Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Going to have to start buying lard

Wish I took notes like this in oh, i dunno, engineering school....

Well the cooking classes were a bit touristy, but no surprise given that they're smack in the middle of the French Quarter.  And no, they weren't hands-on because I don't have seven friends with me willing to shell out $110 each for that experience - so just a demo cook thing.  But pretty well done.  Here's random things I learned in my two days of class:
  • FILÉ - sauce thickener made from sassafrass, thus green and imparting some taste.  Told it's a Louisiana custom to have out so that each person can thicken his or her gumbo to taste.  But watch out for adding it to boiling fluid, it will congeal things into crapola immediately (tip).
  • MAKING A ROUX - it's usually just called for in that way in recipes ("Step 1: Make a roux. Step 2:...") and it looks pretty tricky.  It's basically toasting flour in a suspension of fat to make a dark creamy base.  For meat gumbos the Sunday chef was really pushing lard as the fat, with hi-temp vegetable oils used for seafood gumbo.  She pretty much had me convinced that lard was the way to go, it's not that bad for you.  Food science is reconsidering all those old prejudices, etc.  Anyway - stir, stir, stir is the trick.  It's tedious.  Don't burn it, though.  It sneaks up on you.
  • GUMBO - from the Sengalese word for Okra.  But for some reason almost never made with Okra.  Here in school, we learn the virtues of the "trinity" of onion, celery and bell pepper.  Tons of those.  What's interesting to me is the layering dynamics of making the gumbo.  Second layer stops the cooking on the first.  Third layer wilts the second.  Slow cooking in layers in enormous pots is the product of traditional Senegal/Gambia cooking methods combined with plantation economies.  It defines Creole cooking.
  • JAMBALAYA - tons more trinity vegetables, some more Andouille sausage.  I like it, but making a gumbo seems more interesting to me.  I'm actually having trouble remebering the jambalaya.
  • RED BEANS AND RICE -  did this on Monday, which is traditional because it had something to do with Monday being laundry day on the plantation and the massive pots and fires used for laundry would also be involved with slow-cooking tons of beans.  Not sure on that.  Learned I gotta soak my beans overnight from now on.  And a helpful tip on stirring slow-cook pots: poke the bottom of the pot and see if anything's sticking.  If it is, don't scrape it up because that just brings the burnt taste out.
  • CORNBREAD - I like cornbread so much.  Why I don't make this stuff every week makes no sense.  It's easy and you can do all sorts of stuff with it.
  • BREAD PUDDING - OK, but not in the way cornbread is OK.
  • PECAN PIE - good
  • PRALINES - good, but tricky to execute.  Also not food, candy.
I got a lot out of the history lessons of the class, how the changing colonial powers and immigrant groups brought the various signatures of Louisiana cooking.  I also got a lot of calories for my money.  Recommended.

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