Sunday, May 1, 2011

Cooking My Way to a Better Day

It had been one of those days. There was no one to blame but myself, really. I was in a bad mood, and I had allowed it to affect everything I did. Each small annoyance dragged me down, and by the time I got home from work, I was fed up. Have I mentioned that I started a new job recently? I’m a barista at a coffee shop in Redmond. It’s a great place: we roast all of our coffee ourselves, and the café has a unique, rustic atmosphere. For the most part, I like the job, but this had just not been a good day for me. So, of course, I needed to cook.
I wanted something that would cook slowly, preferably in a large pot, and would require the building of layers of flavours, filling my apartment and my nostrils with calming, enticing aromas. The gumbo in this May’s Food & Wine magazine seemed like just the ticket. The recipe comes from Andrew Zimmern of the TV show Bizarre Foods, and had a lot of components that appealed to me. Not only did this gumbo contain oysters, crab, and andouille sausage, but the broth was built with chicken stock, clam juice, and Worcestershire sauce, all of which sounded absolutely delicious. Also, and on this day, probably most importantly, it would require me to make a dark roux. This was exactly the kind of slow, meditative cooking that my mood demanded.
If you have never cooked Cajun food before, you may have never made a dark roux. It is a long, painstaking, and often frustrating process. Do not try to do this in a hurry: it will take as long as it needs to take. Like any other roux, it starts with the combination of equal parts fat (in this case, vegetable oil) and flour. This combination is heated and darkened gently as you stir it constantly or at least once every 15 seconds or so. But don’t let it burn! If black spots start appearing in your roux, you have burned it, and you must start over.

So how long does it take? Well, here is where Mr. Zimmern and I seem to disagree. You are looking for a deep, dark brown color in your roux. His recipe says that this will take 15 minutes. For me, it took 50 minutes, and this is how long it normally takes me. Other recipes I have read suggest the same. Roux can also be made in a 350 F oven, allowing you to go about your business while it cooks, but to me, this just seems like cheating. I like the process of standing over the pot and stirring, and on this day, I needed it.
So as I lovingly made my roux, coddling it into rich, dark submission, I took the time to think, to relax, and to meditate. As the toasty and slightly sweet scent of the roux developed and began to embrace me, I thought about my day, and how I could have made it better for myself. I thought about how much I have to be grateful for, and how many reasons I have to not waste a moment of precious time with negativity. I thought about how something so simple, like making this gumbo, could bring me so much pleasure, and how this was yet another thing to be thankful for. I looked forward to when Andrew would get home and we would enjoy it together. I could vent to him about my day, and let the problems that had seemed so troublesome at the time, shrink into nothingness, quickly forgotten.

Once the roux is made, the rest of the process mainly involves combining the remaining ingredients and letting it all simmer for an hour or so. The oysters and crab are added at the last minute so they don’t become tough and overcooked.
After making the gumbo, I had a better evening, and then a better day after that. Yesterday was fantastic: the weather here in Seattle was stunning. I went out to Georgetown where Heidi Swanson of 101 Cookbooks was doing a book signing. I cannot wait to sink my teeth into her new cookbook, Super Natural Every Day. After that, I wandered around Pike Place Market in the sunshine, had one of the best cappuccinos I’ve ever had at Local Color Café, then met up with Andrew and some friends for dinner at Serious Pie.
It’s easy to let a bad day get the best of you, but with a little effort, it isn’t too hard to have a good day either. And sometimes, all it takes to change a bad mood is time spent cooking.

Andouille, Crab, and Oyster Gumbo
Adapted from Andrew Zimmern in May 2011 Food & Wine
Serves 8

½ cup flour
½ cup vegetable oil
1 lb. andouille sausage, sliced ¼-inch thick
3 large celery ribs, cut into ½-inch dice
1 onion, cut into ½-inch dice
1 red or green bell pepper, cut into ½-inch dice
1 habanero chilli, minced and most seeds discarded
3 garlic cloves, minced
½ lb. okra, sliced ¼-inch thick (I am not a fan of okra, so I omitted it and replaced it with extra bell pepper, which worked out great)
2 tsp. dried thyme
1 bay leaf
3 tbsp. filé powder (find it in the spice section)
5 cups chicken stock
3 cups bottled clam juice
3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
3 large tomatoes, finely chopped
1 lb. lump crabmeat, picked over
2 dozen shucked oysters in their liquor
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

In a large, heavy-bottomed pot, stir together the oil and flour until smooth. Cook over low-to-medium heat, stirring constantly or at least every 15 seconds, until the roux has turned a dark, chocolaty-brown colour, about 50 minutes. Alternatively, place the flour and oil combination in a 350 F oven for an hour or so, checking often, until it has reached the desired color. Add the sausage, celery, onion, bell pepper, habanero, garlic, okra (if using), thyme, bay leaf, and half of the filé powder. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the onion is translucent. Stir in the stock, clam juice, Worcestershire, and tomatoes, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally.

Stir in the remaining filé powder and add the crab, oysters, and their liquor. Simmer gently for a minute or so, until the oysters have just cooked. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve over rice, or with bread.

No comments:

Post a Comment