Are you looking for an alternative to the traditional holiday turkey this year? Overcook a turkey and its dry, and it takes hours in the oven to get it right (a twelve-pound turkey will take four hours!). There is something to be said about holiday traditions, but why not break the mold and do something different this year?
The French often have a capon, guinea fowl or pheasant, but almost certainly will start with foie gras. The Germans might have a roasted goose and our Mexican neighbors will have atole (a corn and masa based drink), tamales and menudo.
But perhaps the Italians have the best idea. They call it Festa dei sette pesci, of feast of seven fishes. Maybe seven fish would be a bit too much for your table, but a seafood holiday feast is a wonderful idea. A traditional gumbo is always great, but why not make it a family affair?
Make your gumbo outside on a gas burner (or a big wood fire, if you can arrange it), but involve everyone. Get the largest heavy bottom pot you have and the longest wooden spoon (paddle really), like the one used in seafood boils. Assign someone to dice the holy trinity and sausage, roast a chicken and de-bone it. Use the chicken bones and vegetable scraps to make chicken stock, but make sure to assign the roux to someone that is a pro. Once the prep is down, crowd around the pot and let everyone take turns giving it a stir.
This is the basic recipe: saute the sausage in a large heavy bottom pan until well browned, remove and set aside. Saute the shrimp in the same pot (this is a one-pot dish), remove and set aside. Add the holy trinity, and a fair amount of olive oil and cook until reduced by 40%. In a separate pot make the stock, starting with canned chicken stock, add the bones and veggies, add a carrot to two if you like, and simmer for 1 hour. Combine the stock and veggies, season with Tony’s and red pepper flakes, taste and re-season as necessary. Simmer for at least 30 minutes. Make the roux (equal parts of oil and fat or oil), making sure it is a deep brown in color. Add the roux to the gumbo, along with the sausage. Simmer 30 minutes more, then add the shrimp, just before serving.
If you are not in the mood for gumbo, why not try shrimp sauteed in garlic butter? Just make sure not to overcook the shrimp, 1-2 minutes in hot butter and they are done. Make it even better by cooking the butter until it is a nice brown and smells nutty (beurre noisette, to the French). Serve over spicy, cheesy grit cakes (make sure to buy your grits at the Ocean springs Saturday fresh market), or steamed rice (use Delta Blues Rice, which is Mississippi grown), or pasta. Add browned sausage to make it even heartier.
Another great seafood option is crab cakes. Lump crab, panko bread crumbs and a little homemade mayo, well-seasoned, is all it takes. To make the mayo you need an immersion circulator and a cup that is just slightly larger than the head of the blender. Combine 1 cup oil, 1 whole egg, a pinch of salt and several tablespoons of lemon oil. Pulse with the immersion blender until thick, just about 20 seconds, and you are done.
If all else fails, you are almost out of money and don’t have the time to do things up right, buy a rotisserie chicken at Rouses and there are a world of things you can do with it that are easy and good. De-bone, combine with heavy cream, season well and add a little butter, then simmer until thick. It just takes a minute or two. Serve over rice.
You can also combine the chicken with homemade mayo or yogurt, add the curry paste and you have great chicken curry. Leave out the curry, add nuts and grapes and you have a great chicken salad. The last resort is to make a chicken and cheese omelet. Simply combine eggs, chicken and good melting cheese, season well and cook in a nonstick pan.
You don’t have to have a traditional holiday meal to have a good time and entertain your friends well. A seafood holiday can be healthy and delicious, go ahead, take a chance and do something different.