|About 1,600 or so made their way to Louisiana marking the first mass immigration within The United States, or at least, what was going to eventually be The United States.||
GUESTS: Flour Granules #1 and #2
Now, the region's Spanish rulers welcomed these immigrants
partly because they hoped to bolster the Catholic population of the region. Over
the following decades, the Acadians intermarried with locals including members
of several Native American nations. Eventually, because of a twist of the local
tongue, the word "Acadian" became "Cajun".
Okay, there's more to it than this.
I speak, of course, of the food. Because of their wanderings, Cajun cuisine contains foods from just about every possible culture you can imagine: from Europe, Africa, the islands, you name it. No dish sums this up more than gumbo, okay? Gumbo: the single pot stew that supposedly can contain anything that crawls, flies, swims, or walks. I say one pot, but not just any one pot will do. No, we need something in the 128-ounce range and it needs to be made out of a metal heavy enough to conduct heat efficiently. I speak, of course, of cast iron. And this little blue enamel number is my very favorite.
First thing to go in, a roux. That is the first step in just about any bit of Cajun cooking. Now a roux, of course, is a traditional French thickener composed of equal portions of fat and flour. The French would usually use butter. But that would be a little rich for the traditional Cajun. So we will go with four ounces of vegetable oil.
Now the number one roux 'dimentary' ... hah ... mistake ... ahh, that's funny ... that the average cook would make would be using equal portions by volume of flour. But weight is actually what we want. So, we're going to go for four ounces by weight of flour. This is just all-purpose flour. There we go. Now this gets whisked directly into the pot creating something that looks amazingly like library paste. There. I'm going to turn this on to medium heat. There we go.
Now this will thicken just about anything which is why the French use it in just about every soup and sauce that I can think of. What does a roux actually do? Well, it would be, ... well ... oh, come here.
[we see one of the FG#1] Okay, let's say that this is a grain of flour. I know, last time we saw him it was a grain of rice. But work with me here, okay? Now, when this granule cooks in liquid, it swells and eventually bursts ...
AB: [exhorts the flour granule to act out the act of bursting]
FG#1: [jumps half-heartedly twice]
... sending tangles of starch molecules out into the liquid, thus thickening it. However, when you have two or more of these guys
FG#2: [is slow to enter]
... TWO OR MORE OF THESE GUYS ...
FG#2: [joins the FG#1]
... and hot liquid is introduced, they tend to stick to each other
AB: [exhorts the two granules to emulate sticking]
FG#1 & FG#2: [sort of lean against each other]
... forming nasty clumps in your soup, sauce, or stew. By cooking them in fat, ...
FG#1 & FG#2: [rain coats and hats magically appear on them]
... each granule is essentially coated and protected from water, at least until you've had time to thoroughly whisk them into the liquid of your choice. As a result, there will be no clumping.
AB: [indicates for them to separate, softly] Get apart. Get apart]
But wait, there's more. Another benefit of cooking the flour in hot fat is that you essentially fry the granules
STAGE HAND: [enters and shines a strong
light on them]
FG#! & FG#2: [begin hopping around as if they are on fire]
Okay, okay, good, good, good, good. This high heat will help the granules to replace their raw, cereal flavor with roasty toasty nutty goodness.
FG#1 & #2 [their suits magically turn tan
color, they jump around excitedly]
AB: [walks away, ashamed]
The explosion of starch molecules is referred to as gelatinization.
Well, I'm a ... I'm still whisking, but that's okay. Rouxs take a good bit of time. We'll take a moment to examine the degrees of roux-dom, shall we?
Now, when a roux first comes together, it is referred to as a "white roux"
which has a good bit of thickening power but very little flavor. As it cooks
for a few more minutes, it becomes a "blond roux": a little darker, a little
less thickening power, a little more flavor.
Then it moves into what we call the "brown roux" stage which is where we are
over here: a little less thickening power but really starting to develop some
nice nutty notes, if you would.
