Laissez les bon temps rouler…Mardi Gras is tomorrow!
You just have to love those easy-going-life’s-a-celebration Southerners. I love it and I’ve never even stepped foot in the Big Easy, can you believe that? It’s on our (hubby and me) hit list of places to visit but it definitely seems like an “adult trip” to take….somehow I don’t see my children getting all that excited about chicory coffee and beignets. Not to mention, it’s a little hard to go into a jazz club after hours with two small-ish people in tow. So, at this time, we are Big Easy-less.
I’d actually like to go to Mardi Gras at some point. Sure, it’s probably the biggest spring-break-party- run-amuk (I love that word…amuk, amuk amuk), but for some reason, it also seems like one of those Touristy Bucket List things to do. And sometimes the touristy stuff is worth doing. That’s how it got to be touristy in the first place, after all. Flash the world, get your beads, go have a Hurricane, check it off The List. And maybe somewhere, somehow squeeze some historical something of value in there (you like that sentence? Great writers of the ages all just simultaneously turned over in their graves). Really visiting New Orleans and the South will be pre or post bead acquiring.
Mardi Gras aside, there is something about the South that I do love…or at least am drawn to. I really hope that when I actually go there at some point I’m not terribly disappointed. I like silver mint julep cups. I like magnolias, hanging ethereal Spanish moss and gardens. I like big plantation houses. Maybe this all stems from watching Gone with the Wind one too many times or that cheesy made-for-tv miniseries back in the 80s called North and South with a very young, very new Patrick Swayze (my friend Mimi will remember this), who knows. I like the history, the formality AND the laid-back-ness. There is whole slurry of interesting ingredients in that soup and it makes for a very intriguing dish, indeed.
And speaking of good Southern dishes, here is a good one for Shrimp Gumbo. It’s a bit spicy, so adjust that part to your liking. Also, file powder is a staple ingredient in gumbos…it is the dried and ground leaves from the Sassafras tree. Sassafras…there’s a word that couldn’t sound more Southern if it tried. It’s easy to find at specialty food stores or spice shops like Penzey’s.
When I think of Shrimp, I think of Forrest Gump, another Southern staple. And who doesn’t love Forrest? Run, Forrest, Run! And let the good times roll!
Shrimp Gumbo, courtesy of Alton Brown
4 ounces vegetable oil
4 ounces all-purpose flour
1 1/2 pounds raw, whole, head-on medium-sized (31-50 count) shrimp
2 quarts water
1 cup diced onion
1/2 cup diced celery
1/2 cup diced green peppers
2 tablespoons minced garlic
1/2 cup peeled, seeded and chopped tomato
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon fresh thyme, chopped
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 bay leaves
1/2 pound andouille sausage, cut into 1/4-inch pieces and browned
1 tablespoon file powder
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Place the vegetable oil and flour into a 5 to 6-quart cast iron Dutch oven and whisk together to combine. Place on the middle shelf of the oven, uncovered, and bake for 1 1/2 hours, whisking 2 to 3 times throughout the cooking process.
While the roux is baking, de-head, peel and devein the shrimp. Place the shrimp in a bowl and set in the refrigerator. Place the heads and shells in a 4-quart saucepan along with the 2 quarts of water, set over high heat and bring to a boil. Decrease the heat to low and simmer for 1 hour or until the liquid has reduced to 1-quart. Remove from the heat and strain the liquid into a container, discarding the solids.
Once the roux is done, carefully remove it from the oven and set over medium-high heat. Gently add the onions, celery, green peppers and garlic and cook, moving constantly for 7 to 8 minutes or until the onions begin to turn translucent. Add the tomatoes, salt, black pepper, thyme, cayenne pepper, and bay leaves and stir to combine. Gradually add the shrimp broth while whisking continually. Decrease the heat to low, cover and cook for 35 minutes. Turn off the heat, add the shrimp and sausage and stir to combine. Add the file powder while stirring constantly. Cover and allow to sit for 10 minutes prior to serving. Serve over rice.