Food: Guests’ Requests

We have always had our share of out-of-town guests, probably because we lived in Memphis and Atlanta before moving to New Orleans years ago, so I have my special dishes that I cook for them. Actually, I’m bound to certain dishes because our guests politely demand them.

Our friends from Atlanta were recently here, so that meant barbecued shrimp. She is the one I’ve mentioned before who eats the leftovers for breakfast. Unfortunately, there were no leftovers this year, so I’ll have to add an extra pound of shrimp next time.

Then there’s gumbo. It is on the list for everyone who comes, and it must be the seafood variety. I have taught them all to take out the crabs and pick them. They love this, and I haven’t told them that many of us add crabmeat without the shells. They don’t even know about chicken-sausage gumbo because in their minds all you eat in New Orleans is seafood. Meanwhile, when no guests from out-of-town are here, we settle for our easy-to-make chicken gumbo, which my family actually prefers.

Then we have jambalaya, which I call my easy meal. I used to use whole pieces of chicken because my children liked it that way. Now I find it easier to cook and eat with boneless chunks of meat. Andouille sausage gives it great flavor. Sometimes I doctor up a mix, and it’s dinner in minutes. For the first time, I tried seasoning vegetables, cut up and ready to dump in the pot, available in plastic containers at grocery stores. I was pleased with the results, plus the fact that I found them on sale. This step saved me about 20 minutes.

If you ever need the shortcuts, it’s during Mardi Gras. Out-of-towners swarm in, and if you live near a parade route, you’re destined to entertain some hungry troops. They might even bring Popeyes chicken and King Cakes, but it’s always nice to have one big pot of something on the stove.

When the numbers are small, you could consider barbecued shrimp. It is so simple to make, and the rewards are great. If you’re forced to feed a crowd, I suggest a chicken-andouille gumbo, which can be made ahead of time or frozen, or jambalaya. A few loaves of French bread and you’re set.

If you want to add a salad, I suggest several bags of washed spinach with your favorite items from the salad bar at the grocery store. Hint: Add some gourmet greens from the salad bar; they’re cheaper than those in the bags.

Chicken and Sausage Gumbo

3 pounds boneless chicken thighs
Salt, pepper and Creole seasoning
1 pound andouille sausage
1 cup vegetable oil plus some for browning
1 cup flour
3 cups fresh vegetables seasoning mix (onions, bell peppers, celery, garlic), divided
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 cans chicken stock

Rinse and dry chicken thighs and cut into 2-inch chunks. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and Creole seasoning. Slice andouille sausage into 1/4-inch rounds.

In a large, heavy pot, brown meat in 1 Tablespoon oil in single-layer batches. Remove meat from pot. Add another Tablespoon oil if needed while browning meat. Add 2 cups seasoning vegetables to the pot and sauté for a few minutes, adding garlic in the last minute. Add chicken stock and 2 cans water, stirring. Turn off heat while making roux.

In another heavy pot, make roux by mixing 1 cup oil with 1 cup flour and heating over medium-high heat, stirring constantly, until a dark brown color is reached. Add remaining cup of seasoning vegetables. Turn off heat. The hot roux will soften the vegetables. Stir constantly and add enough liquid from the other pot to cool down the mixture.

When the roux has cooled down a bit, begin scooping it into the pot of liquid, stirring and eventually scraping it all out with a spatula. Mix well and add meat. Cover, turn heat to a simmer and cook for 30 minutes. When done, skim excess fat from top. Taste and adjust seasonings if needed.

Serve over rice.

Note: If desired, add about 2 dozen oysters at the very end of cooking or when heating it up to serve.
Serves 10 for dinner or 20 at a party buffet.

Barbecued Shrimp

3 pounds large head-on shrimp
2 sticks butter
8 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup white wine
Salt, pepper and Creole seasoning, a generous amount Worcestershire sauce, several shots
Tabasco®, several shots
Juice of 2 lemons
1 Tablespoon liquid smoke

Rinse shrimp lightly in a colander. Set oven to 400 degrees.

In a 10-by-13-inch pan, heat butter in the oven until melted. Add garlic and cook for about 5 minutes. Add all other ingredients to the pan and mix well. Return to oven and cook for 10 minutes. Stir well. Cook another 10 minutes and stir. Continue cooking and stirring until shrimp have pulled away slightly from their shells. Shrimp should be done in about 30 minutes, depending on size of shrimp. When you suspect shrimp are ready, take one out and taste it. Do not overcook.

Serve in bowls with plenty of sauce and French bread on the side for dipping.

Serves 6 for dinner.

Shortcut Jambalaya

2 pounds medium shrimp, or 1 pound peeled and deveined
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless thicken thighs, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 14-ounce package smoked sausage
1 cup fresh seasoning vegetables (onion, bell pepper, celery, garlic)
1 7.9-ounce package of Creole jambalaya mix, such as Oak Grove Smokehouse or similar mix

Peel and devein shrimp if necessary. (Grocery stores now offer raw shrimp, peeled and deveined, frozen or fresh, that will save 30 minutes of peeling time.)

In a large, heavy pot, heat oil and brown chicken and sausage in single-layer batches and remove from pot. Add seasoning vegetables and sauté. Return meat to pot. Add 4 cups water, stir and bring to a boil. Add jambalaya mix and bring to a boil again. Cover, reduce heat and simmer for 30 to 40 minutes or until rice is done and liquid is absorbed. Do not add extra seasonings. The mix includes lot of seasoning. About half way through the cooking (15 minutes), gently stir the jambalaya.

Serves 8 for dinner or 16 at a party buffet. Serve with Louisiana hot sauce.

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