File’ Powder

I have finally acquired some file powder.  Buried on the bottom shelf in my local grocers, hope it isn’t too old.  Now I can commence with some experimentation with it.

Tonight I’ll be making the Clementine Cake and Dark Chocolate Chip cookies.  It is finally supposed to snow tonight, so maybe that will heighten the mood.  Regardless, I’m putting Christmas Carols on and baking away.

Anyone notice it’s snowing on the blog?  I do what I can.

Cooking Blahs Revisited

I’m back.  Did you miss me?  Of course not you had all of JeffWs food porn to look at.

It is not a good sign when I have the winter cooking blahs in December.  Holiday cooking has not even piqued my interest this year.  Though I have plans for some interesting holiday treats, there is an enthusiasm gap.

I needed to shake things up.  And then JeffW went and put fennel seed in his pasta sauce.  And that’s when it hit me.  The spice cabinet is where I could start shaking things up.  I think, like most people, I rely on a handful of favorite spices and ignore the rest unless a specific recipe calls for it.  I love fennel, but don’t use it often.  There are many spices out there I don’t use often and some I’ve never even tried before.

That’s when inspiration hit me.  For the next few months, at least once or twice a week I’m going to find and use a spice I’ve rarely or never used before and see what kind of results I get.  See if I can’t turn a few old, tired favorites into something new and interesting.  I’ll keep you apprised of the results.

Fennel has been a great success.  I’ve added it to a couple of soups, to burgers and to a pot roast.  Gave a nice kick to everything.  Up next, if I can find it locally, filé powder.  It’s a strong flavor and I’ll have to pick and choose carefully what I use it on, but I think a chicken dish would be my first idea.  Until then….

On Gumbo: Kirk Spencer

After reading my plea for a good gumbo recipe,  friend of blog, Kirk, came through again:

I’m not going to give you a recipe. In part it’s because there is no such thing as a perfect recipe anyone can share.  There are a lot of good recipes you can make perfect for you, but that’s a wee bit different.

It’s also because I’d like to concentrate on a couple of critical elements to making a great gumbo.  The first, and the cornerstone, is dark roux.

Good Eats had a decent technique for making dark roux, but I’ve still burned it going the oven route.  I’ve instead got a couple of tricks that work for me which I’ll share.

The first is to start by making a dry roux.  That is, you cook flour, dry, till it’s the color you want.  Now you’ll see this recommended as a ‘low fat’ technique, but I don’t go that way — gotta have my fat. What I do is add the fat near the end, about the time it’s chocolate but not yet brick.  (Chocolate is dark brown.  Brick is darker brown with just a somewhat reddish tint, and it goes to burned pretty soon after that.  In a perfect world you want brick.  In most worlds you settle for something between chocolate and brick.)

The second trick is to add mass near the end.  In other words you’ve got your roux going and it’s become chocolate.  You add your mirepoix and keep going.  The additional mass helps slow the heat going to the roux.  The risk here is that your addition will have enough moisture to kick the roux into its thickening process.  Because of this I tend to add as close to brick as I can while still short of that point.

By the way – cast iron is not good for dark roux unless you’re using the mass trick, and even then you can expect it to go bad a time or two.  It’s the cast iron advantage of being a heat sink working against you this time.

I said I’d share some more things.  The next thing is file’.  This might – unless you’ve had it before – be your special spice. File is dried and ground sassafras leaves.  If you bought it in a store there’s a very good chance it wasn’t really file — a lot of commercial companies doctor it with some thyme and bay and, well, a few other things. If it’s right it is green and smells very similar to but not exactly like coriander.

File, in addition to being a spice, will also thicken the gumbo.  But don’t add it during the cooking.  If you do it has a bad habit of  threading.  Instead, add it after you pull the pot from the stove. Alton Brown recommends either/or for okra or file thickening. I instead recommend using okra to get it slightly thickened during the cooking then file at the end to make it rib-sticking thick.  But I like thick soups, so again your mileage may vary.  As a last note, some very good cooks can add file while the stove is on the fire and not get threads.  Once more, ymmv.

Finally, a clue.  Gumbo is a thick stew that uses a dark roux as the critical spice.  Everything else is an option. Venison/beef/mutton/seafood? Turnips? Kale? No problem, really.  Make a dark roux, add some chunks and liquid, add more chunks of what you like, spice to taste, thicken it with okra and/or file, enjoy (usually over rice).  Really and truly, there is no true gumbo.


Thanks Kirk, I can always count on your for the real stuff…