|Brisk fall nights make Dinah Vincent's favorite dinner - chicken and sausage gumbo with a side of cornbread - sound irresistible.
Dinah Vincent with her chicken & sausage gumbo and cornbread. (Photos: Aaron Carpenter/Sentinel-Tribune)
But can we trust that Vincent really knows her gumbo? After all, this pale-skinned blonde of Norwegian descent admits her background for cooking Cajun isn't exactly typical.
"I grew up in South Dakota where there are a lot of great cooks, but the joke is, it's all white food. And if it's not, just add a can of mushroom soup and it will be!"
"Then I married a Louisiana Cajun," explains Vincent.
Never underestimate the motivation of a new bride.
"I probably threw out a dozen batches of gumbo. It just wasn't right."
Making the roux for the gumbo can be challenging, not least of all during the stirring process when there comes a point where the cook has "about 30 seconds before it turns to wallpaper paste."
Luckily for Vincent, her sister-in-law, Bonnie, of Mande-ville, La., "took pity on me and showed me how to make it."
That was 25 years ago and the dish has been a solid family fixture ever since.
"Our kids insist on gumbo for Christmas Eve! They have to have gumbo and Norwegian goodies at Christmas," an ethnic nod to both parents.
The family includes seven children.
"Bob and I each had three kids when we got married 30 years ago, and we had one more five years later." Now that all are grown, "there's something like 33 when we all get together."
That kind of gathering is a rarity, these days. Vincent has one son currently living in Okinawa and the couple's youngest, Tony, just got back from a tour of duty in Iraq.
The couple moved to Bowling Green 15 years ago from Ann Arbor, Mich., when her husband took a position in the geology department at Bowling Green State University.
Vincent's own master's degree was in geography and remote sensing and the couple worked together in Ann Arbor.While she raised the children Vincent also had a successful stint selling houses and in fact, won "Rookie of the Year" honors at one point.
For a decade, from the mid '80s until 1994, the Vincent family enjoyed vacations at a condo they owned in the French Quarter of New Orleans. It had been part of a house that originally belonged to Confederate Gen. P.T. Beauregard, given to the colorful Creole warrior as a wedding present.
"It helps to be married to a native," Vincent said of the wonderful treatment they received in New Orleans.
Like any New Orleanean, Vincent is passionate about the right way to make gumbo.
"Good gumbo is flavorful, nutritious, and comforting. It is not meant to burn the lining off your stomach," she said, in advising a cautious approach with the hot sauce.
"A mistake I think Northerners make, they make it so hot. That's something Southerners don't do. They eat gumbo every day. It's good, rich gumbo, but it doesn't lift the top off your head."
The roux can be made a bit browner if the cook wants to do a duck or pheasant gumbo, or a little lighter for a seafood gumbo which might include crab and chunks of fish.
"I always like to have some frozen in the freezer this time of year. So if you come back from a football game you can thaw it and have gumbo right away."
As for Vincent's cornbread accompaniment, she worked up this recipe herself "after trying other recipes that seemed to have too much oil." In her version, "the moisture comes from the buttermilk."
A good cast-iron skillet is vital for quality cornbread. Vincent's mother gave her one years ago.
"My mother and my grandmother are very good cooks. My grandmother taught me to kill a chicken, pluck a chicken, cook a chicken!"
It's not a skill she finds much use for now, but she does cherish their recipes.
Two Christmases ago Vincent created a handsome binder-style family cookbook with some 200 recipes, many preserved in her mother's and grandmother's own handwriting.
"Every kid got one. Now, every year I add the next appendix. And now the kids are contributing recipes, too."
Chicken and sausage gumbo
Stew a 5 - 6 lb. chicken until tender. Cool, remove meat and break into chunks. Do not chop, as it will not "look right." Discard bones, skin, etc. Strain chicken broth and return to pot, cool further and skim some of the chicken fat from the reserved broth. If necessary, add enough water to broth to make it equal to 2 quarts liquid.
Slice 1 pound andouille sausage (spicy smoked pork sausage) into ½ inch pieces and add to chicken broth. Simmer sausage in broth for 15 minutes.
The Magic of Roux
Used in most all Cajun cooking, roux is equal parts oil and flour that is browned and used to provide a thickening base with a different and quite distinct flavor and aroma. Following is the easiest and most fool-proof way to make a roux with vegetables. This can easily be frozen and used for all kinds of Cajun recipes.
1 1/3 cups canola oil
1 1/3 cups flour
4 cups chopped onions
2 cups chopped celery
2 cups chopped green Bell pepper
8 cloves minced garlic
½ cup chopped parsley
½ cup sliced green onions and tops
Chop all the vegetables in advance and place in separate bowls or on plates to have ready when the roux is hot. Mix 2/3 cup oil and 2/3 cup flour in a 4 cup glass Pyrex measuring cup until smooth. Microwave this on high for 6 minutes. Stir roux and microwave for 30 seconds to 1 minute longer, until it is a nice rich brown color. Be careful, the cup will be very hot!
Stir 2 cups onions, 1 cup celery, and 1 cup peppers into the roux in the measuring cup. Microwave on high for 3 minutes.
Stir the garlic, parsley, and green onions into the roux mixture in the glass measuring cup and continue microwaving for 2 minutes more.
Carefully scrape this mixture into the pot of broth and sausage. Repeat the above steps exactly with the remaining 2/3 cups of oil, flour and cups of vegetables. Add this to pot.
Return the chicken pieces to the pot. Add:
¼ teaspoon ground oregano
¼ teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
A few dashes of Louisiana hot sauce
Adjust flavorings and salt as desired. Heat and serve in bowls with ¼ cup of cooked rice at the bottom. Sprinkle on a little file and a little more hot sauce if desired and serve with hot cornbread.
Remember to be careful with the hot sauce.
1 cup flour
¾ cup yellow cornmeal
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
¾ teaspoon salt
2 beaten eggs
1 tablespoon oil
1 ¼ cups buttermilk
Heat oven to 400 degrees and melt 2 tablespoons butter in a cast iron skillet. Combine all dry ingredients in a bowl. Whisk together last three liquid ingredients in separate small bowl and add all at once to the dry ingredients. Mix together just until moistened. Pour into the hot skillet and bake 20 - 25 minutes until golden brown. Serve immediately with gumbo (or other stews).
» No Comments
There are no comments up to now.
» Post Comment
Only registered users can write a comment.
Please login or register.