After the rush and food extravaganza of Thanksgiving, Christmas and the New Year, there is always a quiet little lull in my kitchen. I tend then to simple soups, braises and stews. I work on my baking skills a little, and delve into the freezer for some of my put-up summer produce. Then I realize Mardi Gras is coming, and I get back to full throttle, cooking up favorite Cajun and Creole dishes full of verve and spice. Red Beans and Rice, Shrimp Creole, Grillades and Grits – I can’t get enough. I track down tasso ham from a local butcher and stock up on andouille sausage and make sure I have the trinity in my fridge – celery, onions and green bell peppers. This kind of food is perfect for serving to family and friends, or keeps me contentedly well fed.
Tasso gravy is a versatile, mutable classic with all sort of creative uses. Creamy with a little spice (you can up it with hot sauce or more creole seasoning), it’s a perfect foil for simple grits or rice. I particularly like it over plain rice, where the rich gravy really shines, but cheese grits make a perfect bed for the gravy for an extra layer of flavor. Add some shrimp or crawfish tail meat or red beans, or spoon it over biscuits or pork chops. Whip up some Café Brulot Brownies or King Cake Bars for a real Mardi Gras celebrations.
- Tasso Gravy and How to Use It
- 1 cup finely diced onion
- ½ cup finely diced celery
- ½ cup finely diced green bell pepper
- ½ cup vegetable oil
- ½ cup all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon creole seasoning
- 4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
- 8 ounces tasso ham, diced
- 6 ounces andouille sausage, cut into half and thin into thin half moons
- Mix the diced vegetable together in a bowl and keep them close to the stove. Now we are going to make a roux. In a large (4 -5 quart) heavy pan (I like enameled cast iron), heat the oil over medium high heat. Add the flour and stir until smooth and lump-free. Cook the roux, stirring frequently, until the color begins to darken. As it deepens, stir more frequently, then constantly, scraping the bottom and sides of the pan. As it darkens, it can burn quickly so pay attention. I use a heatproof spatula or a wooden spoon for my roux, because it is very hot. When the roux has turned a deep brown, between the color of sweet tea and a good bourbon, after about 15 minutes, add the chopped onion, celery and bell pepper and stir well. The roux will seize up and cling to the vegetables, that’s what you want. Cook until the vegetables are soft, about 5 minutes. Add the creole seasoning and stir well. Now slowly pour in 2 cups of the chicken broth, stirring constantly, until the gravy is thick. Stir in the tasso, then the andouille until combined, then pour in the remaining broth, stirring constantly. Bring the gravy to a bubble and cook, stirring frequently, until thickened and rich.
- Tasso Gravy is delicious served over grits or white rice. Try cheese grits made with smoked gouda or smoked cheddar.
- It’s also great over biscuits for a Louisiana twist to biscuits and gravy. Add a poached egg on top for a jazzy benedict.
- Throw in a pound of peeled, deveined shrimp into the hot gravy and cook just until the shrimp are pink, curled and cooked through. Spoon over grits or cheese grits.
- Rinse, drain and pat dry some crawfish tail meat and cook until heated through.
- For a full pork experience, spoon the gravy over cooked thick pork chops, with mashed potatoes on the side.
- Add cooked red beans (or canned, rinsed and drained) and heat through. Serve over rice for an interesting twist to red beans and rice.