Book Review: Southern Soups and Stews

Dip your spoon into a Cajun-style gumbo; savour a layered muddle of snapper, potatoes, onions, and poached eggs; feast on okra soup coloured with red-ripe tomatoes; eat Hoppin’ John for luck on New Year’s Day.

Nancie McDermott’s Southern Soups & Stews serves up recipes seasoned with history—from Nathalie Dupree’s Lowcountry Okra and Shrimp Gumbo to Summer Squash Soup with Black Pepper and Thyme, to Collard Greens with Pot Likker and Dumplings—offering us a glimpse of how people farmed, cooked, and continue to celebrate life over time. Travel around the South and you will find folks still eating the dishes today because the meals are delicious, compelling, and certain to attract and please a big table of family and friends.

The book’s nine chapters tackle 75 recipes; from Burgoo and Gumbo to Étouffée and Fricassee. The book takes both an ingredient-centered and recipe-centered approach. For ingredients, crab and shrimp have their own chapters, as do fish and shellfish, general vegetables, and field peas and beans. For recipes, gumbos have their own chapter, as do dumpling-blessed soups and stews, and Brunswick stews and wild game.

The equipment needed is everyday, and the techniques are common sense, well within the skill set of anyone who wants to put a meal together.The author notes that this book is designed to be a handbook, a cookbook, and a playbook designed to help us celebrate the region’s culinary traditions, the multiple and varied ways of working in the kitchen’s, gardens, farms, and wild spaces of the South. One thing is for sure. You don’t need to be Southern to enjoy these dishes.

Nancie McDermott is a food writer, cooking teacher, and author of 10 cookbooks. She lives with her family in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

Southern Soups & Stews is available from Amazon.ca and Amazon.com.


Chicken and Sausage Gumbo, Cajun-Style

Photo by Leigh Beisch

Serves 10 to 12

Chocolate brown, earthy, and spiked with thyme and three kinds of pepper, this gumbo earns back every second of effort you put into the pot, from chopping your seasonings and measuring out spices to stirring away on your roux. If you make it and serve it straightaway, you will be glad you didn’t have to wait to savour it. If you can cook it a day in advance, you will love how its flavours blossom. A bit of a resting time in the refrigerator allows your gumbo to cut loose, to stretch out, to meander from tasty to operatically magnificent. It means that as serving time approaches, you have had the opportunity to rest up, cook some rice, set out some libations, and crank up some music. You and your guests will surely want to dance; it is just that good. While rice is the classic gumbo accompaniment, you may enjoy the highly favoured Louisiana alternative of sweet and creamy Creole potato salad with your gumbo: It’s another extraordinary way to go.

1 cup vegetable oil

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 cup chopped onion

1 cup finely chopped celery

1 cup finely chopped green bell pepper

2 tablespoons finely chopped garlic

2 teaspoons dried thyme, or 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh thyme

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

1 teaspoon sweet or hot paprika

1 teaspoon cayenne pepper

2 quarts Chicken Stock (recipe to follow)