Eventually, we will come to where we are looking to go, the "dark" or "brick roux". Now the dark or brick roux has four times less thickening power than the original white roux. But what it lacks in thickening power, it more than makes up for in amazing depth and smoky goodness of flavor. Of course, the trick is that getting to that stage takes a good bit of time: 30 or 40 minutes, easy. Now we could get around that by boosting the heat, but then we run into the danger of getting straight to the "black roux", which means it's completely ... [sniffs, as if the roux is burning] Ooohhh [returns to pot]
DEGREES OF ROUXDOM
Eeech. Oh, double bother. It appears that I have moved directly from the brown roux stage to the black roux stage. As you can see, it's almost brick in a few places, but the little black specks ... yeah, that's ruined. Well, that's okay. It's the last one of those you'll see today. I'll just make another.
[screens appear with several ruined ruouxs]
JW: [to the tune of "Frère Jacques"]
Frère Jacques, frère Jacques.
I smell roux. Smells like ... Hooo, whoa. I, I'm afraid you have to throw this out, 'less you got a hole in your roof you wanna patch, heh. See 'ya in the Bayou. [walks away, singing to himself]
Yeah, bye bye to you too, 'ya Bayou bum. Uh, what have we learned, kids? Well, we've learned that, if we want to make a decent dark roux without burning it, we're going to have to find a method of cooking that doesn't involve direct heat, doesn't involve constant tending, and doesn't involve the constant threat of disaster at every moment. We need a ... I ... [AB turns around, and sees his oven]
|Direct heat making you "roux" the day? [laughs to himself] Then just use the indirect method. Place your pot in a 350 degree oven, add your four ounces of vegetable oil, your four ounces by weight of all-purpose flour, and whisk into a nice paste and let this cook. Now you're going to want to let it go for about an hour and a half, you know, give or take 15 minutes or so. You want it to look basically the color of brick, a very very dark red. There we go.||
4 Ounces Vegetable Oil
AB: Now, Thing,
I've got to go to the grocery store. I want you to keep your eyes on this.
THING: [nods his hand in approval, he returns with fake eyes on his hand]
"Anything that crawls, slithers, swims, or flies," is how the saying goes.
all the possible gumbo critter scenarios, the one that makes the most sense to
me is seafood. After all, there's little doubt that bouillabaisse, the classic
provincial fish stew, influenced gumbo's conception. And to me, nothing
that says "Born on the Bayou, not just pretending", like a good shrimp gumbo.
Now if we were in Cajun country, we'd probably go with crawfish or frog legs or both. But for most folks, one and a half pounds of raw, medium-sized, head-on shrimp, like these Gulf Whites, would do nicely. And yes, be sure to purchase whole, head-on, if at all possible. The heads are full of goodness and we do not want to waste it. Of course, the goodness of which I speak is, well, the guts, which is why whole shrimp tend to go south quicker than tails-only. So be on the lookout for the warning signs of bad shrimp such as black streaks, pitted shells, or sour smells. And please, only purchase from a reputable vendor.
|For those of you who have not committed our classic episode, "Crustacean Nation I" to memory, let us review shrimp disassembly.||
1½ Pounds Raw, Whole
Head-on Medium Shrimp
Number one, grasp the shrimp. Number two, rip his wee head off. Now, in many cultures, this would simply go to
the trash can. But in Cajun cuisine, this is serious currency, so it goes into
the stock pot, thusly.
Now, as for the rest of the shrimp, we'll take a little pair of nail scissors here and I like to just cut right down the back. I've got a couple of reasons for doing this. One is that it's going to make peeling off the shell and the legs very, very simple. Everything should kind of come off in one fell swoop, antennas included. And that also opens up this area, which reveals ... Ahh, there it is, boys and girls: the vein. Now guess what? This isn't a vein. It's a digestive tract and that means that the dark stuff inside isn't blood. So we're going to want to rinse that out. The easiest way to get it out is just to put that down under water and it should float out very nicely. And once that is out of the way, we will move our shrimp to a clean containment vessel. For now, we will stash our newly naked shrimp in the chill chest.
|These heads, tails, and various exo-skeletal remains are packed with shrimpy goodness. We only need to extract them with the proper application of time, heat, and water. I'd say about two quarts should do the job.||2 Quarts Water|
Bring this to a boil and then lower the heat and maintain a simmer for about an hour or until the liquid has reduced by half.
|Having surrendered their shrimpy essence, the spent heads, tails, and what-not are strained out. Now the remaining stock can be used immediately or cooled and frozen for up to six months.||1 Quart Shrimp Stock|
The average American consumes over 4 pounds of
shrimp per year, most of which is imported.
