Friday, December 30, 2011

It’s All About Time(ing)

The shuttle leaves the RV park at 3:45 p.m. and arrives in the French Quarter at 4:00 p.m. The Cathedral concerts begin at 6:00 p.m. That leaves two hours for a pre-concert dinner, right? Wrong! You’d better be in the Cathedral around 5:15 if you want a good seat. Arrive after 5:30 and you might not get a seat at all.

So that makes finding a restaurant for dinner a challenge. So before our first Cathedral concert we decided to try a spot just a half block away and one that was new to us—The Gumbo Shop—which, it should come as no surprise, is best know for their gumbo.

“Each summer we poll our readers for Gambit’s popular ‘Best of New Orleans’ issue. In the ‘Best Gumbo’ category, Gumbo Shop is the winner every time”—Margo DuBos, Publisher, Gambit Weekly.

As you enter, you pass the heated courtyard and a small bar. We chose to eat in the main dining room with its tall windows facing St. Peter Street, dark murals or paintings, and interesting artifacts.

“Even given a few modern touches—like the vegetarian gumbo offered daily—this place evokes a sense of old New Orleans. The menu is chock-full of regional culinary anchors: jambalaya, shrimp Creole and rĂ©moulade, red beans and rice, bread pudding, and seafood and chicken-and-sausage gumbos, heavily flavored with tradition…The patina on the ancient painting covering one wall seems to deepen by the week, and the old tables and bentwood chairs are taking on the aspect of museum pieces” (fodors.com).

“…In New Orleans, the French influence over local cooking was just the beginning. Throughout the years African slaves were often the cooks. Through one of the nation’s busiest ports have come new citizens from Germany, Ireland, the French Caribbean Islands, Italy, Greece, Croatia and more recently, Asia. The Choctaw Indians were already living in this swampy mosquito-infested piece of land, below sea level and shaped like a crescent on the Mississippi River. They introduced powdered sassafras or file—which they called ‘kombo’—to settlers as a staple for one of many styles of the indigenous soup we call gumbo—from the African word ‘kingumbo’ meaning the vegetable okra. A gumbo usually contains either file or okra as a thickener. Just as gumbo is a blend of many cultures, so is the origin of the word. However, the base of most gumbos is ‘roux’—flour and fat with seasonings that is browned to provide an almost nutty flavor (gumboshop.com).

Our plan was to each order a bowl of gumbo and share an appetizer. From the list of appetizers that included spinach and artichoke dip, blackened fish nuggets, grilled boudin with Creole mustard, shrimp or crawfish rémoulade, shrimp salad, blackened chicken salad, and blackened catfish salad, we chose the blackened fish nuggets. This proved to be a heaping plate of catfish pieces that were not overly spicy and had a somewhat grilled flavor. This was one of those cases where had the fish been removed from the heat thirty seconds earlier they would have been undercooked, but thirty seconds more cooking would have left them overcooked.

Chuck chose the Chicken Andouille Gumbo made with boneless chicken, andouille (a Cajun Sausage), okra, and seasonings simmered in chicken stock. This is the gumbo that has been selected by locals as the best in the city. This was a very good version, but I was surprised that it had been made with a milk chocolate colored roux rather than the dark and intense roux that I expect in a meat-and-sausage-based gumbo.

That dark roux seemed to be reserved for my Seafood Okra Gumbo, which contained okra, onion, bell peppers, celery, and a bit of tomato (remember that New Orleans is Creole cuisine and not Cajun) blended with shrimp and crabs. I subscribe to the theory that seafood gumbo should be made with a lighter roux that doesn’t overwhelm the delicate flavor of the seafood.

“The secret to making a good gumbo is pairing the roux with the protein. A dark roux, with its strong (dense) nutty flavor will completely overpower a simple seafood gumbo, but is the perfect compliment to a gumbo using chicken, sausage, crawfish or alligator. A light roux, on the other hand, is better suited for strictly seafood dishes and unsuitable for meat gumbos for the reason that it does not support the heavier meat flavor as well” (wikipedia.com).

The menu lists a third gumbo—Gumbo Z’herbes (sometimes called green gumbo) that I may have seen offered as a special at other restaurants but not as a regular menu item. “The tradition behind Gumbo z'Herbes is that it was usually made on Holy Thursday for consumption on Good Friday. Since Good Friday was (and still is) a day of fasting and abstinence from meat for Catholics, something meatless had to be prepared for dinner. Catholics in New Orleans normally had no difficulties with the Church's no-meat-on-Fridays rule, since we have such an abundance of seafood in the area. Good Friday was a bit different, however, since it is also a day of fasting. The regular Friday seafood feast had to be toned down dramatically in keeping with the tone of the day” (gumbopages.com).

One recipe I found on-line called for collard greens, chicory, dandelion greens, mustard greens, spinach, parsley, beet tops, carrot tops, or turnip tops. I may have to try this someday.

Well, we are off to hear some music following our 3.5 Addie light dinner.

To review the role of Adler, Kitty Humbug, and the Addie rating system, read the November 14, 2011 blog.

No comments: