Every town has its own way of saying things about their food and my hometown, New Orleans, totally pegged it. My favorite expression is “Taste so good makes you wanna slap yo mama!” This colloquialism can actually apply to any season in NOLA since the food is so divine, but when fall creeps in and the weather shifts, the Big Easy showcases its fall favorites like a narcissistic peacock prancing in a second line parade.
It goes without saying that a NOLA home in October simply must smell like Gumbo Ya-Ya with roux permeating the air. Its color is like an old, copper penny and the liquid develops into a bountiful fishing expedition. Don’t be scared to throw in everything but the kitchen sink right on in that big, simmering pot: chicken, okra, celery, andouille sausage, shrimp and crabmeat. The dish is only complete with a steaming bowl of hot, white rice. Remember, strange things are afoot in this mysterious season, so throw caution to the wind and nevah, evah count calories when eating Crescent City fall foods.
One of my favorite singing street vendors during fall in NOLA was Mr. Okra, an aptly named vegetable seller. Although he has since gone to his sweet rewards, it reminds me of how many dishes that gangly okra plant produces. Not only is it inexpensive but is essential fall eating. I realize for some it is all about “that slime” but the sliminess is actually a good thing since it thickens your dishes, like gumbo, sauces, and stews. If you are turned off to the slime, you can throw in tomatoes and the acidity will cut the substance okra produces. Remember to pick pods that are bright green and firm and you need to cook them right away or they will shrivel up. Okra can be enjoyed without pretention when battered and fried or crafted into high art when bacon-wrapped and Gouda filled as delectable okra pods. They make great finger food!
Here are some “Slap Yo Mama Good” recipes:
GUMBO YA YA
2 medium onions finely chopped
3 stalks celery finely chopped 2 tbsp. black peppercorns
1 whole chicken (3 ½ pounds)
2 medium carrots cut in halves
2 spring’s thyme
16 tbsp. unsalted butter
1 ½ cups of flour
1 red and 1 green bell pepper, minced
3 cloves garlic finely chopped
Salt and black pepper to taste
1 lb. Andouille sliced sausage
1 tbsp. Creole seasoning
1 tsp. cayenne pepper
1 ts. Dried thyme
½ tsp. crushed red chile flakes
3 bay leaves
Cooked white rice
Bring chicken, quartered onion, celery, peppercorns, 2 bay, carrots, thyme sprigs, and 10 cups water to a boil in 8-qt. saucepan. Reduce heat to med-low, simmer until chicken is totally cooked – 40 minutes. Take chicken out, cool, then shred meat. Strain stock in a colander, discard solids and set aside.
Heat butter in 8-qt. saucepan over med-high heat. Whisk in flour, cook, stirring and make a dark roux, maybe 20 minutes. Add remaining onion, celery, bay leaf, bell peppers, garlic, salt and pepper. Cook and stir 20 minutes. Add andouille, Creole seasoning, cayenne, thyme and chili flakes. Cook another 3-4 minutes. Stir in 5 ½ cups of your reserved stock and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium. Keep it cooking until it thickens, maybe 10 minutes. Add shredded chicken, keep cooking until hot. Serve this glorious Cajun country stew over hot, white rice.
Red Beans and Rice
Now, you must know: Red Beans and Rice for Monday dinner are a special “thing” in New Orleans. Its creaminess sticks to your ribs in the fall and it’s one of the easiest party foods, as friends gather round for sports, holidays, and general revelry.
In NOLA, Mondays are always “laundry” days and the little missus of the house would do laundry all day while the beans cooked. As a native, I can say that without a doubt, the best beans are “Camilla.” Those beans are definitely in the category of “Slap yo momma good!” Throw in a ham bone or sausage of your liking and it is magical. But dear friends, it does not have to be a Monday to eat Red Beans and Rice. And please note, you don’t have to do laundry at all!
Red Beans and Rice Recipe
- 1 pound dried red beans, rinsed and sorted over
- 1/4 cup chopped ham
- 1 1/2 cups chopped yellow onions
- 3/4 cup chopped celery
- 3/4 cup chopped green bell peppers
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- Pinch cayenne
- 3 bay leaves
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
- 2 teaspoons fresh thyme
- 1/2 pound smoked sausage, split in half lengthwise and cut into 1-inch pieces
- 1 pound smoked ham hocks
- 3 tablespoons chopped garlic
- 10 cups chicken stock, or water
- 4 cups cooked white rice
- 1/4 cup chopped green onions, garnish
Place the beans in a large bowl or pot and cover with water by 2 inches. Let soak for 8 hours or overnight. Drain and set aside.
I personally use a crock pot since this little missus doesn’t do laundry on Mondays and I toss everything except the rice in the crockpot. Remember to make sure those beans were soaked previously overnight. Turn crock pot on “medium” for 6-8 hours. Every few hours take a potato masher and mash the beans a bit. This makes them creamy. Spice this NOLA tradition to your taste. A can of Tony Chachere Seasoning Mix is delicious sprinkled over the red beans. Remember to put the hot sauce on the table. Serve over rice and enjoy every morsel!