Friday, June 15, 2007

A Big Pot of Gumbo

Almost as important as what to serve a large group is getting the food on the table in a timely manner. Nothing makes 33 people more antsy than arriving at the dinner table then having to make small talk while the chef has a meltdown in the kitchen.

So everything around here is made ahead with just some last minute re-heating or finish cooking before the food goes out to the buffet. One of my other rules is, Never make anything for a crowd that you haven't made before. Of course I violated that rule on the very first night when I turned some pretty awful frozen chicken breasts into a gumbo I'd never seen before, to go along with a coconut rice and bean dish that I've never been completely successful at.

But I do know how to make a roux, and last night I found that it translates easily into a big pot dish. So into the pot went 2 1/2 cups of corn oil (along with a small jar of bacon drippings) and 2 1/2 cups of flour. This was definitely a two beer roux, and while it was browning, just so I wouldn't be standing around holding my bottle of beer, I cooked off eight yellow onions, diced small, and a bunch of celery, also diced small, and a whole head of garlic, chopped fine, and several fist-fulls of chopped parsley.

I was using one of Jessica Harris' books as a reference with this particular dish, which called for all kinds of seafood, including crabs or crab meat, I think. I had bought 12 pounds of frozen shrimp from the Merchant's Market, or restaurant supply here on the island. They still had the shells on, but the shells were split down the back and the veins removed. So my next step simply entailed removing the shells from those 12 pounds of shrimp--you can see my shell removal station in the photo above. The shells were then were cooked in water for about 30 minutes yeilding a fine stock for the gumbo.

When the roux was a lovely chestnut brown, in went the onions, celery and garlic and parsley as well as the stock from the shrimp shells. The result was a large pot of fairly thick gumbo that only required the addition of the shrimp, just before folks sat down for dinner.

While the gumbo sat on the stove doing its thing, I baked 34 classic biscuits for strawberry shortcake. I'd been planning to use the frozen strawberries that proliferate on the island (along with all the other frozen foods) but stumbled upon many 16-ounce boxes of fresh strawberries at Proctor's market, which is the spitting image of an American supermarket here on Anguilla. (I still think Albert's has a wider selection of goods, though.)

In between mixing biscuit batter and baking them off, I trimmed and macerated the strawberries with plenty of granulated sugar. Those went into the fridge to wait for their moment of glory.

To accompany the gumbo, I cooked 2 1/2 pounds of long-grain white rice with diced onion and green bell pepper and seasoned it the way the islanders do--from a bottle of chicken flavor crystals.

It was a fine buffet. The shrimp went into the pot (or rather two pots at this point) and cooked perfectly. They were presented in the gumbo in a huge mixing bowl with a ladle. The rice was piled into an aluminum turkey roasting pan that we have been using for just this purpose. And on the side was a great green salad with fresh tomaoes and cucumbers.

While the crowd was filling their plates, I used a very long bar to stage 34 dessert plates and set about splitting the biscuits and doling out the strawberries and a quart of heavy cream beaten into a thick laterh. By the time the gumbo was eaten, the tops had been replaced on the strawberry shortcakes. The plates quickly disappeared.

It was a very fine meal...


Great Big Veg Challenge said...

Just to let you know we tried slow-braised green beans, inspired bu your post. Freddie loved them. This has made green beans a firm favourite..
Charlotte and Freddie

Ed Bruske said...

All hail those slow-cooked green beans, Charlotte. We'll be making them often this summer...