Consider Creole cooking for your Christmas get-togethers

December 18, 2013 

The Creole style of cooking has been a substantial influence in Southern kitchens for generations. It is a combination of European traditions and technique, with heavy African and Native American influences. It's hard to see today just where one begins and another ends.

In years past the Creoles were famous for multiple courses, that might seem to us today much in excess. Perhaps we still do serve more, especially on our holiday tables, than other regional cooking styles. But to feed your family and friends is to give sustenance, which without we could not survive. When someone is unwell we feed them, if a friend suffers a grievous loss, we take a covered dish to their back door. There are few gifts so precious.

So as this holiday approaches, put a freshly ironed white table cloth on the dining room table. Get the family silver out and put someone hard at polishing away all that might be tarnished. Buy the best and freshest ingredients you can find at your local marketplace. Be diligent in the kitchen and be merry about your labor, share some chores with your family, so that all will feel a part of the occasion. But most importantly, give thanks to what power you owe your good fortune, and be forever grateful for all family and friends.

OYSTER STEW

This stew is simple to make, but the outcome depends heavily on the freshness of the ingredients. Make sure the oysters just came from the

salty waters.

1/2 stick butter

2 tablespoons flour

1 cup chopped red onion

1 cup milk

1 cup cream

2 to 3 dozen oysters with the liquor reserved

Freshly ground black pepper

1 pinch cayenne pepper

1/4 cup chopped cilantro

Melt the butter in a large, heavy bottom sauté pan, add the flour and make a blond roux. Make sure not to burn it or all is lost. Add the onions and cook for 3 or 4 minutes, season aggressively with the black pepper and the pinch of cayenne. Gently whisk in the cream, milk and oyster liquor, bring to a simmer for 5-6 minutes. At this point your guests should be seated and ready to eat. This stew does not hold well and is best served just as soon as it is finished. Add the oysters and cilantro, give it a good stir and leisurely walk it to the table. The oysters should have curled and will be perfectly cooked. If you want to make it that much richer, add 2-3 tablespoons of butter just before serving.

ROASTED FISH AND SWEET POTATOES

3 to 4 large sweet potatoes

4 to 6 sprigs rosemary

Salt and black pepper

1/4 cup chopped shallot

1 strip smoky bacon, chopped

Olive oil

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Cut the potatoes into thick slices, chop the shallots roughly and then toss the potatoes, oil, shallots, rosemary, bacon and seasoning until well coated. Lightly oil a baking pan and preheat in the oven for a few minutes. Remove from the oven and add the potato mixture, toss and bake in the oven for about 45 minutes. The potatoes should be crispy and delicious when done.

1 (2- to 3-pound) red snapper

6 to 8 sprigs fresh rosemary

1 whole lemon

Red pepper flakes

Freshly ground white pepper

Salt (optional)

Olive oil

Have your fish seller gut and clean the fish. Make sure it is fresh by giving it a good sniff. It should smell only of the sea and never fishy. Turn the oven down to 350 degrees. Cut the lemon into1/4-inch slices. Wash the fish and dry it thoroughly. Season the cavity with the white and red pepper and then stuff it with the rosemary and lemons. Rub the outside of the fish with oil and season. Oil an oven-proof pan, place the fish on it and bake for 15-18 minutes. The flesh should be flaky and tender. Cover it loosely with tinfoil and let it rest for at least five minutes. Surround the fish with the roasted potatoes and serve immediately.

GREENS IN NECK BONE STOCK

1-2 pounds pork neck bones

1 onion

2 carrots

3 to 4 cloves garlic

1 bunch greens

4 to 6 cubes sweet potato or pumpkin

Black pepper

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the neck bones in an oiled roasting pan and roast for 1 hour. Remove and add the bones to a stockpot, then roughly chop the onion, garlic and carrots and add them as well; season aggressively with the black pepper. Fill the pot with water and slowly simmer for 2 hours.

Wash the greens, remove the tough stems and tear into large pieces. Add 2 cups of the stock to a large pot, add the greens, sweet potatoes or pumpkin and simmer until done, about 25 minutes. Garnish with a little Valentina hot sauce for color and a little zip.

End this meal by serving a good blue cheese, such as Blue Castello, Gorgonzola or Maytag with walnuts, dates and a little honey.

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