[buzzer goes off, AB removes
the pot from the oven]
Ahh, there we have it. A perfect brick roux and we didn't even have to suffer.
Now do remember, this stuff is not called "Cajun napalm" for nothing. It is hot, it is viscous, and if it gets on you, it bites. So be very, very careful.
|Now I'm going to put this [pot of roux] straight over medium-high heat and then add one cup of diced onions, one-half cup of diced celery, and one-half cup of diced green peppers. And we will stir that in. Now Cajuns and Creoles call this "The Trinity", a natural mutation of the French mirepoix—that combination of one part ... [corrects himself] two parts onion, one part carrot and celery—that forms the backbone of French cuisine. Oh and at this point, go ahead and add two tablespoons of chopped garlic. There.||
1 Cup Diced Onion
½ Cup Diced Celery
½ Cup Diced Green Bell
2 Tbs. Chopped Garlic
We're going to cook this for seven to eight minutes. And you want to keep it moving to avoid overheating the veggies. So no shortcuts. Now I'm okay with that. I don't want to endlessly stir a roux. But standing around a pot of gumbo is part of Cajun culture where food is really an event, meant to be shared with friends and family alike. In fact, some gumbos are actually meant to be shared with an entire community. Consider the "Courir de Mardi Gras".
|This peculiar Cajun Mardi Gras tradition involves a bunch of guys dressing up in colorful masks and costumes, riding around the countryside on horseback, begging for gumbo ingredients. They dance and sing in the hopes of receiving chicken, sausage, rice, or onions for their pot; which, at the end of the evening, is served to the entire community.||
|Now that the onions are nice and tender, we add the rest of the software. One-half cup of peeled, seeded, and chopped tomatoes—canned or fresh—one-half teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper, a tablespoon of kosher salt, one teaspoon of chopped fresh thyme, and two bay leaves which we will fish out later. Last but not least, a wee bit of spice in the form of one quarter teaspoon of cayenne.||
½ Cup Peeled, Seeded &
½ tsp. Freshly Ground Black
1 Tbs. Kosher Salt
1 tsp. Chopped Fresh Thyme
2 Bay Leaves
¼ tsp. Cayenne Pepper
[a bunch of people off-camera yell, "BAM!"]
Did you hear something? Oh well, I don't know.
Anyway, time to add the shrimp stock. Now there's a lot of fat down here. This is all water so there's going to be some hissing. So go slowly. Just pour in the stock, whisking continuously. There you go. Everything's in. Good. Now, decrease the heat to low, cover, and we're going to cook that for 35 minutes. And in the meantime, we will discuss sausage.
Now, no good gumbo is complete without a hearty sausage. Traditionally, of course, a Cajun sausage would be used. Some folks like a boudin [pron: boo-DAN], which is a sausage stuffed with seasoned pork and rice. But I'm a purist and that means andouille [pron: an-DWEE]: a highly seasoned and very smoky sausage made with ham instead of plain old ... [looks for andouille sausage in his refrigerator, and does not find any] ... Well, heck. I'm out. Wait a second. I'm not out of nothing yet.
GUESTS: Stagehand #1
SH #1: [whispering] I ran the alligator last time. It is your turn.
SH #2: You're like such a little girl. You know that?
SH #1: Don't mess with me. I'm a trained cage fighter.
AB: [sneaks in behind the set]
SH #2: Oooh, I'm scared now. Now run that alligator.
SH #1: Okay.
JW: I declare, mon chère, what we need right now is some good old fashioned mayonnaise, that's right. [he opens the fridge while not looking in, we see AB with his head through a trap door in the back stealing the andouille] Oh, gracious me, I forgot my andouille. [looks in his refrigerator, and cannot find it] Huh, what?
