Friday, March 29, 2013

Free Range Good Friday ~ Feel the Roux

I've never understood why this day is called Good Friday in the Christian religion as it seems like if that is where your beliefs lie it should be more like Horrible I Can't Stand to Watch Friday, but so it is and so it shall be.

It has been fun watching (because I'm not out there) Dakity fill up with boats as it does over this week. Campers on the land, boaters on the water, Culebra draws Semana Santa and Spring Break celebrators like a WalMart blue light special draws shoppers. They even bring their own chairs. Hopefully, they will bring their own trash bags too and take some of it home with them.
From a normal day, a few days ago, to this morning. One year I need to video the reverse of this, everyone leaving, because it's truly a sight to see. I've posted photos of it but a video would be better.

I'm not sure another boat can be crammed in there, but no doubt it will be tried. 
I'm very much hoping the manatee Chris G. saw out there the other day will be okay. With alcohol fueled boat driving, it's not easy for humans to be safe, let alone slow, lumbering creatures who show up like miracles without a clue.

The other day I was reading something and the topic of gumbo was introduced. Maybe it is because of spring, but it was not the first or second time that dish came across my screen in the last couple of weeks but this time I was hooked. Not by the idea of making an actual gumbo, which I love but knew I'd not have all the ingredients for, but making the roux.

If you've ever made roux, you'll remember the first time as vividly as any more vivid than possibly imagined first time on your lifeline scale. I can see the kitchen (it wasn't mine and I don't remember who's kitchen it was but it must have been someone good), I remember the big gas stove. I remember the big cast iron skillet and the wooden spoon and the other pots on other burners. I remember standing there an hour or so, stirring, with the occasional other person taking over, but mostly doing it myself, watching the color change, inhaling the fragrance, wondering why I'd never done this before.

And I remember how much it changed the complexity of what was basically a chicken stew, turning it into everything the word gumbo conveys, even though we were many, many miles from any sort of bayou. We were there, Spanish moss hanging from live oaks, zydeco wafting from the porch, through the screen door where the buzzing insects waited to come in, a couple of cans of Dixie beer making sweat rings on an old wooden table; we were there, through that roux infused melange of textures and tastes that make gumbo gumbo.

I wanted that. I didn't get that and it's my own damn fault. First of all, I didn't use my cast iron skillet. Why not? It was screaming to me from the shelf, the very shelf I took the light weight, no stick skillet into my cheating hands. Don't make this mistake, really. Roux needs an iron skillet and if you don't have one, you should, no excuses. Go garage sailing if you can't afford one in a store, just make sure it's American made because if not, it will end up not seasoning itself into something as smooth as a baby's butt and as no stick as the best no stick on any market anywhere. Just so you know.

The BEST way to do this is with a cast iron dutch oven where you can do the whole operation in one pot. An old pot like this will outlast anything else in your kitchen right now.

If you're lucky, you'll find a deal like this on ebay (this is over seasoned, but it's a Griswold 9" skillet, and the current bid on it is 1.54! ends tonight)
So what happened basically, is I made a sort of Brunswick stew, sort of because I didn't (and never do) use tomatoes, but did use corn and potatoes and then at the end threw in some rice - I don't know why, it just was so thin and disappointing I had to do something.

Disappointing for my taste bud longing, but delicious. Just not the Bayou Transport Special

So yes, it was good. And here's what was in it.

MJ's NOT Gumbo and NOT Brunswick Chicken Stew

One chicken, boiled, deboned and shredded (actually got all natural, no hormone chicken from Genesis! woohoo)
Two large onions, chopped
A whole lot of garlic, chopped small - no need to mince, this will cook long enough for it to melt
Two cans of corn (yes, fresh would be better but I live here. You can and should! put a lot more veggies in this, bell peppers, peas, green beans, okra - I just didn't have any of that on hand at the time)
Two large potatoes, cut into two inch squares. (yes, potatoes are not square. Do your best)
Eight slices of kindly raised bacon cooked to crunchiness (save the bacon fat!!)
White flour
Salt and pepper to taste

First, a word on fat. Don't even think about using a fat substitute - there isn't one, in my world; this is not a health food dish. Each fat has its own smoke point. Butter will be lower than bacon or lard, but lots of people use butter. I like bacon fat but I've used butter. The most important thing is...don't walk away from your roux, no matter what you are using but especially with butter! You burn it, you'll cry.

Why I save jars. Leftover bacon fat - good for way too much to list but start with frying eggs
 Put your chicken in enough water to cover it and bring to boil, after the big boil, take down to simmering. Get out your IRON SKILLET and cook the bacon. Get it nice and done, and remove it to a plate with a paper towel to drain and cool. Drain off the fat into something you can save it in (best to use a glass jar and that means, let it cool down first).

When the chicken is at the falling off the bone stage, remove it with a slotted spoon to a colander to drain and cool so you can debone and shred it. Into the pot put all the rest of the goodies. You can return the shredded chicken now or after the roux is done, I'd suggest now and keep it all at a low simmer.

Now comes the fun part. There are many instructions for making roux, one I saw went on for about 10 pages, which I think is a little insane. If you've never made it before, that would pretty much scare you off from even trying. So here's my suggestion. Use the same amount of fat as flour (white flour works well here). You might find that that is too much fat and really, it is, but it will keep you from burning it. Trust me, you don't want to burn this because a) you have no roux and b) you'll have wasted a long hour of stirring and c) you'll have no roux. Yes, I repeated that, you want the roux!

I don't know why, but you could stir a roux all day in this thing and this was as dark as it would get. I wasn't stirring at all furiously as this would indicate. Gentle is fine. A spatula works well, I like this wooden spatula.
How much fat? How much flour? If you go with 3/4 cup of each, you're going to have a lot of roux but that's not a bad thing! Now we move into the subtle art of color. There are lots of colors of roux, white, blonde, dark and inbetween. The more color, the more flavor, as far as I'm concerned. Lucky for you and me, this Louisiana cook made a roux color chart so you don't have to guess what I'm talking about! If you are making gumbo, you want it dark. I wanted it dark. I didn't get that.

So put the fat back in the skillet, warm it up and sprinkle in your flour, stirring as you go. You can start with the heat at medium and lower it from there, if you get a whiff of smoke, you've gone too far. Keep stirring until it is the color you like and STOP! Remove from the heat. Pour the roux gently into the pot of chicken and veggies, stirring until the stock thickens. Season as you wish. Cook on low as long as you like, this is a dish that can take a long simmer (and is better the next day).  You can chill this and take off the extra fat or not. By now, it's so flavor infused so you won't lose much by a bit of removal. Enjoy!

Of course, Sunday is Easter and what I should have given you is a leg of lamb recipe but since I can't get lamb here and I really really really want some (and Milka's decided no lamb chops for us this year), I just couldn't bear to do that.

No matter the madness, there is always a quiet place.

Have a fondly fun and flexible Friday. Do something feastable.


  1. Comment on GOOD FRIDAY:
    From the Christian perspective , GOOD FRIDAY ---the day of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ , can only be seen & understood as being intimately linked with the Resurrection---the day of proclamation that Jesus has risen from the dead & his offering of himself on the cross achieved eternal salvation for all humankind.Now that IS GOOD NEWS & is why Christians label the day as being GOOD ! Have a Blessed Easter !!!

    1. Gotcha! Have a wonderful Easter yourself!