3 1/2 pounds skin-on, bone-in chicken legs and thighs

1 pound Cajun-style andouille sausage, smoked kielbasa, or other smoked sausage

1 cup thinly sliced green onions, plus more for garnish

½ cup finely chopped fresh parsley

  1. In a large, heavy-bottomed Dutch oven, preferably cast iron or enamel cast iron, or a large cast-iron skillet, heat the vegetable oil over medium-high heat until shimmering hot. When a pinch of flour blooms on the surface when added to the oil, scatter in the flour and stir quickly and thoroughly, combining the oil and flour evenly into a thick, smooth roux. Continue cooking, stirring often, as the roux turns from pale yellow to a rich, deep brown, 20 to 35 minutes. Adjust the heat as needed to keep the roux darkening slowly, without bubbling up or burning. It should be darker than peanut butter, about the color of coffee with some cream, a deep brown but not a dark brown.
  2. Add the onion, celery, and bell pepper to the Dutch oven and stir well, heating them up and coating them with the roux. Let them cook, stirring often, until the vegetables are fragrant, softened, shiny, and evenly coated with the roux, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the garlic, thyme, salt, pepper, paprika, and cayenne; stir well and cook for 2 minutes more. If using a cast-iron skillet, transfer the roux to a large stockpot.
  3. Add the chicken stock, stir well, and bring it to a lively boil, stirring often to dissolve the roux into the stock. When everything is boiling nicely, add the chicken pieces. When the stock returns to a rolling boil, adjust the heat to maintain a lively simmer and cook, stirring now and then, until the chicken is cooked through and very tender, 45 minutes to 1 hour.
  4. Meanwhile, chop the andouille into bite-size pieces. Halve each link lengthwise, and then cut it crosswise into half-moon slices about 1⁄4 inch thick.
  5. Remove the chicken from the pot and set it out on a platter to cool. As soon as it is cool enough to touch, pull the meat from the bones, discarding the bones and skin. Tear or chop the chicken very coarsely, and then return the meat to the pot. Add the andouille and stir. Cook, stirring now and then, until the sausage has seasoned the gumbo and softened, and everything has come together into a rich, flavorful, slightly thickened stew, about 30 minutes more.
  6. Remove the pot from the heat and stir in the green onions and parsley. Serve the gumbo in bowls over rice or with rice on the side, garnished with green onions


Chicken Stock

Makes 8 to 10 cups

4 pounds chicken pieces, such as wings, backs, necks, and legs (see note)

3 cups very coarsely chopped onions, including skins

2 cups very coarsely chopped carrots, washed but unpeeled

1 cup very coarsely chopped celery, with leaves

1 teaspoon salt

1 gallon water

  1. In a large stockpot, combine the chicken pieces, onions, carrots, celery, salt, and water. Bring them to a gentle, lively boil over high heat. Skim off the clouds of foam that float up to and bob on the surface, placing them in a bowl. When the foam has stopped rising, discard the contents of the bowl and lower the heat to maintain a gentle, visible simmer. Fat adds flavor, so leave it in the stock for now.
  2. Let the stock simmer, uncovered, for 3 to 4 hours. Remove it from the heat and let it come to room temperature undisturbed. Strain the stock through a wire-mesh strainer into a large container. Cover and refrigerate it for up to 3 days, leaving the fat on top. (It will set up into a golden lid that you can easily move aside when you want to measure out and use some or all of the stock.)
  3. To freeze the stock, remove the fat, reserving it for frying and sautéing. Divide the stock among tightly covered containers in useful amounts: quarts, pints, or cups. Or freeze it in ice-cube trays or muffin tins and gather frozen stock cubes into zip-top plastic freezer bags. Seal them airtight and freeze for up to 2 months.

note: Check with the folks at the meat counter in your favorite supermarket, butcher shop, or at farmers’ markets to see if they can supply you with the humbler bony chicken parts, backs, necks, and wings. These impart incredibly fine flavor to stocks and can often be purchased for very reasonable prices.

Everyday Rice

Serves 4

1 cup long-grain rice

1 teaspoon salt

  1. Pour the rice into a medium saucepan with a tight-fitting lid, and add enough water to cover it. Using your hand, swish the rice and water together, and then carefully pour off as much water as you can, without letting any grains of rice escape into the sink.
  2. Add the salt and 11⁄2 cups fresh water, and stir them together. Place the pot over medium-high heat and bring it to a lively boil, stirring occasionally.
  3. Cook, stirring often, as the rice swells up and changes from a soft ivory color to bright white, and the water level drops down just below the surface of the rice, 3 to 4 minutes.
  4. Stir again, and then cover the pot with the lid. Turn the heat to low and cook, covered, for 20 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat and let it stand, covered and undisturbed, for 5 minutes more. Remove the lid and stir gently to release some steam. Serve the rice hot or warm.

Recipe reprinted with permission from Southern Soups & Stews, Raincoast Books

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