T: CUT! [unintelligible]
|Half a pound of sausage, sliced thin, will do very very nicely. Now this could go straight into the gumbo. But I prefer to brown it first. A little extra flavor for the price of, I don't know, a dirty pan.||
½ Pound Andouille Sausage,
Sliced & Browned
Now, everybody in the pool.
Sausage in, and the shrimp in, and kill the heat. Oh, don't worry, there's
enough residual heat in here to cook that shrimp through.
Now, since we opted for a brick roux early on, we are going to require some assistance in the thickening department. But don't worry, help is close at hand.
Those who saw our okra show know that this popular Southern seed pod has a certain sliminess on the inside that, when cooked, can thicken the surrounding liquid. Now the fact that gumbo shares more than a few letters with the West African word for okra—"guingambo", I think it is—should pretty much cinch okra's fate as the sole gumbo thickener of choice, but there is another.
Traditionally served on Good Friday, gumbo z'herbes must contain seven different vegetables to be considered "lucky".
GUEST: Okra, from "Okraphobia"
Filé powder comes from the sassafras tree. It is the same tree who's roots have been used at various times as a medicinal cure, a tea substitute, a leather curing agent, and a flavoring agent for root beer. Now, filé is not made from the roots of the sassafras, but rather the young leaves that have been dried and ground into a fine powder.
OKRA: [enters in the back tossing a ball and glove]
So the question is, "What works best, okra, or filé?" Well, either will work here. But consider this: filé powder was introduced to the Acadians by their new Southern neighbors, the Choctaw Indians. So, it was a local ingredient probably long before okra even reached American shores. Plus, this powder has a flavor that many gumbo purists, myself included, would consider to be indispensable to gumbo.
AB: [turns to the okra which is behind
him] Oh, sorry, Okra. We'll have to play another day.
OKRA: [tosses a ball disappointed and exits]
But, I know what you're thinking. You're wondering, "Well, why don't you just use both filé and okra?" Well I'll tell you why. Because we're making soup, not a triple-thick shake.
|Oddly enough, filé powder gets its thickening power from the very same place as okra: mucilage. The young sassafras leaves are full of this stuff which is why it only takes a tablespoon to thicken this whole pot. Now some more traditional cooks like to put the filé on the table and allow the guests to add it on their own. But I like to give it a bit of a chance to thicken up the whole pot. I also like to put it in early so that the sassafras flavor will have a little time to integrate in and mellow a bit. So, we are going to stir that in then cover and let it sit for 10 minutes before serving.||1 Tbs. File Powder|
Oh, and don't forget to take out those bay leaves.
Now I understand there are Cajuns out there who like their gumbo on potato
salad. Me, I just like plain old rice.
JW: [in a very non-Cajun accent] Mr. B., I gotta tell 'ya, this is some mighty fine stew you got here.
AB: What happened to your voice?
JW: Oh, that. That's a show biz thing. Heck, I'm from Baa-ston.
AB: You're not Cajun?
AB: You're not Creole?
JW: No, I'm Irish.
AB: [in an affected Cajun accent] Well, we got ourselves a little word down on the bayou, "en vie." It means a love of cookin' and a joy of eatin', and we got ourselves a, a heapin' helpin' of that right here, don't you know?
JW: [in his Cajun accent] Oh yeah, oh yeah. Any way you say it, this is just some plain "Good Eats".
AB: Mmm hmmm.
JW: Xavier, get yourself a big old spoonful of this, boy. Come on.
AB: Go on, Xavier.
JW: Come on, don't be bashful.
AB: Go ahead, go ahead.
JW: [tries to feed the alligator puppet]
X: [smokes and breaks down]
AB: [in a normal voice] I think you'd be better off with a mudskipper.
JW: [in a normal voice] Mudskipper. I like the idea.
AB: Yeah, it could just flop right up there ...
The young leaves are ... [drops a measuring spoon into the pot by accident]
CREW: [off camera, laughs]
Transcribed by Michael Roberts
Proofread by Michael Menninger
Last Edited on 08/27/2010