Being a Yank living in Oz I can count on getting a little homesick a couple times a year: Thanksgiving and 4th of July. These times, the sharing of food is at its peak, and indulging with good friends and family are some of the best memories of our lives. 4th of July is here once again, and even though it’s celebrating ‘American Independence Day’ we do this as a feast of some of the best regional foods America can offer up. Whether you’re having gumbo in New Orleans or BBQ in Texas, it’s a day to celebrate with your favourite local specialty.
Being a major summer holiday, it’s certainly something to cheer about: corn is in season, tomatoes are at their peak and watermelon is juicy, bright red and ‘good eating’. I remember the ‘clambakes’ my family used to have. I would watch my father eat dozens and dozens of ‘cherry stone clams’ and drink beer. Later in life I had my own favourites, like steamed Maryland crabs by the basket, doused with Old Bay seasoning, with sides of steamed sweet white corn and creamy coleslaw. We would spread newspaper over the table, put bibs on, pile the crabs in the middle and, with little mallets we’d crack open the crabs and enjoy the feast. Yum Yum Yum!
As in our hands-on cooking team building activities, the 4th of July is about bringing people together over food. Aside from the food, it’s the engagement of friends or colleagues that is the real joy in such celebrations. It’s the ‘All American’ holiday, so let’s celebrate and share some delicious and memorable American regional foods. Here is one of my favourites featured recently in our American Regional cooking class. I hope you’ll really enjoy it.
3 tbsp olive oil
2 stalks celery, finely chopped
2 carrots, finely diced
1 large onion, brown, finely diced
5 okra, chopped
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
8 tbsp butter, margarine or low fat butter, unsalted
½ cup flour
2 litres prawn or chicken stock
500 gm hot sausage cut into ¼ cm pieces
12 prawns, deveined and shelled
Herb & Spice Mix
2 bay leaves
1 tsp salt
½ tsp black pepper
¼ tsp cayenne
2 tsp fresh thyme leaves, minced
1 tsp oregano leaves, minced
2 tbsp basil leaves, minced
- Combine the Herb & Spice Mix with the celery, carrots, onion and garlic and set aside. Heat the olive oil in a medium skillet and cook the spiced vegetables, stirring until soft.
- Melt the butter over medium heat in a large heavy pot. Gradually add the flour a little at a time stirring constantly, about 5-8 minutes, stirring until the roux caramelises. The roux will get dark, but be sure you don’t burn it.
- Slowly add the spiced vegetables a little at a time, so they caramelise as they hit the hot roux. Cook for about 3-4 minutes.
- Bring the stock to a boil in a saucepan. Whisk in the roux mixture and bring back to boil stirring constantly. Reduce to a simmer, and then add the hot sausage. Continue simmering for 20 minutes. Gumbo should be thick and stew-like. Add a bit more stock to thin; add a bit more flour to thicken.
- Add the clams, prawns, scallops and simmer covered till clams open, about 3 minutes.
- Serve over boiled rice.