Our trips (California, Mexico, Florida, and England) are definitely on my mind at this moment and it has mixed with my cooking routine. Dawn and I are trying to stick to what is in the pantry before our trips to reduce the huge amount of ingredients in it, to regiment ourselves, and to save some money. My grandmother and great-grandmother are always on my mind when I begin thinking about Southern dishes and these dishes are no exception. I had the seafood left over from the Halloween wine tasting Dawn and I went to- that we made a seafood melange pizza and lump crab dip- and with the cold weather creeping on here in Columbus last week, a nice seafood stew sounded appropriate.
My grandmothers gumbo consists of a healthy dose of crushed tomatoes, lump crab meat, minced shrimp and bits of okra that give it a silky texture similar to her tomato gravy. The crumbs I attempt to carry away from cooks I have known are reaches at knowing their mindsets and ingredient combinations so as to add tidbits to my own knowledge. This in essence also passes their wisdom along to those I run into contact with. My grandmother also always serves her gumbo on top of a bed of long grain rice and never with filé powder. Maybe it is a Floridian switch from our Cajun neighbors to the West, but variety and locality are the spices of life.
From what I remember, my grandmother also uses garlic, onion, horseradish, tomato, okra, and heavy cream for added smoothness. My version is similar other than omitting crab meat and adding mussels, squid, clams, and several different vegetables and seasonings. Instead of adding rice to the bottom of the bowl for starch I made some oniony hush puppies as I can see my granddad on the screen porch with the blue flame burning beneath the cast iron dutch oven, spider in hand dipping and rolling those golden orbs of hush puppy goodness. Two generations later I use ingredients my grandmother has probably never heard of- the tanginess of fish sauce and bite of chili paste for a more complex edition. And now I pass the baton on to others hoping like the fly on the wall I can see the crumbs of gumbo, hush puppies, or grits I have passed on to the future.
(Approximately 5 servings)
¾ # smoked sausage
¼ # each- clams, shrimp, mussels, and squid
¼ C. garlic chili paste
1 C. ketchup
1 quart seafood stock
¼ C. (Korean) fish sauce
1 large spanish onion roughly diced
6 cloves garlic
3 tablespoons Louisiana hot sauce
1 T. olive oil and 1 T. bacon grease for sautéing
½ C. each mixed vegetables- corn, okra, red, and bell peppers
3 T. Parsley
1 t. worcestershire sauce
Salt and pepper to taste
Sauté onions and garlic on medium heat with olive oil and bacon grease until softened in large stock pot approximately five minutes. Add seafood and simmer for a couple minutes until flavors are combined. Add ketchup, garlic chili paste, and hot sauce and simmer for about five minutes or until liquids begin to thicken some. Add seafood stock and lower temperature after placing lid on pot and simmer for at least one hour stirring occasionally. Ten minutes before desired consistency add parsley and salt and pepper to taste.
Can be refrigerated for up to four days and reheated before serving.
Onion studded Hush Puppies
(Makes approximately 16)
½ spanish onion finely chopped
1 C. yellow cornmeal
½ C. all purpose flour
½ t. baking soda
1/3 t. baking powder
1 t. cayenne pepper
½ C. buttermilk shaken
1 T. bacon grease
2 ½ C. vegetable shortening for frying
Combine ingredients in bowl and avoid over stirring. Spoon 1 teaspoon drops of hush puppy mix into 350 degree oil and cook until slightly over golden brown turning constantly. Break open first hush puppy to make sure it is set in center.
English Cheddar Cheese Grits
(Makes 4 small servings)
1 C. quick cooking white grits
1 ½ C. water
1 t. smoked Spanish paprika
½ C. grated sharp white English cheddar
1/3 C. grated monterrey jack cheese
1/4 C. heavy cream
Salt and pepper to taste
Combine water and grits over medium heat in small saucepan. Stir continuously until slightly more runny than desired consistency. Reduce heat and add cheeses, heavy cream, paprika, and salt and pepper. Serve piping hot. Grits should be taken off heat before desired consistency as they become thicker when cooling.