09 November 2009

Shrimp Gumbo

I've been meaning to try to make some gumbo for a while now, and when a buddy requested it on Facebook, I decided it was time. For those not in the know, gumbo is traditional Louisiana fare, based on a roux, stock, some form of meat and/or seafood and thickened using either okra or filé powder. I was unable to find okra, so I went with the filé powder for the recipe below.

If you are unable to find okra and/or filé powder, it is possible to just use the roux as the thickener. Traditionally, you'll slave over the stove for an hour, stirring the roux, but the recipe below uses Alton Brown's genius technique of letting the roux bake in the oven instead. Saves a lot of work!

Shrimp Gumbo

4 oz all purpose flour (1/2 cup by volume)
4 oz vegetable oil (1/2 cup by volume)
1.5 lb shrimp, unpeeled, head-on
0.5 lb andouille sausage
1 green bell pepper
3 stalks celery
1 large yellow onion
3 cloves garlic
2 tomatoes
2 bay leaves
1 tbsp filé powder
cayenne pepper

Set the oven to 350 degrees F. In a large dutch oven (I actually used a stainless steel stock pot and it worked fine, nothing burned), stir together the oil and flour. Place in the oven for 1.5 hours, whisking every 30 minutes. Next, peel and devein the shrimp, and place the shrimp in a bowl in the fridge. Place the heads and shells in a large pot along with 2 quarts (roughly 2 liters) of water. Bring to a boil over high heat, then lower to a simmer and reduce to half, which will take about an hour. I was unable to find head-on shrimp, so instead I replaced two cups of water with two cups of store-bought seafood stock. If you can't find either head-on shrimp or seafood stock, two cups of chicken stock together with the shells will do in a bind. Once reduced, strain with a fine mesh strainer and discard the shells and heads.

At this point, slice the andouille sausage into 1/2 inch slices and brown in a frying pan over medium heat. Move to a plate lined with paper towels. Note: if you are unable to find andouille sausage, the closest would be hot Italian sausage. If you can't find that, any form of pork sausage will do, and if it's not spicy at all, you can add a clove or two of garlic and a teaspoon of cayenne pepper later. Dice the onion, pepper and celery. Mince the garlic. Remove the skin from the tomatoes (cut a small, shallow cross at the bottom, boil in water for 15 seconds, move to an ice bath - skin should come right off), remove the seeds and cut up the flesh. Once the roux is ready, remove from the oven (you can turn the oven off at this point) and place over medium high heat. Add the pepper, onion, celery and garlic and cook, stirring frequently, until onion is fragrant and translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the tomato, bay leaves, about a teaspoon of salt and pepper, and about half a teaspoon of cayenne pepper (to taste - you like heat, add more cayenne pepper, but remember that the andouille sausage is spicy as well). Add the stock, about a third at the time, while stirring frequently. Stir, cover and let cook for about 30 minutes.

When the 30 minutes are almost up, start making the rice according to the instructions on the package - I find that 1 cup of rice to 2 cups of water works well. Turn off the heat on the gumbo, add the shrimp and sausage and stir. Next, add the filé powder and stir. Cover, and leave for ten minutes. Remove the bay leaves, then serve over the rice and enjoy with a glass of red wine, white wine, beer or whatever else tickles your fancy.

03 November 2009

Baked Chicken and Macaroni

It's getting "cold" out there (it's mid-70's in Austin these days, but I hear it's snowing in Sweden so it's getting cold out there somewhere...) - time to make some hearty meals. We had slow cooker chili last night, and tonight I decided to make a chicken and macaroni bake. Simple, filling, and really good. We washed it down with a bottle of 2004 Jacob's Creek Reserve Merlot that my good friend Craig gave me for my 30th birthday. I still can't believe I'm 30. Oh well.

Baked Chicken and Macaroni

1.5 cups elbow macaroni
1 large or 2 medium chicken breast fillets
1/2 medium yellow onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1.5 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
1/2 cup "Italian" flat-leaf parsley
1 can crushed tomatoes
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/2 cup white bread crumbs
1 tbsp butter
olive oil

Turn the oven to 400 degrees F. Boil the macaroni until al dente (generally, if the package says 8-10 minutes, 8 means al dente, 10 means way overcooked). Cut the chicken breast(s) into half-inch pieces. Put a couple of tablespoons of olive oil to a saute pan and add the chicken. Cook for a few minutes, then add the onion and garlic. Cook until fragrant, about 5 minutes. Drain the macaroni and place in a large bowl. Add the chicken, onions and garlic. Coarsely chop the parsely and add, together with the tomatoes. Sprinkle about a half teaspoon of salt and half a teaspoon of pepper into the mixture, then stir thoroughly.

Place the mixture in a baking dish (I used my trusty 9x9x2 inch Le Creuset baking dish). Mix the parmesan and bread crumbs, then sprinkle over the macaroni mixture. Dot small pieces of the butter on the dish, then bake in the oven for about 30 minutes.

I served it with oven roasted vegetables (tossed with some olive oil, kosher salt and black pepper, in the oven at 400 degrees F for about 15 minutes) and it was great.