Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Layered Flavors in Creole Cuisine

It is said by many of the Creole professionals that the layering of flavors is an African technique. While it's true that foods from France, Spain, Germany, Italy and elsewhere formed the basis of Creole Cuisine, it was the African cooks who took their own know-how and made it happen.  It's the extraction of all possible flavor and then the expert layering of them that is all important in all Creole dishes.  Here in this video is a recipe for stewed okra from which our gumbo evolved.  (The word "gumbo" is from the West African word GOMBO - okra.)  In it we see how one layer is created, then another is created and added and another is added and another.  The video is in French as it is from the French speaking West African coast, so if you don't speak African-French you'll just have to watch and learn.  (Watch how the okra is prepared - fascinating!)  A few things that'll help:

Totogboè - sardines

Maquereau Fumé - smoked mackerel

Huile de palma Zomi  (Red palm oil)  an oil produced exclusively from palm nuts and spices. All Africa is present in this product, with its intense red color and its unique and spicy taste. 

Gingembre Mixé - Ginger root, grated, mixed with a little water and allowed to steep.  It is used ginger, water and all.

Morceau de potasse - an edible potash used in West African cooking.

Ewo - Corn meal.

As you can see from the ingredients, this is a very different dish from the gumbo we know in New Orleans today, but here we clearly see the genesis of it.  Notice how nothing is wasted - the byproducts of the fish are boiled to make a stock - the first layer - the okra comes next - the crab layer is created and added - and so on.  Imagine how skilled enslaved African cooks took this expertise and incorporated the resources available in the Colony - adding roux - adding the Creole trinity (a mire poix of bell pepper, celery and onion) - adding shrimp and oysters - and created that most Creole of Creole dishes - GUMBO - from this, its mother dish!

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