22 January 2016

Southern Soups & Stews

This Christmas present was from Ann because she likes soup. Usually, when she comes for Christmas, I make up 4 or 5 batches of soup and freeze them so she can leave with a cooler of soup. Little did she know that Southern Soups & Stews was written by one of our favorites, Nancie McDermott.

(Now I am going to digress and tell you what I hate about most cookbooks as a way of pointing out what is really great in McDermott's book. Many cookbook authors act like they invented cooking. Like no one before them ever thought of putting macaroni and cheese together in a casserole dish! How about putting bits of chocolate into cookies?  And then one day, I dropped my chicken in a big vat of hot oil and it was delicious. I admit it, my cornbread recipes is the same one my Mother used and she got it from her aunt, who got it from her grandmother and it is the same cornbread recipe that 90% of Southerner's use and frankly, I don't know who thought it up...but it does have a history, even if it is just my history.)

Sitting alone in the kitchen with Southern Soups & Stews you will find that not only is Nancie McDermott there with you, but the kitchen is jam packed with other people who have helped build a culinary legacy, and a damn fine cookbook.  McDermott always gives credit where credit is due. In doing that, she takes the reader and cook on mad romp through the history of Southern cooking.

You will find Rufus Estes who published what as probably the first cookbook by an African-American chef. There is Nathalie Dupree, who was promoting Southern cooking on PBS before "Southern" cooking was the new big thing.  There is a chicken bog that in some form or another, graces my table every Sunday. The Crab Soup from Buster Holmes that brought back memories of 721 Burgundy.  When I was kid, I used to venture back in the French Quarter to Buster Holmes. I was often the only white face in there and I could never afford crab soup, but the red beans and rice were transcendent.

This shrimp is McDermott's own.  Drawn from years and years of French Arcadian cooking in Louisiana an etouffée comes from the French word étouffer to smother or braise.  Cajun and Creole cooks for generations have smothered the local shrimp and crawfish in a thick roux with peppers, onions, and celery. 

Shrimp Etouffée

1 1/2 pounds head-on medium shrimp, or 1 pound medium shrimp, unshelled
1 1/2 cups shrimp stock, chicken stock, or water
1 teaspoon dried thyme or 1 tablespoon fresh thyme
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon paprika
3 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup chopped green bell pepper
1/2 cup chopped celery
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
1/4 cup chopped green onions
1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
 Rice, for serving

1. Remove the shrimp shells, tails and heads if you have them, and place them in a medium saucepan. Cover and refrigerate the shrimp. Pour the stock over the shrimp shells and place the saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring it to a rolling boil, and then lower the heat to maintain a lively simmer. Cook for 20 minutes and then remove from the heat.

2. While the stock is simmering, stir the thyme, salt, pepper, cayenne, and paprika together in a small bowl, using a fork to combine them. When the stock is ready, pour it through a wire-mesh strainer into a measuring cup. Add a little water if needed to make 1 1/2 cups.

3. Place a large heavy skillet or Dutch oven over medium-high heat and add the butter. Swirl to coat the pan as the butter melts. When a pinch of flour blooms on the surface when added to the butter, scatter in the flour and stir quickly and thoroughly, combining the butter and flour evenly into a thick, smooth roux. Continue cooking, stirring often, as the roux turns from white to golden-brown, about 2 minutes. Add the spice mixture, onion, bell pepper, celery, and garlic and stir quickly, mixing the vegetables into the roux. Cook until everything is fragrant and softened, 1 to 2 minutes more. 

4. Slowly add the stock, stirring and scraping to mix it in evenly. When the sauce is bubbling and boiling gently, lower the heat and cook, stirring now and then, until the sauce is thickened and smooth, about 15 minutes.

5. Scatter in the shrimp and let them cook undisturbed until the sides are turning visibly orange or pink, about 1 minute. Toss well and continue cooking, stirring often, until the shrimp are pink, firm, and cooked through and nicely flavored by the sauce. Add the green onions and parsley and stir well. Transfer the etouffée to a serving dish and serve it hot or warm over the rice. 

At Cookbook Of The Day, we are always stressing that cookbooks are really just history books with food interspersed within them.   Nancie McDermott is one of those authors who never disappoints. The book is filled with histories, famous chefs, infamous cooks, family, friends, memories,  and a whole bunch of delicious recipes. There is even a bibliography -- a must for a modern cookbook. This is the perfect book for cooks and for historians alike, so grab yourself a copy of Southern Soups & Stews.

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