The commencement of the Carnival season as Lent begins brought to mind many things about New Orleans. After Hurricane Katrina devastated the area, some of the refugees who had lost just about everything were resettled here in Tucson. I have no idea if they have returned since then, but the inspiring recovery efforts have convinced me that the Big Easy is indeed the City of Second Chances. The iconic jazz song that I reference in my article's title must be very bittersweet by now down South.
I watch an inspiring television program set there as well: Pit Bulls and Parolees, a reality show that follows the adventures of a family that operates a rescue shelter. Originally based in the Los Angeles area, they relocated to New Orleans after their short-sighted host community grew increasingly hostile to their shelter. It is on over the weekend and I recommend it highly for animal lovers and people who appreciate heroism.
You might even be moved to create a Mardi Gras dinner yourself, even if just for your family group. And if you do, consider a classic New Orleans dish, shrimp gumbo. All gumbos are stews, flavored with the different herbs and essences that were discovered and used by the African and Creole people who gathered into the communities that are now well worth visiting.
If you would like coffee with chicory and beignets, you can buy them or make them but the ambiance of the French Quarter cannot be had at any price--you must be there. Meanwhile, try this dish for another treat on a cold, windy day in Southern Arizona (which means snow and rain are about to fall further north and east of here).
One secret to making gumbo is to brown the sausage before you add it to the mix, which will render some of the fat out and help you avoid a greasy dish.
CREOLE SHRIMP GUMBO
1 stick organic butter
1 pound cut organic okra, fresh or frozen
2/3 cup organic safflower or canola oil
1 cup organic unbleached all-purpose flour
3 pounds raw shrimp, peeled, fresh or frozen
1 cup sliced organic lean smoked or Andouille sausage
2 organic onions, chopped (about 3 cups)
1 large organic bell pepper chopped (about 1 cup)
1 cup chopped organic celery
3 cloves organic garlic, minced
2-1/2 quarts organic seafood, vegetable or chicken stock
1 14-ounce can organic diced tomatoes
Tabasco sauce to taste, 1/4 to 1 teaspoon
3 bay leaves
1 teaspoon Tony Chachere's Original Creole Seasoning
Chopped organic green onions
Chop the vegetables and set them aside, covered. In a large heavy pot melt the butter and cook the okra for about 15 minutes on medium heat, stirring often. Remove the okra from the heat and set the pot on a back burner for later.
In a separate heavy pot or skillet heat the oil, add the flour and make a roux by heating the oil on low/medium and whisking in the flour as it thickens. When the roux is caramel colored, add the chopped vegetables and stir well over low heat until they are soft (6-7 minutes).
Add two cups of broth to the roux and stir until smooth. Transfer to the larger pot containing the okra and combine the two. Add the tomatoes, the remaining stock, garlic, sausage and seasonings except for the green onions. Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat to low. Simmer uncovered for 1 to two hours. Stir gently at 15 minute intervals.
Add the shrimp and simmer 5-10 minutes on low heat. Do not cook more than a short time or the shrimp will get tough.
Serve the gumbo over cooked rice. Sprinkle each serving with the chopped green onions. You can serve this wonderful shrimp gumbo any time of the year and your family and friends will love it. This recipe will make 8-10 servings, so it is ideal for a party dish.