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Let the good times roll!
From Rio de Janeiro’s notorious samba street parties to Venice and its baroque balls and masquerades, each culture and country has its own pageantry and exuberance and, of course, amazing foods! Here on the North American continent, revelers can travel to New Orleans for infectious music, colorful parades, and great Creole or Cajun fares. Or, for different flavors, head north to the Carnaval de Quebec for a three-week snow fest in the heart of the ancient city while feasting on traditional fares such as meat pies, baked beans and sugar tarts. And if an RV trip is not in the cards, you can always stow some party favors and great dancing CDs, invite few friends and create your own Mardi Gras tradition.
A quintessential crowd pleaser, gumbo was created for celebrations and good eating. And, it is perhaps the most revered dish among the Big Easy’s culinary repertoire. Among its many variations, one of my favorites is the andouille and shrimp combination. This flavorful version has the right amount of spiciness and is not as thick as some. Although, you can use commercial chicken or clam broth, making the shrimp broth from the shell is just as easy as opening a can and adds a lot of flavors and intensity to the dish.
As for the maple syrup-glazed duck legs, there is nothing traditional about them. They are a great main course inspired by Quebec’s golden sap and Peking Duck, the Chinese delicacy. Marinating the legs in a couple of teaspoons of spiced salt and slow-roasting them makes the meat very fragrant and succulent. The sweet and sour sauce balances out the richness of the fowl. All you need are potatoes, either pan-roasted or mashed, to round out this festive meal.
Maple-Glazed Duck Legs
21/2 teaspoons coarse salt
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
1 garlic clove, minced
1 teaspoon hot pepper flakes
2 star anise, crushed
2 teaspoons dried thyme
6 duck legs
1/2 pure maple syrup
¼ cup red wine vinegar
11/2 cups red wine
Bouquet garni: 1 ½-inch slice fresh ginger, ½ teaspoon dry thyme, 5 peppercorns, 1 star anise wrapped into cheesecloth
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Combine the coarse salt, ginger, pepper flakes, star anise and thyme in a large mixing bowl. Add the duck legs and rub with the salt mixture until they are evenly coated. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 6 hours or overnight.
When ready to cook, preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Whip off the duck legs with paper towels and place them skin side up on a single layer in a baking dish. Roast for 1 hour.
Meanwhile, bring the maple syrup to a boil in a heavy saucepan and simmer for 2 minutes. Add the vinegar, stirring constantly. Lower the heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Add the red wine and bouquet garni, and simmer until the liquid is reduce to about ¾ cup. Season to taste with freshly ground pepper, if desired. Remove from the heat and set aside. Discard the bouquet garni.
Remove the legs from the oven and carefully pour off the fat from the pan. Add ½ cup of cold water, gently loosen the legs, scraping the bottom of the pan. Generously brush the maple sauce on the legs to glaze evenly and roast for another 30 minutes.
To serve, reheat the remaining sauce. Arrange the duck legs on individual dinner plates and drizzle with the warm sauce. Serve immediately.
Shrimp and Andouille Gumbo
2 lb large shrimp
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 medium onions, chopped
3 celery ribs, chopped
1 large green bell pepper, chopped
1 ½ cups canned crushed tomatoes
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon Tabasco
1 teaspoon dry thyme
1 12-ounce andouille sausage or kielbasa, cut into ¼-inch pieces
Salt to taste
2 cups fresh or frozen okra, cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices (about 10-oz)
3/4 cup thinly sliced scallion greens
Peel the shrimp and reserve the shells. Refrigerate the shrimp until ready to use.
Rinse the shells and place them in a saucepan. Cover with 10 cups of cold water and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes. Strain and reserve the broth. You should have about 8 cups of broth.
Meanwhile to make the roux, combine 3 tablespoons of the oil with the flour in a small heavy skillet set over low heat. Stir, scraping back and forth constantly, until the roux is the color of light caramel, about 30 minutes. Lower the heat, if necessary, to prevent scorching. Remove from the heat.
In a large heavy pot, heat the remaining oil over medium-low heat. Add the onions, celery, and bell pepper and cook until the vegetable are soft, about 10 minutes. Do not brown.
Scrape the roux into the pot. Stir in the crushed tomatoes, shrimp broth, bay leaves, thyme, Tabasco and andouille sausage. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Reduce the heat, and simmer, uncovered, 30 minutes. Add the okra and simmer for 20 minutes.
Just before serving, add the shrimp and scallions and cook for 4 to 5 minutes, until the shrimp are cooked. Serve immediately ladled over steamed white rice.