We’re rooting hard in Baton Rouge for our own Jay Ducote to take top honors on The Next Food Network Star, and one of his recipes on the show inspired dinner at my house this week. Jay is a friend and fellow blogger/food writer (among other talents), and it’s been fun to watch him soar on a national level on both Cutthroat Kitchen and now possibly as Food Network’s next big thing. A few episodes into the annual series, he’s showing his natural ability to gab and connect, and he’s playing to his strengths as a chef who favors big Southern flavors. The Cajun tasso macque choux he prepared for a large crowd during the first episode earned kudos – and it prompted me to make my own version.
Local white shrimp from the Gulf have been fabulous lately, and they make a great menu item for New Year’s Eve. I’m in the camp that likes to stay home for New Year’s, avoid crowds and nosh on fancy apps, great wines and tapas-style nibbles. You may feel the same way. If so, one thing that’s easy and elegant is grilled shrimp with gremolata, served either on a big platter or in a martini glass with cocktail sauce.
The martini glass has certainly been road-tested, but who cares? It’s New Year’s Eve – that last bit of indulgence before nasty reality and restraint creep in. Gremolata is a wet rub that includes lemon peel, fresh parsley, minced garlic, salt, pepper and olive oil. It’s great during the Louisiana winter, since many of our gardens are full of fresh herbs and lemons. Prep the gremolata, then paint or spoon it on the skewered shrimp before grilling briefly. Serve immediately.
Enjoy, and Happy New Year!
Shrimp and corn. Artichoke and oyster. Gumbos of all sorts. Cozy soups with memorable ingredients add so much to get-togethers with friends and family this time of year. From casual family suppers to Christmas day lunch to New Year’s Eve dinner, holiday meals invite something luscious and warm.
I love soups right now for so many reasons, not least of which is that there are great seasonal raw materials to work with, including game, fresh seafood, root vegetables and leafy greens. But what I also love about soups is their spontaneity. More often than not, home cooks aren’t following instructions by the book when they get out their stockpots. They’re discerning what ingredients to include and what to leave out, and they’re tasting, adjusting and correcting by feel and by gut. Many are mimicking the soup styles of their forbears, while others are diverging in inventive directions. Whatever the case, soup is one of those from-the-heart dishes meant to inspire and soothe. Now is the perfect time to make some for your friends, family and for yourself.
Here’s an easy version of shrimp and corn.
Shrimp and Corn Soup
¼ cup olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
5 stalks celery with leaves, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
¼ cup light roux
2 cups homemade shellfish stock, or one 15 oz. can good quality seafood or shellfish stock
2 bay leaves
1 16 oz. package frozen white corn
¼ cup heavy cream
1 ½ cups skim milk
1 pound large headless shrimp, peeled and deveined
Salt and pepper to taste
Fresh chopped parsley for garnish
In a Dutch oven, sauté onion, celery and garlic in olive oil until soft. Whisk in roux, then add stock and bay leaves and bring to a boil. Continue to whisk until roux is thoroughly incorporated. Add corn and simmer for about 2-3 minutes. Add cream and milk and return to simmer. Add shrimp to hot liquid and watch carefully, ensuring they poach, but do not overcook. This should take about 2 minutes. Remove from heat.
When ready to serve, garnish soup with fresh parsley and serve with warm, crusty French bread.
Oh good gosh, it was cold this morning! I know my buddies northward are laughing at what a wimp I am, but it was 29 degrees when we woke up — way too cold for us thin-blooded Southern weenies. The only antidote is a steaming bowl of gumbo. I’m guessing it’s what everyone around here will be making this weekend.
My go-to gumbo is usually seafood (unless it’s a post-Thanksgiving turkey-bone gumbo), and I’ve played around with the recipe for years. Gumbo is inherently forgiving, but seafood – less so than chicken and sausage. Plus, it’s costlier to get wrong.
Lots of trial and error and plenty of mediocre batches have taught me what it takes to achieve a great seafood gumbo. Sure, dark homemade roux is important. So is using fresh Gulf seafood that you take the time to clean properly. But the most important ingredient in my opinion is patience: Don’t put the seafood in until your broth has had ample time to brew. Overcooking tender shrimp, crab and oysters leaches their flavor and sends their texture in a mealy direction. It’s the easiest way to ruin a batch of seafood gumbo.
Here are a few tips to making a fabulous version of this beloved dish.
- Make your own roux and bring it to as dark a hue as you’re comfortable. Anything between dark brown to nearly black will provide optimum flavor and color. I don’t get too hung up on the overall color of the gumbo as long as the flavor is there.
- Use my 1-2-10 rule. One cup of roux, 2 pounds EACH crabmeat, oysters and shrimp and 10 cups of seafood stock.
- Buy your shrimp head-on, and make a quick seafood stock out of the heads and shells as you’re cleaning them and making your roux. Add onions, celery, carrots, garlic, peppercorns, salt and bay leaves and simmer for 30-60 minutes.
- Combine the roux, chopped aromatic vegetables (onions, celery, bell peppers) and stock and let it simmer for at least 30 minutes. Taste to ensure the broth has plenty of flavor and is well-seasoned. Remove from heat. Then add the fresh seafood. There’s no need to turn the heat back on. The crab is already cooked. The oysters will curl and the shrimp will turn firm and pink in 1-2 minutes. Remember, they’ll continue to cook in the hot pot, and will cook further each time you reheat the gumbo.