Although I am a culinary instructor, I am also a life long learner who loves continuing my culinary education. With this in mind and knowing I have a soft spot for anything New Orleans, my sweet husband gave me a cooking class for my birthday. The class was taught by Chef David Heide in his restaurant, Liliana’s, located in Fitchburg, WI.
Specializing in New Orleans dishes, we have dined here several times but this time we got to cook what we ate under chef Dave’s capable and entertaining guidance. I was able to invite six friends making a class of eight with me and my husband. My hope was to learn technique for making the dark chocolate roux that serves as the base of any good gumbo and I was not disappointed. We made sausage gumbo with an added bonus of a pot of jambalaya fresco, one of the chefs favorites.
Interesting and different from my classes, no written recipes were dispensed. The chef emphasized that these dishes rely more on technique than recipes as they were originally born out of whatever was available that season or in a particular household depending on economic status. The culmination of cultures; French, Spanish, Italian, Native American and African melded into a regional style of cuisine we now associate refer to as New Orleans style.
Many food preparations from this area start with the “holy trinity.” A flavor base similar to the French mirepoix, Spanish sofrito, or Italian soffrito. The trinity referred to here is a combination of celery, onions and bell pepper, traditionally green but like myself, Dave also used some red for sweetness and color. Deserving mention, he also prefers using red onion or Vidalia also for their sweet flavor.
Let’s take a minute to discuss the hardest part of making gumbo, the development of the roux. Simply a mixture of flour and fat, it is slowly cooked until it reaches the color you desire. There are three classic roux–white, blond, and brown. Both flavor and color are determined by the length of time the mixture is cooked. What makes gumbo tricky is cooking until the roux is the color of chocolate sauce, or a mahogany brown, stirring constantly to prevent burning. This dark nutty flavor base is indispensable for this most famous of Creole stews. In our class, we all took turns stirring and scraping the sides of the pan until it was just perfect! Trust me, this is a labor of love. For more on roux and Louisiana cooking check out Acadiana Table.
Another o f Creole cookery’s hallmarks, jambalaya was a bit easier. This dish also varies widely from cook to cook but usually combines cooked rice with a variety of ingredients including tomatoes, onion, green peppers, and almost any kind of meat, poultry or shellfish. It is thought that the name derives from the French jambon, meaning “ham,” the main ingredient in many of the first jambalayas. In our class the ham was replaced by high quality chunks of bacon (WI made Neuske’s). In addition, we added Andouille sausage, giving it a nice kick.
When it was all made, we got to dine on the fruits of our labor followed by Dave’s version of Banana’s Foster, another New Orleans classic. His advice? Make sure you cook the fruit until it is soft as most cooks take it off too early for they fear it becoming mushy. Apparently good advice as this dessert was delicious.
With full bellies, we said farewell carrying the New Orleans spirit in our hearts and thanking Chef Dave for spreading the love, one dish at a time. If you have never visited this area of our fine country I say it is a must for your bucket list. The cuisine is as unique as the people and the music and will leave you with a hunger for the love that goes into each dish and every piece of Dixie land. I can’t wait to go back. Sending my love of Bayou country to your house. Jeanne