Cajun Rice & Gravy
Ok, so last night I made some rice & gravy, cajun style (AFAIK). It was delicious - this isn't quite one of those 'what did I do wrong' threads. But the problem is, I've never been to Louisiana, and never tried the dish before making it. So I want to compare notes with someone more familiar with the dish than I am.
First off, how spicy is it supposed to be? I used a good bit of seasoning, and the spice was still far from upfront. It is supposed to hit you with a lot of cayenne? Or a bit herbal flavor?
Another question - what is it normally served with? Besides rice I mean. It seemed to need a little acid the way I made it, so I added some with the garnish. What do people do in Cajun country?
Anything I should know about the rice?
Does the method and ingredients I used look about right? I really love the technique. Like baking a great loaf of bread or a really excellent pasta pomodoro from scratch, there's sort of an element of alchemy to this kind of cooking, where you use a few simple ingredients to create flavors and textures that would seem impossible. It's like you're creating something out of nothing. Probably my favorite kind of cooking.
For reference here is the basic recipe I used
Melt 1/2 stick of butter in a stainless/aluminum pan until it just starts to brown.
1 slivered onion (medium large)
1 green bell pepper, diced
1.5 pounds of chicken thigh cut into chunks (bones removed)
A pinch of salt.
Cook over medium heat, stirring very often. THE IMPORTANT PART: The vegetables wilt and give up their liquid, and then eventually the whole thing starts to brown on the bottom, forming a stuck layer of dark brown fond on the bottom of the pan. As this layer gets thick, just before it starts to burn, deglaze the pan with maybe 1/4 cup of cool water. Cook off that water, brown again, and repeat. Repeat this browning and deglazing many times - I did this for maybe 45 minutes, deglazing the pan maybe 8 times total until I had a dark brown sauce where the vegetables had fully disintegrated. I added about 3 cloves of garlic (minced) for the last deglazing.
Add a couple cups of water, along with spices (I used black pepper, dried thyme (decent quality), dried oregano (not so great), a good bit of paprika right at the end, a pinch of cayenne, some mustard powder, and salt to taste). Simmer it down to desired thickness - for me, that was something akin to an Indian curry.
Serve over rice (I used white arborio - no it wasn't cooked creamy like a risotto). I served it with fresh parsley and quick-pickled onions on top.
THat's the basic idea. I use 7 steaks (so called because the bone looks like the number 7) and cut them up but you can also have a very similar dish just browning teh whole steak and letting it cook a long time until tender, getting the same fond as you go (although I think of the 7 steak gravy as lighter colored). People use Lea & Perrins a lot and one friend uses Dawn Fresh Mushroom steak sauce. (A lot of cajun cooking involved cheating with a can of something). The result should not be blindingly hot. Garlic at the end is right and some folks swear by garlic powder. I like to put some white pepper in...no one ever figures it out but they sure like it.
As to rice, I go with medium grain from the Doguet mill in Texas but that's because I'm friends of the owner's cousins, who stayed in Louisiana.
Thanks Hazelhurst. I was figuring that if I ever did this with beef, I would use chuck - is there any reason that you especially prefer the 7 steak over other chuck options?
"you can also have a very similar dish just browning teh whole steak and letting it cook a long time until tender, getting the same fond as you go"
How does this work? Is any liquid added early? I have a hard time imagining how you could get such a richly flavored sauce without the repeated browning and deglazing.
How much steak sauce or worchestershire sauce are we talking?
The 7 steak is just the way I learned it..no reason you can't use anthing else but the 7 steak is inexpensive. If you cook the steak itself (that is to say you don't slice it up for the gravy production) you brown it and reduce the liquid in the same way, scraping as you go, and after three or four reductions you give enough liquid to complete the poaching of the steak. It is obviously not a good cut of meat so it is not much of a steak but the gravy makes it tasty.
Lea& Perrins amount? Jeez, I'd say a tablespoon to an average skillet portion, maybe some more. Dawn Fresh Mushroom sauce? Half-to-a-whole can (small can...dunno how many ounces are in it). Put that in about ten minutes from the end. It is gonna cut the prominence of the fond, though, and you might not want to use it.
As with all things 'round here, it varies from town to town or even street to street. Just like the language. I was at a wedding some years back where the principals grandparents were speaking french. They understood each other but the patois was varied. I could follow it but I was constantly looking for the original French word or trying to figure out the Cajuninzation of an English word. The people involved were from two towns about forty miles apart.
