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Roux can make or break Gumbo

One of the first dishes you think of when someone mentions New Orleans food is Gumbo. Of course, it is the official cuisine of the state of Louisiana. No one knows for sure where the name came from. Most believe it is derived from either a word from a Bantu language for okra (ki ngombo) or the Choctaw word for filé (ground sassafras leaves). Okra and filé are used as thickeners in gumbo, usually not together. Okra is most often found in seafood gumbos.

Gumbo is an economical dish, as it can be used to feed a large group of people with a small amount of meat or seafood. It is also a versatile dish. You are able to use whatever meat or seafood you have on hand. Most gumbos are either made with meat or seafood, although you can sometimes find sausage in a seafood gumbo.

Many southern Louisiana cooking competitions revolve around gumbo. The town of Bridge City, just outside the city of New Orleans, is the self-described Gumbo Capital of the World. Locally, the Hot Springs Gumbo & Catfish Festival will be held on April 22, 2017. Also in April, West Memphis host a Gumbo festival.

To make a gumbo, first you make a roux. Many Creole and Cajun dishes are started by making a roux. A roux will make or break your dish. Roux is more than just a thickener. It also adds flavor to your gumbo and other dishes. You must be very careful with the roux. If you start smelling a burnt smell, throw it out and start over. Even if you think you got all of the brunt parts out, your finished dish will still taste burnt. You also need to make sure you do not splash any roux on you. It will leave a bad burn. Let’s get Cookin’.

Roux

Equal parts Vegetable Oil or Butter and Flour

Heat oil in a pan over moderate to low heat. Add flour and stir until smooth. Cook, stirring constantly, to the desired color. Remember, the darker the color, the less the roux will thicken the dish. Roux should be glossy in appearance. White Roux should be barely colored, or chalky. Pale or Blonde Roux should be golden straw colored, with a slight nutty aroma. Brown or Black Roux should be deep brown, with a strong nutty aroma. Add your seasonings (onions, garlic, bell peppers, etc.) before you add your liquid. Make sure your liquid is room temperature or cool. This will ensure a smooth sauce.

Seafood Gumbo

When I think of gumbo, the seafood version is what comes to mind. This is the version that I grew up on. Most dishes are made to be eaten as soon as you have finished preparing them. I find that gumbo taste better the next day, allowing the flavors to marry.

3/4 cup Canola Oil
2 cups Onion, chopped
1 cup Green Bell Pepper, seeds removed and chopped
1 cup Celery, chopped
2 tablespoons Garlic, chopped
1 tablespoon Salt
1/2 teaspoon Black Pepper
1/2 teaspoon Cayenne Pepper
5 Bay Leaves
8 cups Seafood Stock
1 pound medium Shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 pound Crabmeat, picked thru for shells
2 dozen shucked Oysters
1/4 cup Green Onions, chopped
1/4 cup fresh Parsley, chopped
Cooked Rice
Filé Powder

Combine the oil and flour in a large heavy-bottomed pot over medium-low heat. Stir slowly and constantly for 20 to 25 minutes, making a dark roux, the color of chocolate. Add the onions, bell pepper, celery, garlic, salt, black pepper, cayenne pepper and bay leaves. Cook, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes, or until the vegetables are very soft. Lower heat to low. Add stock and stir to blend. Simmer uncovered, stirring occasionally, for 1 1/2 hours. Add the shrimp and Crabmeat and cook for 15 minutes. Add the oyster, green onions and parsley and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, or until the edges of the oysters begin to curl. Remove from heat. Remove the bay leaves. Serve over rice and pass the Filé powder at the table.

Note: You can use whatever seafood you like. I know many people who don’t like oysters. They can be replaced with scallops, clams or more shrimp and crabmeat.

Good Cooking, Good Eating and Good Living!

Desire to Cook

Most chefs have a mentor that has shaped them into the cook that they have become. I may be bias, but my mentor is the best cook that has ever cooked for me. My mentor was my mom, Mona Centola.

I will never forget the joy of being 8 years old and my mom allowing me to cook the holiday chocolate chip cookies by myself. The confidence that she had in me made me realize what she taught me growing up; you can do anything you want if you work hard for it.

