My friends up north get a chuckle out of the way Dallas-Fort Worth responds to a little snow and ice. Where they would just shovel the driveway, strap on the tire chains, and calmly go about their business, we here in the Sunny South descend into widespread panic and chaos. That’s exactly what happened when a winter storm struck over the weekend, and everywhere North Texans were trying to cope with the sudden, dramatic onslaught of snow and sleet.
To be fair, Yankee friends, we’re not really well equipped nor prepared for serious winter weather, and while you all get mounds of fluffy white stuff that snow plows can scoop and push, we’re more likely to get pelted with freezing rain that sticks to bridges and overpasses. To make matters worse, we’re behind in developing and using public transportation systems—we do love our cars and trucks—and so we’re still pretty dependent on our own vehicles to get around. As you can imagine, the nasty weather led to literally hundreds of accidents all over North Texas.
My husband’s office started shutting down around 3:00 pm, and it took him more than an hour to accomplish what is usually a 40-minute commute. I’m fortunate to work remotely, but foolishly I decided to keep an appointment downtown at 2:00 pm, and by the time I got out, the entire city had gone into gridlock. My 15-minute drive turned into 45.
What else was there to do all weekend but hunker down by the fireplace and go with the flow? Hubby and I needed to find ways to keep ourselves cozy and entertained while stuck in a winter wonderland all weekend. I saw on Facebook that a friend was preparing to recycle leftover mashed potatoes into soup, and I thought, “What a great idea! Time for serious comfort food.”
We all have our favorite ways of coping with cabin fever. My typical strategies are movies on demand, cocktails, and comfort food. Maybe you play a game of cards or indulge a little online retail therapy. I could certainly see the appeal of visiting a few travel web sites and making plans to stroll sandy beaches in a straw hat with the sun pouring down.
But as I said, I was thinking about comfort food washed down with a nice glass of Texas wine. Fortunately, I had a bottle of Eden Hill Texas Tempranillo 2012 in the cellar, and now I just needed to decide on a pairing. Typically, I would think “chili” on cold Texas day, but this time I looked to my neighbor to the east, for whom I harbor huge culinary respect and affection. I’m talking, of course, about Louisiana.
My love for Louisiana cuisine goes back decades to when I first discovered crawfish etouffee at a casual dining chain, and then I became seriously infatuated over the course of many trips to New Orleans, where I sampled blackened redfish, barbecued shrimp, po’boys, and that most illustrious of Louisiana soups, gumbo. Soon, I was trying my own hand at Cajun and Creole, and I took to it like an alligator to swamp water.
Were you ever fortunate to catch the late, great Justin Wilson, AKA “The Cajun Chef,” on PBS? I remember watching him make gumbo, and he gave an important piece of advice: “When making gumbo, you got to start with roux. If you ain’t got the roux, then all you got yourself is a stew. Now, it might be a mighty fine stew, but it ain’t gumbo.” I’m paraphrasing, but you catch my drift.
If you’re from the frozen north or overly dependent on your microwave, you might be wondering what, exactly, is roux? Roux is nothing more than flour cooked into a chocolaty brown gravy in some type of fat, usually butter. It’s very simple, it doesn’t take long, and you don’t need to buy some silly box of mix to make it. Just get a heavy pot, a little flour and butter, and get to stirring. I’ve got the recipe and all your instructions down below.
When you make a spicy dish like gumbo, you always hold your breath until you take that first bite of food and sip of wine. You never know if the two will hit it off and fall in love or come to blows in an all-out fight. I’d already opened the Eden Hill Tempranillo to get a taste beforehand, and I was enjoying its marvelous aromas of black cherry, raspberry, vanilla, and oak. It had one of those mysterious and lovely bouquets that makes me inhale over and over because it is hauntingly familiar and touches some deeply buried sensory memory I can’t quite identify.
I needn’t have worried about the pairing. We sat down with our bowls of rich, hot gumbo and big chunks of French bread, and we took a spoonful of soup followed by a sip of wine. The pairing was magical, with the gumbo and wine each bringing out flavors and nuances in the other that we wouldn’t have picked out separately. The best moment was when I took a bite of gumbo and a sip of wine and I exclaimed, “Butter!”
“Butter cookie!” my husband replied.
Yes, indeed, one of the aromas and flavors that the Tempranillo coaxed from that delicious bowl of gumbo was butter cookie. I just love that kind of wine moment.
We’ve probably seen our last snow day here in Texas for a while (then again, we’ve been known to see freak winter storms as late as March). But don’t let that stop you from stirring up a big pot of gumbo and washing it down with a fine glass of Texas Tempranillo. As Justin Wilson would have said, “I gar-on-tee” it’s a great pairing you’ll enjoy.
Shrimp & Sausage Gumbo
14 ounces Andouille sausage
¼ cup butter
¼ cup flour
1 medium onion, chopped
1 large green bell pepper, seeded, chopped
1 ½ cups chopped celery
1½ cups frozen sliced okra
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 teaspoons Cajun seasoning
2 cups chicken broth
½ teaspoon hot pepper sauce
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
Salt to taste
½ pound large raw shrimp, peeled, deveined
3 cups hot cooked long-grain white rice
- Cut sausage into ½ -inch slices; set aside.
- Combine flour and oil in a 4 quart heavy saucepan; mixing until smooth. Cook and stir over medium-high heat 3 minutes. Reduce heat to medium; cook and stir 6-8 minutes or until roux is a dark reddish brown.
- Stir in onion, bell pepper, celery, okra and garlic; cook and stir 8-10 minutes or until vegetables are tender. Stir in Cajun seasoning.
- Stir in chicken broth; bring to a boil. Cook and stir for 1 minute. Reduce heat to low; stir in sausage, pepper sauce, black pepper and salt to taste. Simmer, covered 15 minutes. Remove cover.
- Bring to a boil; add shrimp and cook 3 minutes or until shrimp turn pink.
- Ladle gumbo into bowls and top with rice.