Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Laissez Les Bons Temps Rouler

Sometimes I can be obsessive about things. Not about keeping a spotless house (unfortunately) but mostly about researching random topics…I just want to know more! If I watch a documentary or read a nonfiction book—or even a fiction book with any basis in reality, for that matter—I won't stop, even after I turn the last page. I'll hop online and search for photos of the characters; I'll do in-depth “research” about the story’s era or location, and I’ll find out everything that Wikipedia and Google will tell me about local customs and cultural nuances. This will inevitably lead me down a totally random tangent, full of more information and research…new things for me to become obsessed with. The Internet is a crazy place, I tell ya!

I follow this same crazy process when it comes to food and throwing parties. For Mardi Gras, I hosted a Fat Tuesday dinner party that started out with a search for menu ideas, then led to a last minute French lesson and an in-depth study of Cajun culture and the Big Easy, and finally culminated in me watching Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Trust me, there's a logical chain of events that led to me spending a Saturday night with Liz Taylor and Paul Newman (followed by more “research” about Tennessee Williams).

Post Liz, Paul, and Tennessee, I got back to party planning. In the end, my crazy research led to Evan harnessing the powers of a deep fryer, a tiny apartment crowded with friends, and lots of Mason jars full of fizzy cocktails.

In a mad weeknight rush, I made spicy, saucy, savory gumbo—full of chicken, Andouille sausage, and shrimp. Evan worked his newly-found fry-boy magic on okra and prawns coated in a cornmeal-flour-old bay mixture, and I threw together a bananas foster bread pudding from the seat of my pants (well, not literally). In the midst of the madness, Amanda dropped off a cast iron skillet of southern buttermilk corn bread, and Tasha mixed up bubbly Gin and champagne French 75s.

As everyone crammed together with steaming bowls of gumbo, sitting wherever they could find an open spot, I couldn’t help but feel lucky to have so many great friends. Then my wheels started turning, and I launched into a huge research project into home rentals with big dining rooms and backyards. Naturally, this will culminate in something totally unrelated, like a study about Mid-Atlantic dialects...

Laissez les bons temps rouler, or as they say in the NOLA... let the good times roll! 

Mardi Gras Gumbo
Adapted from Bon Appetit
Serves 10-12

½ cup vegetable oil
½ cup flour
2 ½ onions, chopped
2 green and 1 red bell pepper, chopped
5 celery stalks, chopped
8 garlic cloves, chopped
1.5 teaspoons cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning
Few shakes Louisiana hot sauce
½ cup white wine
½ cup chopped fresh thyme
3 bay leaves
28-ounce can diced tomatoes with juice
1 8-ounce bottle clam juice
2 cups chicken broth
2 pounds andouille sausage, sliced
3 large boneless, skinless chicken breasts (or equivalent thighs) cut in bite size pieces
24 ounces sliced frozen okra (two 12 ounce packages)
2 pounds peeled deveined medium shrimp

Make Ahead: For roux, heat oil in a stock pot over medium-high until very hot. Add flour and stir constantly until darkish brown (about 5 minutes). Add the trinity—onions, bell peppers, and celery—and cook, stirring frequently, 15-20 minutes. Add garlic, cayenne, Old Bay, and hot sauce, and cook 2 minutes. Add wine, thyme, and bay leaves; bring to boil, stirring occasionally. Add tomatoes with juice, clam juice, broth, sausage, and chicken—simmer until chicken is cooked (about 15 minutes). Add okra, cook 10 minutes. If you’re making ahead, let cool, and refrigerate. Bring to a light boil before adding shrimp.

Before Serving: Add shrimp and cook until just opaque, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, as needed.
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