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The Spanish gave Creole food its spices, and also paella, which was the forefather of Louisiana’s jambalaya. Cajun cuisine is characterized by the use of wild game, seafood, wild vegetation and herbs.
Bouillabaisse, a soup that came from the Provence region of France in and around Marseilles, played a part in the creation of gumbo.
Using gumbo filé powder
Both okra and gumbo filé powder (pronounced FEE-lay) are used as a thickening agent for gumbo, but never together. Filé powder (sometimes spelled “file powder” or called “gumbo filé”) is made from dried and ground sassafras leaf and is used as a seasoning and primarily a thickening agent in gumbo.
It has a rather pungent and aromatic flavor. There is no substitute. But remember one thing: filé should never be added to a pot of gumbo while it’s cooking, but rather added at the end when the gumbo is off the fire. If it’s brought back to a boil, it will turn stringy, so make sure to reheat any leftovers gently.
Preparing the roux
Roux is used to thicken gumbos, sauces, étouffées or stews, or in the case of a darker roux, to help flavor the dish. Dark roux has more flavor, a roasted nutty taste, but tends to have less thickening power.
Preparation of a roux is dependent on cooking time; the longer you cook, the darker the roux. A blond roux will only take four or five minutes; a dark roux up to 20-25 minutes at low heat. Roux must be stirred constantly to avoid burning. If you see black specks in your roux, you’ve burned it; throw it out and start over.
Bayou Magic Cajun Seasoning, gumbo filé and Old Bay Seasoning can be found in the spice aisle in most of our local supermarkets.
Creole Filé Gumbo
When making this gumbo, you’ll need a large stockpot, a large skillet and a couple saucepans. This recipe will provide about 14-16 hearty servings.
1 lb. large shrimp (31-40), shells on
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
1/2 cup flour
1 large onion, chopped
6 green onions, chopped
3 stalks celery, chopped
Bayou Magic Cajun Seasoning
2 Tbsps. chopped garlic
Old Bay Seasoning
1/4 cup chopped parsley
1/4 lb. smoked turkey ham, 1/2 -inch diced
4 cups chicken stock
2 Tbsps. vegetable oil
4 boneless, skinless chicken thighs cut into 1-inch pieces
2 lbs. smoked turkey sausage, cut into 1/4-inch slices
1/3 cup gumbo filé
1 lb. lump crabmeat
Peel and devein shrimp, reserving the shells; set shrimp aside. Rinse the reserved shrimp shells under cold running water and place in a saucepan filled with about 4 cups of water. Bring to a boil, reduce and simmer for 15 minutes. Strain, reserving the stock and discarding the shells.
Using a large stockpot, melt the butter over low heat. Whisk in the flour and cook, stirring constantly, until the roux is caramel brown, about 20-25 minutes. Add 3-1/2 cups of water and stir until blended.
Stir in the onion, green onion, celery, one-third cup of Bayou Magic, garlic, one tablespoon of Old Bay, parsley, smoked turkey ham, chicken stock and shrimp stock, stirring occasionally. Simmer, covered, on very low heat for about three hours, stirring occasionally.
About an hour before the gumbo is finished, heat the vegetable oil in a large skillet and add the chicken. Cook for 10 minutes over medium-high heat until browned on all sides; remove to a bowl. Add the sliced sausage to the skillet, in batches if necessary, and cook until slightly brown. Add the chicken and sausage to the gumbo during the last hour of cooking.
In a medium saucepan of boiling water, add one tablespoon of Bayou Magic and the shelled shrimp. Remove from the heat and let the shrimp sit in the seasoned water for 30 minutes. Heat the crab in a small pot of boiling water with one-half tablespoon of Old Bay. The crab is already cooked, so you’re just adding flavor and heating. Remove the crab from the liquid with a slotted spoon.
Mix the gumbo filé with one-half cup hot water until smooth. Once the gumbo is finished, remove from the heat. Add gumbo filé mixture and stir until blended.
Serve gumbo with white rice and French bread. Spoon rice into bowls, and then ladle a cup of gumbo over the rice and place about 5-6 shrimp and a couple heaping spoonfuls of crabmeat on top. Makes about 14-16 servings.
Fried Oyster Po’ Boy
This is one of the tastiest sandwiches I’ve ever had. The oysters can be deep-fried or just fried in a hot skillet.
1 qt. oysters
3 large eggs
3 cups cornmeal
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp. Bayou Magic Cajun Seasoning
4 French bread rolls, about six-inches long
2 medium tomatoes
Dill pickle slices
Salt and pepper
In a medium bowl, beat the eggs; stir in oysters and let stand for five minutes. In a large food storage bag, combine the cornmeal, flour, one teaspoon each of salt and pepper and Cajun seasoning. Take an oyster from the beaten egg, let excess drip off and then toss in the bag. Shake until well coated. Repeat with remaining oysters. Fry the oysters in batches for about three minutes, or until golden brown.
Split each roll and spread with mayonnaise. Arrange layers of shredded lettuce, oysters, tomato slices and sliced pickles. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Makes 4 servings.
Norm Harding is a cooking columnist for the Beacon. To send him recipes, e-mail him at email@example.com.