One of the most alluring aromas I've known in my life
is the smell of bacon frying in a skillet.
If you take in the pleasure of morning walk on a Sunday
morning in any of the hundreds of thousands of hamlets
and neighborhoods all over the world you may be caught
in this porcine perfume.
It stirs emotions of such a primal nature; it is impossible
not to, well... wallow in it.
Bacon is the salted and or smoked meat taken from
the sides and back of pig. Only about 1/3 of a pig
is butchered and sold fresh. The rest is turned into
processed products such as bacon. Although it is possible
to cure any cut of pork, the process is most frequently
applied to the fatty belly, which produces bacon and
salt pork, and to the hind legs, which produce hams.
Our forebears came up with these methods in that the
pig was so prodigal. You couldn't possibly eat it
all fresh. In the times that predate refrigeration
and freezing, curing became a way to hold on to the
meat for meals after the fresh meat was consumed.
We have not given up the love of smoked and cured
meats now that we don't actually need to do it. I
think it's part of God's plan myself!
Bacon is rarely consumed by itself It is too much
of a good thing in a sense. It's fatty, smoky meatiness
calls for some bland richness, like potatoes, pancakes
and eggs, some sweetness like orange juice, apple
sauce or maple syrup, and even some bitterness like
black coffee. Hey, sounds like breakfast is ready.
Enough walkin' around, I ready to get high on a hog.
Several years ago I was in New Orleans to deliver
a speech to a few hundred professional chefs on New
World Cuisine. In an effort to properly prepare myself
mentally and spiritually for the task I booked an
early brunch reservation with a few other chefs at
the famed "Commander's Palace".
There's nothing like brunch at "Commander's" to banish
any pre-speaking engagements butterflies to the wind.
And there's no place quite like "Commander's" to tuck
into a bowl of Gumbo. It was the Gumbo that is called
"Gumbo Ya-Ya" that was on the menu that day. "Gumbo
Ya-Ya" is a phrase that Cajuns use to describe of
when everyone is talking all at once. Which after
a glass of Champagne or two out there in the Garden
in a ravishingly beautiful sunlit day we all were.
Gumbo comes from the African word 'ngumbo' which means
okra. Now not all gumbos contain okra, but that matters
little now. Words evolve.
Gumbo is a most hospitable dish to the cook in that
allows for a very democratic opportunity to use up
a variety of foodstuffs. Often a mix of poultry, pork
sausages, shellfish, possibly rice and vegetables
are involved with gumbo.
I like to make gumbo. It's a bit of a challenge in
that involves making a roux. It is always a black
roux that I make when we serve gumbo. It is a little
like making a caramel sauce where you've got to have
perfect timing or it will burn. But in making the
roux it is easy to have the flour and hot oil spill
on you. This is referred to in the jargon as "Cajun
Napalm", in that it sinks right into your flesh with
a punishing speed.
Tell you what, we'll make the gumbo.