It was always a joy to be in the kitchen while she cooked. The aromas coming from the stove were stimulating. She made it seem like cooking for a family of nine was a simple task. Where she really shined was when she was cooking for company. She seemed to work a little bit harder when her dishes were to be eaten by someone other than our family. I guess that’s where I get my desire to cook for others comes from. Her recipes were often asked for and gladly given away. I would like to share with you two of my favorite of Mona’s recipes. Let’s get Cookin’.

The first one is Shrimp Remoulade. This is a dish that can either be served as an appetizer or a salad. This dish was often found on her table around the holidays. While there are many variations of Remoulade sauce, hers is one that is made without mayonnaise. It is a great dish for a multi dish dinner because it is made in advance. When I lived in New Orleans, the Horseradish Mustard was a hard ingredient to find. I would often have to go to at least 3 stores before i would find it. On one of my first trips to a grocery store here in Searcy, I found numerous brands without even looking for this ingredient.

4 tablespoons Horseradish Mustard
1/2 cup Tarragon Vinegar
1/2 teaspoon Cayenne Pepper
2 tablespoons Ketchup
1 clove Garlic, crushed
1 teaspoon Salt
1 tablespoon Paprika
1 cup Salad Oil
1/2cup Celery, diced
1/2 cup Green Onions, sliced
2 pounds Shrimp, medium sized, boiled and peeled
Shredded Lettuce for serving

Mix vinegar, mustard, salt, Cayenne pepper, paprika, ketchup, and garlic. Add oil, beating well. Add celery and green onions and mix well. Add shrimp and refrigerate for at least 2 hours. When serving, place shredded lettuce on a plate or bowl and top with shrimp and sauce.

This next dish is her most requested recipe, Fudge Pie. It seems like everyone who ate this dish asked for the recipe. People would always return to tell my mother that the Fudge Pie was a hit when they served it. You knew you were in for a treat when you saw her Corningware pie dish covered with aluminum foil sitting on the counter. This is another dish that often made an appearance around the holidays. It was always served right out the dish with a scoop of ice cream. It is also good to warm it up in the microwave before eating.

1 square Unsweetened Baking Chocolate
1/2 cup Margarine
1 cup Sugar
2 Eggs
1/2 cup Flour,unsifted
1 teaspoon Vanilla

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease a 9-inch pie pan. Melt chocolate in a double boiler. Cream margarine until soft. Gradually add the sugar and continue mixing until creamy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating hard after each one is added. Stir in the melted chocolate. Mix in the flour and vanilla. Pour into pie pan and bake for 30 minutes.

Good Cooking, Good Eating, and Good Living!

Introduction

I’m Tommy Centola, the Creole Cajun Chef. I was a lifelong resident of New Orleans until August 29, 2005, the day Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans. My wife Peggy and I relocated to Searcy.

As much as I loved my new hometown, something was missing. The food in the restaurants was not what I was used to eating. Having been cooking since I was 8 years old, I started looking for local sources of seafood, Andouille sausage, Zataran’s products and other New Orleans ingredients to cook at home.

Throughout the years, my new friends started to ask me for some of my recipes. In 2011, I started a web page www.creolecajunchef.com to post two weekly recipes. In August of that year, my cookbook, “You Can’t Keep New Orleans Out Of The Cook”, was published. It has been a continuing labor of love.

When the editors of The Daily Citizen asked me if I was interested in writing a column on New Orleans food, I was flattered. I am always happy to share my knowledge.

So, what is New Orleans cuisine? When I first started my blog, I was asked how do I define New Orleans cooking and the difference between Creole and Cajun cuisine. Here was my response:

When people outside of Louisiana think of New Orleans cooking, most automatically think of Cajun food. Well, they would be partially right. Creole food is typically misconstrued for Cajun fare since both come from the New Orleans area. While Cajun food is mostly found on the borders of New Orleans in the Bayou country, Creole food is normally found within the city limits. Creole cooking is the style of cooking that capitalized on the blending of recipes from the French, Spanish, African and Native American cultures.

Cajun cuisine developed out of necessity. The Acadian refugees, farmers rendered destitute by the British expulsion, had to learn to live off the land and adapted their French cuisine to local ingredients such as rice, crawfish and sugar cane.

Many households were large, consisting of eight to twelve people. Most families live on working farms. Feeding a large family, all of whose members did physical work every day, required a lot of food. Cajun cuisine grew out of supplementing rice with whatever meat, game or other proteins were available.

