Cajun Cooking for Letters from Paris

If you've read The Paris Key, by Juliet Blackwell, here is another of her stunning, romantic novels, definitely not to be missed.  There is a love story, a bit of mystery to resolve and a fascinating new job.  Letters from Paris, tells the story of an orphan girl in Cajun country, Louisiana, who finally escapes small town life, then makes her way back home, finally ending up in Paris, tracing the origins of a funeral mask.  I especially enjoyed Claire's search for the woman behind the mask, the fascinating details of mask making, and all the delicious food mentions, from her home in the South to the wonderful food she encounters in France.  And, from the Publishers:

"After surviving the accident that took her mother’s life, Claire Broussard has worked hard to escape her small Louisiana hometown. But these days she feels something is lacking. Abruptly leaving her lucrative job in Chicago, Claire returns home to care for her ailing grandmother. There, she unearths a beautiful piece of artwork that her great-grandfather sent home from Paris after World War II.

At her grandmother’s urging, Claire travels to Paris to track down the century-old mask-making atelier where the object, known only as “L’Inconnue”—or The Unknown Woman—was created. Under the watchful eye of a surly mask-maker, Claire discovers a cache of letters that offers insight into the life of the Belle Epoque woman immortalized in the work of art. As Claire explores the unknown woman’s tragic fate, she begins to unravel deeply buried secrets in her own life."

Cajun cooking, oh yes!  The last food mentioned in this novel, was for a celebration meal in Paris, and Claire had prepared a Louisiana style Gumbo for her new friends.   I was ready to make Gumbo, and finding it mentioned at the very end of the book, just clinched things.

Another clincher was finding Gumbo featured in an article in our New Years' paper, the recipe, a Chicken and Sausage Gumbo, was taken from the new cookbook by America's Test Kitchen, Cook it in Your Dutch Oven, which discusses an easier way to make a traditional Gumbo roux by browning the flour in your oven prior to mixing in broth.  I used that tip, figuring America's Test Kitchen would know, but proceeded with Ruth Reichl's Shrimp and Tasso Gumbo, from Gourmet Today, a favorite cookbook of mine.  I cut it way down, but will give the full recipe here.

Shrimp and Tasso Gumbo
    Adapted from Gourmet Today

Servings 6
Start to finish: 2 hours

1 cup all purpose flour
2 pounds shrimp in shells, peeled )shells reserved) and deveined 
3 1/2  quarts water or stock
1/4 cup vegetable oil or preferred fat (I used bacon fat but duck would also be good)
2 medium onions, chopped
2 celery ribs, chopped
1 large green bell pepper, cored, seeded and chopped
1/2 pound tasso, thawed if frozen and cut into 1/4 inch thick rounds*
salt; 1/2 teaspoon cayenne; 1 teaspoon paprika (pref. smoked)
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme (or sassafras leaves/ file powder if you can find it)
10 oz. fresh or frozen okra, thawed if frozen, trimmed, and cut into 1/4 inch rounds

3/4 cup thinly sliced scallion greens
rice and hot pepper sauce to serve

Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 425 F.  Place flour on foil lined pan and bake, stirring occasionally, until the color of ground cinnamon, 40-5 minutes.  As flour approaches desired color, it take on a very nutty aroma that will smell faintly of burnt popcorn, and it will need to be stirred more frequently.  Remove pan from oven and remove foil.  Set aside and let the flour cool.

Combine shrimp shells and water in an 8 quart pot, uncovered, bring to a boil, turn down and simmer until liquid is reduced to about 3 quarts, 15-20 minutes.  Pour stock through a sieve set over a large bowl; discard shells. I used a combination of the shrimp stock and my bits and pieces stock - made in the pressure cooker this time, which was a revelation!

Heat oil or fat over moderate fire and saute onions, celery, bell pepper and sausage, until onion is softened, about 8 minutes.  Sprinkle browned flour over and add stock, whisking in to combine, and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally.  Add garlic, paprika, thyme, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt and cayenne and simmer, uncovered, for 30 minutes.

Add okra and simmer until tender, 5 to 8 minutes.  Stir in shrimp and simmer until just cooked through, 2 to 3 minutes.  Stir in scallion greens and salt to taste.  Serve gumbo over rice, with hot pepper sauce for additional seasoning as desired.

* Andouille or another smoked pork sausage can be substituted for the tasso.  Brown the cut up sausage in a heavy skillet over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, then transfer to paper towels to drain.  Stir into the gumbo with the scallion greens.

This is absolutely delicious!  I'm linking it to Beth Fish Reads for her Weekend Cooking event, and to the Foodies Read for January, hosted by Heather.  Check out some good reading and cooking at both.


Mae Travels said...

Gumbo sounds like a perfect meal for this cold weather. Oven-browning the flour is an interesting idea -- I had seen instructions for dry-browning it in a cast-iron skillet in one or another New Orleans cookbook. Your photos are tempting!

Have a great New Year!

best... mae at maefood.blogspot.com

Wendy Klik said...

Interesting to brown the flour in the oven. The recipe sounds delicious and the book interests me as well.

Beth F said...

OMG -- I love ATK, Ruth Reichl, tasso, and all things Cajun food. I'm sold! This book has also been on my list and sounds like something I'd really like.

Jackie Mc Guinness said...

I had to look up what tasso was. This is an ideal recipe for me right now, we are in Mazatlan Mexico and shrimps are everywhere!

Carole said...

I have to look it up as well. Happy New Year from Carole's Chatter

Tina said...

I just got that book from the library, Cooking in your Dutch Oven from C.I. It looks like a book I will be pursuing for a while. Mmmmm on the gumbo, I have that planned as a meal for this week!

Debra Eliotseats said...

Love the flavors of your gumbo! Lucks like a comforting bowl of goodness!