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Food Dude: The skinny on Fat Tuesday flavors

Food Dude: The Food Dude shares recipes for your Mardi Gras feast.
by Dave Cathey Published: February 26, 2014
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Mardi Gras has a boatload of traditions, but it's hard to believe people would ever don a mask or wrap themselves in purple, gold and green beads if it weren't for the promise of big, bold bayou flavors associated with the last day before the Lenten season.

To prepare a traditional feast for Fat Tuesday, you will need to do some advance work and devote a good portion of your time in the kitchen.

Never fear, the inspiration is worth the perspiration. And that perspiration will continue as you shovel in spoonfuls of these recipes supercharged with cayenne pepper. As Justin Wilson often said, “I gar-ON-tee!” Sherrel Jones and I have teamed up to develop recipes that endeavor to reach the extremes of sweet and spicy for this celebration of decadence.

A couple of years ago for Mardi Gras, I made my first batch of Fried Chicken and Sausage Gumbo. This year, I thought I'd face my fear of cooking seafood head-on with a kettle full of Seafood Gumbo.

The seafood version calls for more preparation time, but the cook time is shorter. Available fresh seafood is the biggest obstacle we have in Oklahoma, but that obstacle is far less formidable than it was a decade ago. It's now conceivable you'll be able to source your own unshucked oysters and whole blue crab if you want to go all out.

Whereas the Fried Chicken Gumbo derives most of its flavor from the roux, with the seafood version it's all about the stock. That said, there is still dark roux to be made, and that's still not for the faint of heart. The roux in the chicken version is made with oil in which the chicken is fried. Seafood's flavor is nowhere near as intense as chicken fat. So it has to be coaxed from shells, bones and parts simmering in water over time. The flavor takes time to achieve, but it's worth the wait.

Whatever seafood you decide to include in your gumbo, the prep is key. Shrimp is the ubiquitous ingredient in seafood gumbo. You'll want medium-size shrimp in the shell, preferably with the heads if you can find them.

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by Dave Cathey
Food Editor
The Oklahoman's food editor, Dave Cathey, keeps his eye on culinary arts and serves up news and reviews from Oklahoma’s booming food scene.
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Seafood and Sausage Gumbo

Serves 10 to 12

2 pounds medium shrimp, peeled, deveined (don't discard shells)

1 pound lump crab meat

1 pound smoked andouille sausage, cut in ½-inch slices

1 pound whole, fresh okra, stemmed and halved lengthwise (optional)

12 fresh oysters, shucked and cleaned, liquor reserved

6 cups seafood stock

1 onion, finely diced

1 bell pepper, finely diced

3 stalks celery, finely diced

1 tablespoon minced garlic

2 teaspoons cayenne pepper

2 teaspoons paprika

2 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon fresh-ground white pepper

1 teaspoon fresh-ground black pepper

1 teaspoon fresh thyme or ½ teaspoon dry thyme

1 teaspoon fresh oregano or ½ teaspoon dry Greek or Italian oregano

1 bay leaf, crumbled

2 tablespoons file powder

FOR THE ROUX:

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 cup vegetable oil

FOR THE STOCK:

4 quarts water

Shrimp shells

Crab shells

Fish heads

Fish bones

One onion, skinned and sliced into quarters

2 celery stalks, chopped in half

1 clove garlic, pulverized

4 bay leaves

1 sprig of Rosemary and thyme

1 teaspoon butter

4 tablespoons salt

To make the stock: In a large stock pot or kettle, bring water to a boil.

Meanwhile, in a large skillet, saute the shrimp shells in butter over medium heat until the crisp up and turn orange.

Add all the ingredients to the boiling water, lower heat to medium low and simmer at least four hours.

To make the roux, heat a cast-iron or heavy skillet over high heat and add the oil. When the oil is on the verge of smoking, whisk in the flour 1/3 cup at a time. Blend the flour into the oil thoroughly before adding more. Continue whisking until the flour has darkened to a chocolate color. Stir constantly to avoid anything sticking to the bottom of the pan. If you maintain high heat and constant motion in a pan that conducts heat properly, you should reach the desired color in no more than 5 minutes. If you double the recipe, it will take roughly double the time.

Switch from a whisk to a wooden spoon and add half the onions, peppers and celery. Mix thoroughly for about a minute and add remaining vegetables and repeat. Add the spices, except for the file. Stir about a minute, then mix in the garlic. After another minute or two of stirring, remove the roux from heat. When the roux is complete, set it aside and let it cool. It can be refrigerated or frozen, so you can do this step in advance.