Egad! Dawn Fresh on the internet! I am assured by a good friend, 100% cajun and the absolute BEST cajun cook I knowm, that there is no substitue for Dawn Fresh which he uses in just about everything...not his non-pareil etouffee, but in his sauce picquante f'sure.
Re: Cajun country, it's a wonderful part of the world. I am not from there but have enough good friends that I count as "honorary." An example of word issues: a freind from the cajun area around Lutcher/Grammercy refers to a stinging caterpillar as a "schnee." In St Martinville area I have heard it as "schnee brulant" . the originall french is Chenille.
I'd heard about Rice n' Gravy in a Cajun tune called Jolie Blonde, but didn't realize it was actually a formal dish. After doing a bit of research, I've whomped up a recipe of my own and very much look forward to trying it. This dish is very simple and basic, but does require some patience. In that respect it reminds me of risotto, but probably even more unsophisticated.
re: Perilagu Khan
You should. Even my first attempt at it was pretty damn delicious.
Risotto is another good comparison. It's a fine example of creating something special and complex out of something very simple, through application of technique rather than just by buying expensive ingredients. As to which is more unsophisticated, I guess that depends on what you mean by unsophisticated. As a cooking technique for making a thickened sauce out of braising meat and a couple vegetables, this technique feels pretty sophisticated while you're making it. But when you're eating it, the effect is rustic and comforting and unsophisticated in the best kind of way.
Sounds good! Like any other home-cooking recipe, rice & gravy varies by the cook. It should definitely not be super spicy - one of the misconceptions about cajun food is that it has to blow the top of your head off with spiciness. It can be made with any kind of meat, but I've most often had it with beef, like round steak. A black iron pot that belonged to your grandmother is preferred, but not required, as the cooking vessel.
Rice should be long grain.
My thinking was that a stainless/aluminum pot would create fond a little more easily, but I figure I could make this dish in other types of pots as well.
No one so far has answered - do people usually serve any garnishes with rice and gravy? Or is it thought of as a complete meal as soon as it's poured over rice? I rather liked the parsley and pickled onion slivers I used, but that wasn't taking cues from Cajun cooking.
As to garnishes... my cajun mom Always had pickled tobasco peppers (they are skinny little green peppers in vinegar) on the table as well as tobasco sauce and sometimes chow chow. The pickled peppers were my favorite. You just splash the vinegar over your rice to flavor it.
For us it was a meal. Meat, rice and gravy with a veg on the side. It was always made with beef though. For chicken it was always a fricassee.
Round steak is the beef my mom always used. Still my son's favorite. Smothered round steak, smothered chicken (fricassee), smothered pork chops ... you get my drift. Magnalite is what she used, as do many Cajun cooks. Gravy process is almost the same with a pot roast. Sear the seasoned protein, add a little liquid, braise. Reduce and make the gravy at the end. I like medium grain best. I want my rice to stick together a bit.
thymetobake, pickled green tomatoes are also an awesome accompaniment to rice 'n gravy.
"Always had pickled tobasco peppers (they are skinny little green peppers in vinegar) on the table as well as tobasco sauce and sometimes chow chow. The pickled peppers were my favorite. You just splash the vinegar over your rice to flavor it."
That sounds fantastic. As I said in the OP, it tasted to me like it needed a little acidic kick for the whole thing to really shine.
I know I'm a little late, but...my husband's Maw Maw makes THE BEST rice and gravy in Louisiana. It is not supposed to be really spicy, it just has a lot of flavor. We will eat rice and gravy with corn on the cob or fresh sliced tomatoes. If you cut the corn off the cob and mix it in with the rice and gravy it's really good. It's also good with a side of figs, and my husband's family loves rice and gravy with a side of beets. I have been trying to replicate Maw Maw's recipes for several years now. Every time I ask her how to make it she says, "Oh, you know, a little salt and pepper." YEAH RIGHT!
At one point I did get her to tell me a little more in detail about the process of making rice and gravy. It's all about the pot--she has a cast iron pot that is over 50 years old. Also, you have to cook it for a really long time, and pour water, cook down, repeat, many times. She mentioned salt, pepper, onion, garlic powder, and onion powder. She didn't tell me this, but I know she uses bacon grease as well. She has a secret jar of it that I saw her put in the gravy. Typically she uses sausage or pork roast for the gravy. When cooked with chicken we call it "chicken fricasse."
For Thanksgiving, we have fried turkey, rice and gravy!!! It's delicious! I hope this helps. Good luck with your rice and gravy!