If you travel to or do business with people in the U.S., then you know there is absolutely nothing open in front of, during or after the July 4 holiday. They really know how to celebrate, and I see no reason we shouldn’t let it spill over into our summer weekend.
If we’re borrowing the holiday, we might as well borrow the menu, too. Today I’ve got two recipes that thousands of cooks just to the south are considering putting on their tables today.
Nothing goes better with barbecue than this hearty, spicy stew. It stretches to feed a crowd and is delicious piping hot through lukewarm.
If you don’t have any file powder, don’t worry — the flavour is still exceptional. I’m quite fond of okra but you can leave that out, also, especially if you don’t care for the gelatinous texture, although I’ve got the fix for it in this recipe. Personally, I think it makes the dish.
You probably won’t find Andouille, which most southern gumbos call for, but any spicy sausage you like will do just fine. Chorizo is an especially good option but it is quite salty and you’d do well to slice then soak it for an hour or so.
This amount makes 12 to 16 modest servings.
1/2 cup each vegetable oil and flour
3 large stalks celery, finely chopped
2 large onions, diced
1 each red and green bell pepper, chopped
2 cloves garlic, sliced
2 tsp. Cajun seasoning
2 large tomatoes, diced
8 cups low sodium chicken broth
4 chicken breasts, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 lb. spicy sausages, thinly sliced
2 fresh or 4 dried bay leaves
4 sprigs fresh thyme
12 okra pods, cut into 1/4-inch rounds
2 tsp. butter or margarine
16 (more or less as you need) small- to medium-sized shrimp, raw but shelled with black veins removed
2 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp. hot pepper sauce, or to taste
1 large handful flat-leaf parsley, chopped
1 tbsp. file gumbo (optional)
1/2 cup cooked white rice per person
6 green onions, chopped
Combine the oil and flour in a large heavy pot or Dutch oven. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring often — and I mean often — until it is the colour of a penny, assuming you remember the colour of a penny. Don’t be tempted to stop when it’s golden brown because the darker it is the more toasty and delicious the final product will be.
Add celery and onion and cook, stirring, until the vegetables start to stick to the bottom of the pot and you have to scrape them free.
Add bell peppers, garlic and Cajun seasoning and cook until fragrant, about five minutes. Add tomatoes and cook another minute.
The mixture will be very thick and you have to keep stirring to keep it from sticking to the bottom.
Add the broth and stir to dissolve the dark roux completely. When it’s boiling, add chicken, sausages, bay leaves and thyme. Reduce heat, cover and simmer 20 minutes.
In a non-stick frying pan, fry okra in butter until golden brown and no longer slimy. Stir into pot along with shrimp and Worcestershire sauce. Cook until shrimp are pink — just a few minutes.
Taste and add salt if needed. Add hot sauce, parsley and file gumbo if you have it. Serve over cooked rice with green onion on top. Once the file is in the pot, you can’t boil it any further because it goes thick and stingy.
Backyard Lobster Boil
Our neighbours to the south have many versions of this celebration treat from clam bakes to crawfish boil-ups. We are lucky enough to have access to the sweetest lobster in the water, but feel free to throw in crab or shrimp. Whole salmon or trout are also fantastic cooked this way.
Allow a lobster per person, but you can’t really have too many. The quantities in this recipe are plenty for a giant boiler or a couple of large pots and will feed 10 or 12 people assuming you don’t have other dishes on offer. You’ll probably have to cook the lobsters in shifts so allow eight to 10 minutes per batch.
You can put in the spices and herbs, lemons, celery, onions and garlic at the start. The potatoes will need 20 minutes or so and the corn should be added with the last batch of lobster.
If you don’t want to make your own spice mixture, you can buy seafood seasoning in the grocery store. The add-ins are entirely up to you — these are just suggestions — but I wouldn’t skip the lemons or onions. If you have people coming who aren’t fond of seafood, throw in a package of franks and let them eat hot dogs.
Spice and Herb Blend:
2 tbsp. each dry mustard and ground coriander
1 tbsp. each ground allspice, celery salt and red pepper flakes
1 tbsp. each salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 tsp. ground cloves
8 fresh or 12 dried bay leaves
1 handful fresh dill
4 lemons, halved
4 stalks celery, cut into 1-inch chunks
4 large onions, unpeeled, washed and quartered pole-to-pole
2 heads garlic, unpeeled, washed and cut crosswise to expose the middles of the cloves
5 lbs. small red potatoes (or more if you wish)
6 cobs corn, husks removed and cut into 3 pieces each
10 or 12 live lobsters
Fill the pot about one-quarter full with boiling water out of the kettle. Add the spice and herb blend, lemons, celery, onions and garlic and bring up to a boil on the stove in the kitchen or, if you have the luxury, on an outside grill. Cook the lobsters in batches according to the size of your pot, allowing 20 minutes for the potatoes and 10 for the corn. The pot should be covered if possible. Serve with melted butter and hot sauce on the side.
Cynthia Stone is a writer, editor and teacher in St. John’s. Questions may be sent to her c/o The Telegram, P.O. Box 86, St. John’s,
NL, A1E 4N1.