Soul Food 101
“First you make a roux”…the basic beginning of most cajun cooking: chicken and seafood gumbos, sauce piquantes, redfish courtbouillons. The roux, a simple mixture of white flour and oil heated till darkened is essential. The oil and flour, under a steady heat, stirred slowly with constant loving attention, gradually blend and congeal. Patience and care are essential. Too much heat and the flour burns. Too little, it remains too white, too innocent and tasting only of flour, incapable of carrying the creative flavors that define each finished meal. Stirred too quickly, the roux flies out of the pot and burns the chef. That’s the meaning of the phrase, Cajun napalm. Then you add vegetables grown in the black earth of every Cajun garden, onions, bell peppers, perhaps celery. Often called the Cajun trinity. You stir till the sweetness of the greens infuse the roux. Then you add water and dissolve the roux, further transforming the ingredients as they progress on a journey forward to become a uniquely flavored masterpiece. Then you add the other ingredients. Old hens and roosters that take more time to tenderize. You might add special sausages, seafood, meats, wild game or the tomatoes if your palate wants to savor a sauce picquante or a courtbouillion. Whatever you choose. Then you season, serve and savor your creation.
-by Francois L. Meaux, Ph. D.
My mother was a culinary alchemist, capable of transforming the simplest of ingredients into a feast for the palates of her friends and family. She even published her own cookbook. Slowly, patiently, carefully, she took the basic ingredients from nature and transformed them into tasty meals, each savored amid accolades of “talk about good!.” Meals that nourished both body and soul and left us with golden memories of food that Galatoire’s and Commander’s Palace would have served at top dollar.
Savory cooking, like anything worthwhile, requires patient, careful and subtle attention to ingredients and processes. My mother learned this art after many years of helping her mother, sometimes succeeding, often burning her roux and being burned by it. Only after years of patient practice, only then, could she consistently compose tasty meals; food with depth of scent and flavor that it could still time and demand your total attention in the moment. Food worthy of being savored.
Savor means to taste or smell appreciatively, to relish or enjoy. Savor, by way of French, comes from the Latin word sapere, meaning to taste, to be wise, or to know. Sapere informs the Latin word for wisdom, Sapientia, as well as the distinctive quality of our species, homo sapiens. To be a wise human one needs the practice of learning to savor, to still time, and experience the composition of the feast that is our life and our world.
by Francois L. Meaux, Ph. D.