natives say..."Mais' Yeah!" loosely translated "Oh but yes" (emphatically so).