Some of the chefs call the aromatic vegetables bell pepper, onion and celery the Holy Trinity of Cajun cuisine. Finely diced and combined in cooking, the method is similar to the use of the Mire Prix in traditional French cooking, which blends finely diced onion, celery and carrot. Characteristic seasonings include parsley, bay leaf, “onion tops” of scallions and dried cayenne pepper. The overall feel of the cuisine is more Mediterranean than North American.

When it comes to food, Cajuns generally like their foods hot, spicy and/or blackened, whereas Creoles pride themselves on their sauces, herbs and Creole spices. Both Creoles and Cajuns have battled for centuries over the authorship of most notable dishes as filé gumbo, crawfish étouffée and jambalaya. While Cajuns specialize in the preparation of game meats such as alligator, possum, turtle and the like, Creoles have been dally in game meats too, especially turtle…as in turtle soup, however, they don’t advertise the fact.

In the last 1800s, large number of immigrants fromSicily began to settle in south Louisiana. Many stayed in New Orleans to establish businesses. With the arrival of the Italians, the Creoles cultivated a love of garlic. It’s sensuous, sultry presents is encountered just beneath the surface in many classic Creole dishes.
The most unique feature of Creole-Italian cuisine is its tomato sauce, commonly referred to as “red gravy” or “tomato gravy”. This rich sauce, used over meats and pasta, has dozens of variations from family to family. Some red gravies are based on a brown roux. Some contain eggplant. Others contain anchovies, whole boiled eggs or meat. One consistent thread in red gravy is the addition of sugar to sweeten the sauce. Creole-Italians incorporate local fish and shellfish in their cooking with delicious results in dishes such as crabmeat au gratin, shrimp pasta and many more.

Let’s get cookin’. Here are two Jambalaya recipes demonstrating the difference between Creole and Cajun cooking:

Creole Sausage Jambalaya

1 pound Smoked Sausage, cut into bite sized pieces
1/3 cup Onions, diced
1/4 cup Celery, diced
1/4 cup Green Bell Pepper, diced
1/4 cup Garlic, minced
2 tablespoons Olive Oil
1 quart Beef Stock or Broth
1 8oz. Can Tomato Sauce
4 tablespoons Creole Seasoning
2 tablespoons dried Basil
2 tablespoons dried Oregano
1 tablespoon Paprika
2 cups Rice

Directions:

In a 6 quart pot over medium heat, cook sausage, onions, celery, bell pepper and garlic in olive oil until the vegetables are soft, about 4 minutes. Add stock, tomato sauce and dry seasonings. Bring to a boil. Add rice and bring back to a boil. Cover and lower heat to low. Cook until all of the liquid is absorbed, about 20-25 minutes.

Cajun Chicken and Sausage Jambalaya

2 pounds Andouille Sausage, slice in bite size pieces
2 1/2 pounds bonelessss skinless Chicken Thighs, cut into bite sized pieces
4 cups Onions, diced
12 tablespoons Garlic, minced
1 pound Tasso, cubed
3/4 tablespoons fresh Thyme Leaves, whole
3/4 tablespoons fresh Basil, chopped
1/2 tablespoon Coarsely Ground Black Pepper
1/2 tablespoons White Pepper
1/2 tablespoon Red Pepper Flakes
5 1/3 cups chicken Stock
2 3/4 cups Long-Grain Rice
1 tablespoon fresh Parsley, chopped

Directions:

In a 2 gallon dutch oven over high heat, cook sausage, stirring constantly so the sausage does not burn. Add the chicken and brown on all sides, stirring constantly. Browning the sausage and chicken should take about 10-15 minutes. Lower the heat to medium and add the onions and garlic.; sauté for about 15 minutes or until the onions are very limp and clear. Add the Tasso, thyme, basil and peppers. Simmer over low heat for 10 minutes. Add the stock and bring to a boil. Add the rice, reduce the heat to medium and gently break up the rice. Use a spoon to stir and scrape the bottom to insure that no rice sticks to the bottom. After about 5 minutes, fold in the parsley. Continue to scrape the pot. When the jambalaya returns to a boil, reduce heat to the lowest possible setting and simmer, for at least 25 minutes.