“To be honest, I don’t really know where I learned to cook, except that I just started doing it. I guess, subconsciously I was paying attention and didn’t realize it.
I make a mean black bean. Yes, indeed. Any kind of bean, that’s one of my specialties. Red beans and rice, black beans, black-eyed peas, white northerns, limas, baby limas, anything you want this side of the downtown area.
We’re not into using recipes. Occasionally we’ll get a recipe and we’ll doctor it up to our tastes, desires and requirements. In preparing New Orleans food, everyone has their own way of doing it and it’s like improvising in jazz—you can do it any way you want just as long as it swings.
Today, I’m making smothered okra. Fresh or frozen, it doesn’t matter. Sometimes you can’t get fresh okra and sometimes you can. I take the okra and I pour about four tablespoons of white vinegar over the okra in the saucepan and the acid from the vinegar absorbs a good 85 percent, maybe more, of the slime. I prefer okra without the slime. The dish will be almost done, just about 98 percent completed with the cooking, before I put the shrimp in. That way they don’t get hard and don’t shrink up too much.
One thing about me when I cook is I keep an eye on my food. I think that’s the key to having the food come out better and not get burnt. I can’t be on the phone or running outside. Get out and have a conversation with the neighbor—‘Oh, my food! Forgot it was even on.’ We rarely burn food around here.
I’m one for keeping my workstation pretty clean. Everything is in order. I use a small cutting knife to mince my seasonings; onions, garlic, bell pepper—anything that I’m chopping up. The big knife is great and is probably more effcient, but I think that I’ve developed a certain technique where I can get through mincing a whole onion or bell pepper in less than 60 seconds. I’ve snipped a bit of my fngertip and it’s easier to do that with that big butcher knife because it’s got so much weight on the handle. Never bad enough to go to the hospital or anything like that, but after that happened I left the big knife alone. For me, using a small cutting knife is much safer and easier on my nerves.
When I was a child, gumbo would be our main entrée. My mom would fix the gumbo and then you would have potato salad as a side.
Potato salad in gumbo, I like doing that. Some people think ‘Blech! That’s crazy.’ I like it. If the gumbo is real spicy, the potato salad kind of cools your mouth off. You’ve tried that? There are even New Orleanians who won’t be that adventurous. ‘You can’t put your potato salad in your gumbo.’ Sure you can! Good flavor.”
Leroy Jones’ Smothered Okra (Okra Étouffée)
“The vinegar absorbs the slime from the okra. Believe me, your food will not taste like vinegar, as you will fnd out! It won’t taste like a salad.” You eat this over rice.
1 green bell pepper, minced
1 yellow onion, minced
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 pound okra, sliced
4 tablespoons white vinegar
1 pound fresh shrimp
1 (8-ounce) can tomato sauce
3 teaspoons sugar
½ pound turkey smoked sausage,
3 bay leaves
Tony Chachere’s Creole Seasoning
1 teaspoon flé powder
Sauté bell pepper, onion and garlic in olive oil. In another pot, sauté okra in vinegar for 5-10 minutes. Peel the shrimp and put the heads and shells in a third pot with 4 cups of water, bringing it to a boil and letting it simmer for 5-10 minutes—then strain the stock. Add tomato sauce and sugar to seasonings (bell pepper, etc.) as well as okra, shrimp stock, smoked sausage and bay leaves. Simmer for about 1 hour. Season with Creole Seasoning. Add peeled shrimp and simmer for a few minutes. Turn the heat off. Add filé.