The Coral Casino Beach Club
I originally wrote this article for Food & Home Magazine more than 20 years ago, before I’d started Pure Joy Catering. Now, this is basically what I do for the company, still, 18+ years later. I research & attempt to master dishes from all over the world. It takes an endless curiosity and a passion for learning which suits me, plus I love all food!
I have hosted several cooking contests, but never entered one. I had heard that the Coral Casino was having a “Gumbo Cook-off” but I had no intention of entering it. Louisiana was still on my “Must See Someday” list & I had never made gumbo, never even seen gumbo. But after the third “You’ve got to enter! You’re the only member that’s a chef!” comment, I reconsidered.
So I went to work. What is gumbo? Well...I read, and I read some more. I talked to people in the know, I asked about common ingredients and flavor. What I came away with is gumbo means many different things from a seafood, chicken, sausage, beef – or any combination of those – soup type pottage, sometimes spicy, sometimes not. Okra is a classic ingredient, so I included that. Two other details became eminently clear; a great gumbo must start with good, rich, homemade stock & a well made roux. My grandfather was a great chef, and the only father I ever knew, and he taught me exactly how to do both. I was in!
But the competition was stiff, Cyril, an ol’ Louisiana boy – and the Biltmore Chef – was signed up as well as the Coral Casino Manager, Kevin, who had won the last three cook-offs. All the gumbos were different, some with shrimp, one even had the heads in there. The tasting went on for a full hour, the crowds mingled & whispered, and went back and tasted some more, then silently filled out their ballots.
Lo and behold – I won! I couldn’t believe it. I quietly thanked grandpa, only wishing he could have tasted it.
Mastering chicken stock alone – or just bothering to make it at all – can lead to an array of unforgettable meals, and it’s embarrassingly simple, my trick is to let it simmer 8 hours. But I’m warning you, those watery little cans will never be the same for you again. Make an extra batch from time to time & freeze in small cup bags to use as needed. I always have a baggie of bones gathering in the freezer for stock & its super easy in a crock pot.
5 qt. water
2 unpeeled onions, quartered
4 celery ribs, halved
4 smashed cloves of garlic
3.4 to 4 pounds of chicken legs, necks, whatever (no livers)
Bring to a boil, then simmer 8 hours over low heat, add water as needed. Drain into a colander set over a large pot or bowl. Mash the solids to get every last drop, then refrigerate. Once cold remove the fat from the top.
PORTUGUESE SAUSAGE AND CHICKEN GUMBO
Serve with rice.
3 lbs. chicken parts
Rub; 1 heaping tbl. Of each, mixed; Cayenne, garlic powder and salt
1 ½ cups flour
Vegetable oil (enough to fill your iron frying pan 1 ½ inches)
1 cup each, diced; celery, green bell pepper, and onion
12 oz. hot Portuguese sausage, cubed
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 cans of cut okra, drained
Rub the rub into the chicken. Pour the flour & ½ teaspoon more Cayenne, garlic powder and salt into a big paper bag & shake the chicken in there to coat. Heat the oil in a cast iron pan till it just starts to smoke. I had a cooking teacher in Brazil once who would throw a wooden match into the oil & if it lite, it was hot enough). Fry the chicken until dark golden on both sides, remove & set aside to cool. In another pan sauce the sausage cubes until golden. Remove with a slotted spoon & set aside.
Now the roux; Measure out ¾ cup oil from the sausage drippings, add some from the chicken if you need to. Return it to the sausage pan over high heat. Measure out ¾ cup of flour from the paper bag (adding some if needed) and toss it into he hot oil, blending constantly with a long-handled whisk. When the roux is very dark brown add the diced veggies & turn the heat to low. Stir with a wooden spoon about 6 minutes while bringing 2 qts. of your stock to a boil in another pot. Add your roux & veggies gradually to the boiling stock, stirring. Deglaze the roux pan with a ladle full of your stock & return every drop to the pot. Add the sausage, garlic, drained okra, salt & pepper to taste. Simmer uncovered over medium low heat at least 1 ½ hours.
While that’s cooking debone your chicken & dice it. Add it to the pot during the last 15 minutes of cooking. Adjust seasoning. Serve over rice. Holds well.
Lynette La Mere, Executive Chef, Pure Joy Catering