I actually won the trip to New Orleans as part of a cooking competition. Last September the New York Wine & Culinary Center in Canandaigua, NY hosted a Master Chef Recipe Contest run by the local FOX station. I submitted a recipe online, and it was one of five that were picked as finalists. I had to cook and present my dish to a panel of judges along with my fellow contestants. I came in first with my Pan-Seared Sea Scallops with Warm Bacon Vinaigrette, and the prize was a trip for three days/two nights to New Orleans.
I scheduled the trip to New Orleans to coincide with the French Quarter Festival in April. It was an amazing experience. So much good food, great music, and impressive artistic talent. The best food experience I had there was at Red Fish Grill Restaurant. The oysters were so fresh, and the shrimp & grits (with asparagus and a poached egg!) were phenomenal. When I found out that the chef of the restaurant–Ralph Brennan–had his own cookbook, I bought a copy as a souvenir of my amazing New Orleans experience.
This is my adaptation of Ralph Brennan’s “Seafood and Okra Gumbo with Alligator Sausage.” I had to swap a few of the more traditional ingredients (like the alligator sausage) for ones that were more available in my neck of the woods. It may not be a born-and-bred-there gumbo, but it is a yummy interpretation by a girl from the north. I think it would be boring to only make the foods that we were raised on. So here’s to broadening our culinary horizons!
Northern Girl Gumbo (adapted from Ralph Brennan’s New Orleans Seafood Cookbook)
- 1/2 cup vegetable oil
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/2 stick (4 Tablespoons) unsalted butter
- 2 galic cloves, minced
- 2 cups chopped onions
- 1 cup chopped yellow bell peppers
- 3/4 cup sliced celery
- 2 whole bay leaves
- 1 cup chopped fresh ripe tomatoes
- 1 1/2 Tablespoons Creole seasoning (see Notes)
- 1 1/2 teaspoons minced fresh thyme leaves
- 4 cups seafood stock
- 1 1/2 teaspoons minced fresh Italian parsley leaves
- 1 cup trimmed and sliced okra
- 2 Tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
- 2 teaspoons Frank’s Red Hot cayenne pepper sauce
- salt & pepper
- 4 andouille (fully cooked) chicken sausages, sliced
- 1/2 cup cooked crab meat
- 1/2 pound raw medium shrimp, peeled with tails removed
- 5 shucked oysters, liquor reserved
- cooked long-grain white rice, for serving
- Start by making the roux: Get prepared by setting out a timer near your stove, and do a few stretches with your whisking arm. Whisk together the flour and oil in a cold saute pan. Put the pan over medium-heat and cook for 3 minutes, whisking constantly the whole time. Reduce the heat to medium and cook for 9 more minutes, whisking the entire time. (At this point the roux should be the color of peanut butter, see my photo above.) Remove from heat and whisk for an additional 3 minutes. Set aside.
- In a large Dutch oven melt the butter over medium-heat. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute (make sure it doesn’t burn!). Add the onions, peppers, celery, and bay leaves and cook for 1 minute more. Add the tomatoes, Creole seasoning, and thyme to the pan and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Add the stock and parsley and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 15 minutes.
- Slowly stir in the reserved roux until it is mixed in thoroughly. Add the okra, worcestershire sauce, and cayenne pepper sauce. Season with salt and pepper and simmer for 25 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Stir in the cooked crab meat and sausage. Wait until the gumbo comes back to a simmer before moving on to the next step.
- Add the shrimp and cook 2 minutes. Add the oysters (and their reserved liquor) and cook 2 minutes more. Remove from heat.
- Serve the gumbo ladled over a nice scoop of white rice in the middle of your bowl. Add salt & pepper to taste.