In the Southern states there are more speciality dishes than you can shake a stick at, and they are all amazing. Folks have been perfecting their local cuisines since the first settlers moved to the area, passing secret recipes down through the generations. In Southern cooking there are certainly techniques and methods exclusive to the region, and that’s where things get interesting. Barbecue alone has at least eight different distinctive styles that separate Texas style from what you will get in the Carolinas and so on. If you went to an accredited culinary school and graduated, you may not walk away with the knowledge for preparing Southern food unless you took a specific course. Basically, things happen a little differently in the South.
For one, food takes longer to cook and the ingredients are more specific and specialized. Creole cuisine, for example, is exclusive to Louisiana and is influenced by Spanish, African, Italian, French, Portuguese and other international cuisines. Creole cooking is a close reflection of classic French cuisine in that is sources ingredients from the immediate area. You might find alligator in your jambalaya and crawdads in your gumbo. These critters are indigenous and therefore, as in any culture, end up in the soup pot. In French cooking, you might find a mirepoix (equal parts celery, carrot, and onion) in a dish. Similarly, Creole cooking would use the holy trinity of celery, green bell pepper, and onion in equal ratio.
Cajun cooking is closely related to Creole cuisine however more rustic. Basically Cajun food is country food and Creole is city food. You also won’t find tomatoes in Cajun food. Although it is easy to confuse the two, if you ask a local they will definitely let you know. This week I wanted to share a Creole recipe that has been on both country and city tables since the 18th century. Cooking a dish like gumbo may seem intimidating to someone from, let’s say California, but it is no more complicated than a nice mole. Remember, when making this dish for the first time: with big flavors come big responsibilities. So, take your time and don’t forget to add lots of love.
Creole Style Gumbo
1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup butter
3 medium garlic cloves, minced
1 pound andouille sausage, sliced 1/4 inch thick
1 pound uncooked medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 pound boneless chicken thighs cubed into bite size pieces (how ever you like)
3 quarts beef or chicken broth (bullion beef cubes are traditional here)
1 cup celery, chopped rough
1 large onion, chopped rough
1 large green bell pepper, chopped rough
1 large can stewed tomatoes (usually they are 14.5 ounces)
1 can tomato sauce (6 ounces)
2-3 tablespoons hot sauce
4 bay leaves
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
4 teaspoons gumbo file powder
2 packages frozen cut okra (I get the 10oz bags)
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2-3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce (I usually add more to taste)
3 tablespoons light olive oil
Creole seasoning and/or salt and black pepper to taste (Tony Chacheres is a good creole seasoning)
In a food processor pulse your trinity (celery, peppers, and onions) along with your garlic until finely chopped and set aside.
In a large, heavy bottomed saucepan over medium-low heat combine melted butter and flour until smooth. Cook, whisking continuously, for 20-30 minutes or until it turns a rich dark brown or mahogany color. Carefully whisk constantly or your roux will burn. Once you have the proper color remove the pan from the heat and stir in your finely chopped vegetables. Continue to whisk until your roux is cooled off and has stopped cooking.
In a large soup pot, bring your broth to a simmer. Carefully whisk in your roux mixture and add your chicken cubes, sausage, hot sauce, Worcestershire, bay leaves, thyme, stewed tomatoes, tomato sauce, red wine vinegar and a teaspoon of creole seasoning to the party. Bring your gumbo up to a simmer and cook for about 45 minutes stirring frequently. Add half of your file powder. Simmer for 30 minutes then add in your okra and cook for an additional 15 minutes. Stir in your shrimp and remaining file powder, cook until shrimp are cooked through about 5-7 minutes.
Season to taste with creole seasoning and serve hot. You can serve gumbo with rice and or cornbread but it’s good all on it’s own.
Here are some upcoming events on our site that pay homage to the art of Southern cooking.
Monday, December 30th | New Year’s Celebration Southern Style – Evanston, Illinois
Great Southern cooking is back in vogue! According to tradition, a New Year’s Day supper can set you up for good luck throughout the coming year. Greens are said to represent dollar bills, cornbread the gold, and peas the coins. Eaten together they ensure wealth and prosperity. Don’t miss out. Join Chef Nell as she channels her Southern heritage and dishes on GranNelle’s cornbread, bacon fat as a staple (so glad we’re over that!), and a modern approach to these century-old dishes. May we all be blessed with prosperity in the New Year!
Thursday, January 2nd – Friday, February 7th | C’est Si Bon Food Tour – Baton Rouge, Louisiana
The C’est Si Bon Food Tour is a walking, guided, tour in downtown Baton Rouge which includes food tasting infused with entertaining historical, cultural, and architectural details. The tour highlights some of the Baton Rouge’s best restaurants and food. Guests will visit various eateries ranging from upscale dining to family owned cafes. Your taste buds will be enamored by the flavor of traditional Cajun favorites as well as the unique twists our chef’s masterfully create. After sampling a traditional poboy, savory shrimp and grits, warm beignets, and much more, you will shout, “Cest Si Bon!”
Tuesday, December 31st | New Year’s Eve 2013 Bash – Houma, Louisiana
Come ring in the new year with Bandit, one of the Gulf South’s most exciting exciting classic rock/party band to hit the nightlife scene in a long time. They have been voted the #1 party band to see in this area. From classic rock and soul to Motown and modern rockin’ country, you will not be let down when they rock the party. Bandit has a faithful following and always puts on a killer performance.
Monday, January 6th – Friday, January 31st | Memphis Downtown Food Tour – Memphis, Tennessee
A Memphis food tasting tour like no other! Memphis sits regally above the rolling Mississippi River, and there’s no better way to get acquainted with the city than by tasting some of its most acclaimed foods. Take a chef-guided Memphis food tour to sample the very best of Memphis BBQ to BBQ nachos to southern tamales to delectable desserts. Your guide will provide a sampling of culture and history sprinkled throughout this walking tour.
Sunday, February 23rd | TEP Gumbo Contest and Mardi Gras Party – Memphis, Tennessee
Celebrate Mardi Gras in 2014 in Memphis at the 4th Annual TEP Gumbo Contest. This year’s Mardi Gras party and gumbo contest will be bigger and better than ever. General admission tickets will include gumbo tasting, voting in the People’s Choice Competition, live music, beer and soft drinks.
Image credit: Shreveport-Bossier Convention and Tourist Bureau