Sometimes when we travel, we don’t have a destination in mind, but this time we did. We went to New Orleans for two reasons: to take a cooking class that promised amazing gumbo; and to take a glimpse into the past of a great grandfather I never knew.
We understood there would be few traces of man who lived in New Orleans only for a short time, and over one hundred years ago. He arrived there in 1906 aboard the Vincenzo Florio as an Italian immigrant. The ship’s log listed his intended address as 616 Ursulines, the home of Pasqule Taromina. Lucky for us, today 616 Ursulines is the Villa Convento, a budget hotel in the French Quarter.
It seemed like the perfect place for us to stay.
The hotel’s French Quarter location was great and so was the price. The free parking was a nice long walk from the hotel. It was behind colorful doors in an equally colorful part of the city.
Wish we had arrived during the day, but we didn’t.
There was a wonderful player piano in the lobby and the desk clerk was friendly. The place looked old, but had a heavy dose of faded charm.
The elevator had a name we can’t recall. We were told it could be quite temperamental.
The sign told us she was old. Thankfully, she behaved during our stay.
At night, the ghost tour stopped in front of the hotel and the tour guide talked about things we didn’t care to hear. The tour buses slowed out front too. Seems it is rumored to be the House of the Rising Sun.
We tried to see how many pralines and beignets we could eat before the night of the cooking class, but somehow we managed to arrive hungry. Good thing too, our appetizers were waiting. The highlight of this plate was the butter bean hummus. How could two southern women, who love butter beans, not think about mashing them with a little onion, garlic, olive oil, and smoked paprika and calling them hummus?
You think if you’ve made one roux, you’ve made them all. Not true! We stirred for about 45 minutes, constantly stirred, until our arms hurt and it looked like rich chocolate. (Do not attempt this alone. You’ll be sorry. It’s a lot of work.)
Then we started adding things — one at a time. First onions and we stirred some more. Next we added celery and more stirring.
Then bell pepper and okra until it looked like it was forming a big hard chunk that would float to the top when the stock was added.
We knew it had to be time for the fish stock. It just had to be or the whole thing would ruin, but they told us to add the cleaned crabs and stir again. Really!
At last, it was the moment to add the stock (Fish Fumet made with a fish heads, fish bones, leeks, bay leaves, onions, white mushrooms, and fennel). We thought it was finally finished, but we were wrong. The gumbo needed to simmer and it needed to be garnished with a slab of fried fish. Of course, we needed to fry it, since it was a cooking class.
And it wasn’t just any old fried fish. It was crab-fat fried fish. (It’s so much better than it sounds.) This part was fairly easy. You coated the fish with crab fat mixed with a little oil, then dusted the filets in salted cornstarch, and started frying. We couldn’t find crab fat at the grocery stores in Texas, so we ordered some from Amazon.
We were given a list of our wine pairings and recipes for all of our dishes, including crepes and homemade ice cream for dessert. If you are interested in pairing wine with your gumbo, just write and we will send suggestions.
Before we share the gumbo recipe, we need to share some bad news. The cooking classes are no more. Langlois has moved on to private events, but they have a website and you can schedule one for your group. Believe me, everyone will have a wonderful time, just like we did.
And we wanted to mention that the Fish Fumet may get its name from fumes. We aren’t sure, but we are sure you can freeze it and use it later. That’s such a good idea if you are cooking for friends. We are pretty sure Yankee doesn’t make a candle that can mask the aroma of boiled fish heads.
The finished product was amazing!
So here is the gumbo recipe. Email if you are interested in any of the others. Don’t forget to follow us on Instagram www.instagram.com/goodplacesgreatthings/
1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup vegetable oil
1 1/2 cup chopped onion
1 cup chopped green bell pepper
1/2 cup chopped celery
2 Tbsp minced garlic
3 cups frozen sliced okra
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp cayenne pepper
2 tsp ground black pepper
1 Tbsp kosher salt
1 tsp thyme
2 bay leaves
4 quarts fish stock
1 lb jumbo crabs cracked in half and cleaned
1 lb medium shrimp
1 lb white fish cut in 1″ pieces
1 fresh lemon, juiced
Top with fried fish!
If you decide to give it a try, please let us know!