To finish the gumbo, bring six cups of the stock to a boil in a large pot then stir in the dark roux a little at a time. Don't add more roux until the liquid has returned to a boil.

Once the roux is exhausted, stir in the sausage — and okra if you have it — and bring to a rolling boil for at least five minutes. Lower heat to medium low and simmer another 10 minutes.

Add shrimp, crab and undrained oysters. Bring to a boil and remove from heat.

Serve with steamed white rice.

Red Beans and Rice

Serves 6 to 8

1 pound small red beans, sorted and pebbles discarded

4 slices bacon

10 cups water, divided

2 cups chicken stock or broth

1 onion, finely diced

2 stalks celery, finely diced

1 bell pepper, finely diced

4 cloves garlic, minced or mashed

1½ tablespoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper

1 teaspoon fresh-ground black pepper

1 teaspoon fresh-ground white pepper

½ teaspoon toasted, ground cumin seeds

2 bay leaves

Chopped parsley

Chopped green onions

In a large kettle, bring eight cups of the water to a boil and add the beans. Cook cover on medium to medium low heat until the beans have softened, 90 minutes to two hours.

Once beans have softened, strain off all the water through a colander and set aside.

Wipe the kettle clean and heat to medium heat. Cook the bacon in the kettle until enough fat has rendered off to coat the bottom of the kettle in oil. Remove the bacon and set aside.

Sweat the onion, peppers and celery in the bacon fat until thoroughly softened, about 15 minutes. Reduce heat as needed to avoid overcooking.

Add the garlic and cook 2 to 3 minutes.

Add beans, stock, remaining water, salt, peppers, cumin and bay leaves and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium, partially cover and cook at medium to medium-low for at least one hour.

Using an immersion blender, pulse the beans three or four times. Continue simmering partially covered at least another hour. Stir occasionally to ensure nothing is sticking to the bottom of the kettle.

Serve with cornbread, steamed white rice and top with chopped parsley and green onions.

Fried Chicken and Sausage Gumbo

Makes 10 to 12 servings

1 3- to 4-pound chicken, cut into 8 pieces

1½ pound andouille sausage

1¼ cup vegetable oil, plus two tablespoons for okra

2 cups all-purpose flour, divided

1 yellow onion, 1-inch dice

1 bell pepper, 1-inch dice

4 stalks celery, finely chopped

4 cloves garlic, smashed and minced

3 quarts chicken stock, not broth

3 cups sliced okra, chopped in 1-inch slices.

1 tablespoon kosher salt, 1½ teaspoons for okra

2 teaspoons chile powder

1½ teaspoons fresh-ground black pepper

1½ teaspoon gumbo file (ground sassafras leaves)

1 teaspoon white pepper

1 teaspoon paprika

1 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 teaspoon red wine vinegar

Sliced green onions and chopped Italian parsley for garnish

Heat a large, heavy-bottom Dutch oven or 8-quart stockpot over medium heat, and add the oil. Heat the oil until it begins to stir on its own, 3 to 5 minutes.

While the oil is heating, dry the chicken pieces and add salt and pepper. Debone the breasts, and chop into 2-inch pieces. Dredge the chicken in a ½ cup of flour.

Fry chicken in the oil 4 or 5 pieces at a time, careful not to overcrowd in the pan. Fry the chicken on each side about 5 minutes, until chicken is golden brown. It doesn't need to be cooked through, just crisped.

Remove chicken and drain. Set aside.

Increase heat to high and add remaining flour to the oil about ½ cup at a time, whisking in as you go. After the flour and oil are incorporated, continue to whisk at high heat until the roux is dark like chocolate.

Using a wooden spoon, stir in the onions, peppers and celery to the roux. Stir the vegetables in the roux for 5 minutes, then add the spices and garlic to the pot. Cook the garlic for 30 seconds, then carefully add the stock.

Bring the pot to a boil and skim foam. Lower the heat and simmer 30 minutes, skimming foam and oil.

Add the chicken and continue simmering 45 minutes, skimming as necessary. Add the sausage slices and simmer another hour, still skimming as necessary.

The gumbo is ready to eat by now but can continue to simmer at low heat for another couple of hours.

Before serving, heat a medium skillet at medium-high heat and add remaining 2 tablespoons oil. Fry okra 6 to 8 minutes in a cast-iron skillet or 8 to 10 minutes in a nonstick pan. Move to a small bowl and toss with vinegar and salt.

Add okra to the pot, or serve it in individual bowls to maintain crunchiness. Garnish with chopped parsley and green onions and serve with basic white rice and crusty French bread for sopping.

Source: Dave Cathey

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