Reader mail, and spicy gumbo to warm the heart
by Alan Reed
Jan 17, 2007 | 0 0 comments | 3 3 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Before I get into this week’s column, I want to thank all of its readers. Many people have come up to me with comments, questions, suggestions and meal requests. I have appreciated each and every one. I would especially like to thank Mrs. Joan Griesemer for a letter I received on Tuesday. I will transcribe her letter to share with other readers, as it contains a few good hints.

Dear Mr. Reed,

I enjoy your column in The Cadiz Record because of your interest in food. I want to give you a little information I have learned over the years.

First- I grew up in Orchard Country (Western IL.) and the only apples recommended for pies at that time were Jonathans. Maybe you are too young to have ever heard of them and they are hard to find here. At peak, they are crisp and tart.

Second- brown sugar is white sugar with molasses added. For “more natural” sugar, you should use “turbinado” or “unrefined.” I commend you for leaving the peels on the apples. I may get ambitious someday and try your recipe.

Again, thanks for your fun column. Even this old woman can pick up some pointers, as I am always willing to learn.

Sincerely,

Joan Griesemer

In her postscript, she mentions a few stores where here suggested sugars are available. I am thankful to Mrs. Griesemer for pointing out my mistake about the brown sugar. I had been told once that it was less refined than white sugar. As for her suggestion about Jonathan apples, I have heard of them, and will definitely give them a shot for my next pie. Thanks for the feedback Mrs. Griesemer. And now, on with the column.

My New Year’s resolution to try to cook new foods has paid dividends already. Hawkins’ sister Elsbeth (not Elizabeth) passed her driving test and decided to take the short drive from Madisonville to celebrate. Any occasion is an occasion for a good meal, so why not make something special- gumbo!

My Uncle Buell Alexander in Paducah shared a little tip over New Years, that the secret for gumbo was a roux. Roux is a thickener and flavoring ingredient and sauce base from French cuisine. He told me that it should be the color of coffee. I heard on Justin Wilson’s cooking show when I was a kid that roux should be the color of an old penny. As I have eaten my uncle’s cooking, and love it, and never had any of Mr. Wilson’s, I put my faith in “Uncle Bill.”

Research told me that roux should be made of an equal part oil, and I used canola, for the sake of lower cholesterol. Take one-half cup flour, and one half cup oil and combine in a skillet. Stir continuously over medium heat. My good friend John Bryant, of Hot Diggity Dog, reminded me that a common mistake in cooking is a stove that is too hot. He could not be more correct. Medium is all you need for this go round.

Stirring is important to make for a smooth, and lump-free roux. Make no mistake- this is labor-intensive. It could easily take 20 minutes or longer. If the oil begins to sizzle or smoke, turn the fire down. Keep stirring. The roux will begin to change colors-off-white, peanut butter, milk chocolate, penny, then just before it looks like coffee, take it off the heat. It will cook a little more in a hot pan. I used some of Hawkins coffee-grounds as a guide.

Let the roux cool to just above room temperature. Cajun cooking uses three ingredients known as “the Holy Trinity” to season the pot. Coarsely chop one onion, one bell pepper and a rib of celery and add to oil in a five-quart pot. Everyone knows by now that I love garlic, and was none too shy about adding a tablespoon of minced garlic to the trinity.

Sautee the trinity until the onions are translucent. I took everything from the pot and reserved it for later. Add one pound (or more) of chicken breast, chopped into bite-sized pieces, and another pound of sliced sausage. I looked for Cajun-style Andoulle sausage, but had no luck. I settled for some “Cajun Smoked Sausage.” It did the job nicely. Season the chicken and sausage with maybe a quarter teaspoon of cayenne pepper, a few dashes of cracked black pepper and sea-salt, and a spice blend with the imaginative name of “Cajun spice.” I added about a half teaspoon of the latter. Cook the chicken until the outside is no longer pink, and the sausage is slightly browned. Re-combine the trinity vegetables and add about four quarts of cool water. Add two rounded tablespoons of the roux then two bay leafs and bring everything to a gentle boil. Roux adds color, thickness and flavor to the gumbo. Reduce the heat to simmering.

Seasoning gumbo is another “to taste” proposition. I learned that true Louisiana cuisine is not always “four alarm.” Traditionally, it is well spiced, but not masking other flavors and ingredients, or painful to eat. Those who like it spicy should add hot sauce at the table. I added about a teaspoon of cracked black pepper, maybe ten dashes of hot sauce, sea-salt, another quarter-to-half teaspoon of cayenne and about the same amount of Cajun spice. To be honest, these are estimates. I taste as I cook (though make sure the chicken is cooked before you taste) and add a little of this and some of that as I went. When the gumbo was properly spiced, it had the right blend (for me) of salt and seasonings. Tastes for spice vary, and I urge every cook to make it how he or she, and their families and friends like it. I added two tablespoons of parsley as well.

Thickening for gumbo is traditionally accomplished by one of two methods. I could not find any file powder, so I used okra. All recipes said to use either it or file, but not both. I added a cup of okra after the gumbo had simmered for an hour and a half, then simmered another 45 minutes.

When the gumbo was finished, it had the consistency of a good hearty stew. I served it in a bowl over a bed of steamed brown rice with some bread. As mentioned before, gumbo should be served with your favorite hot sauce, for extra fire if needed. Elsbeth and Hawkins had a few bowls each.

This gumbo serves between four and six adults and is great in the wintertime. The spicy warmth and heartiness makes for a satisfactory evening meal. Elsbeth said that it was good enough to make again, so I would have to say, “A good time was had by all!” Good eating!
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