Season 17, Episode 11 Recap: Taking on the Best of the Big Easy

Because you can’t talk New Orleans cuisine without talking gumbo and red beans and rice.

Published Mar. 20, 2017.

Julia Collin Davison and Bridget Lancaster begin the episode talking about the diverse culinary history of New Orleans. Of course, you can’t talk New Orleans culinary history without talking gumbo and red beans and rice. So Julia gets to work on a recipe for Chicken and Sausage Gumbo that would satisfy any Cajun cook. Later, Jack Bishop explains the difference between paprika and smoked paprika, and then Erin McMurrer cooks up a pot of red beans and rice for herself and Bridget.

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"Big Easy Favorites"

Host Bridget Lancaster shows host Julia Collin Davison the steps to making the ultimate Chicken and Sausage Gumbo. Then, tasting expert Jack Bishop challenges Julia to a tasting of smoked paprika. Finally, test cook Erin McMurrer reveals the secrets to making the best Red Beans and Rice.  
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Five Takeaways from the Episode

1. With Gumbo, It’s All About the Roux: There are so many types of roux, but the general rule of thumb is: the lighter the roux, the more it’s used for thickening; the darker the roux, the more it’s used for flavoring. The longer you cook a roux, the darker it gets; the darker a roux gets, the deeper and more rich its flavor becomes. Don’t let a roux cook for too long though—you’ll end up with something that tastes like burnt coffee. Yuck.

2. For a Foolproof Roux, Use Your Oven: Forget the stovetop and constant stirring. Instead, use a very hot oven. The all-around heat will ensure your flour toasts evenly (and does not burn). When it’s done, the flour will take on the color of cinnamon or dark brown sugar.

3. Smoked Paprika is the Darling of the Spice Aisle: We love the stuff, and we wondered if brand really mattered all that much. Conclusion: it sure does! Traditional paprika was dried outdoors, in the sun (though now it’s done in factories, mostly). Smoked paprika is dried over oak wood fire for up to 15 days (hence its smoky profile). So why does brand matter? Good smoked paprika will be quite smoky (duh), but it will also deliver some fruity notes, while less good smoked paprika will be almost indistinguishable from plain old paprika. Pro tip: buy the stuff that’s coming from Spain. They do it best.

4. The Heart and Soul of New Orleans Cooking Is Red Beans and Rice: Few dishes (muffuletta, beignets, the aforementioned gumbo) are as iconically Big Easy as red beans and rice. To get it right, you need to start with the right ingredient list. That list starts with the beans. Camellia brand kidney beans are traditional, and so we thought we could simply use whatever kidney beans we could find in their absence. However, we found that kidney bean skins were too chewy, and their flesh was too mealy. Instead, we used small red beans (or, Mexican beans). Their skins are tender, and their flesh is creamy. Another thing to consider: meat. Traditional red beans and rice recipes call for tasso—spicy, cured pork belly—but because tasso is tough to find, we mimicked its flavor with smoky bacon. (It’s okay to cheat a little.)

5. Brine Your Beans!: Brining your beans softens their skins and ensures that as they cook, they don’t crack open. Brining also seasons the beans throughout. The process takes 8 to 24 hours, but it’s worth it. Just plan ahead before making red beans and rice!

Quote of the Week: “[Motioning to a bowl containing a light-colored roux] This is something you might use for something like a Thanksgiving gravy. [It’s] often called a blonde roux. It’s our favorite roux.” —Bridget Lancaster pointing out her and co-host (and fellow blonde) Julia Collin Davison’s favorite type of roux

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