Monthly Archives: July 2012

slap ya mama duck gumbo recipe

When I had the opportunity to participate in an ingredient challenge, I hesitated for approximately three-tenths of a second before enthusiastically volunteering. No, that’s a lie, I didn’t hesitate at all. I don’t often watch shows like Top Chef, but I’ve always been in awe of the chefs’ abilities to receive a mystery ingredient and then, an hour later, present a mouthwatering meal that rivals anything I could ever have imagined making. This was my chance to try.

What made the challenge so exciting was the secret ingredient: Slap ya Mama Cajun seasoning. I’ve had New Orleans on the brain lately. After a few weeks of researching the best eats that the city has to offer, it was fun to come up with my own Creole creation in here in Atlanta.
My kitchen is constantly stocked with items that caught my eye during random shopping trips. It wasn’t a difficult decision to incorporate a frozen duck that I got a few weeks ago – and not only because my roommate keeps asking pointedly, “So when are we going to eat that duck?” I bought it at the Asian market and was dismayed to see, when I got home, that the package read “For Stewing.” I had been so excited at the low price that I neglected to notice it wasn’t labeled as a duckling. We can only assume that it was a grown-up duck that would require braising to become delicious.
Gumbo would be a perfect way to ensure that my duck cooked till it was fall-off-the-bone tender, but it would also be crazily delicious. With the addition of smoked Andouille sausage and shrimp and served over rice, the Slap Ya Mama gumbo became one of the best meals I’ve had in a while. Smoky, spicy, and delicious, it’s the kind of meal that you will crave. It produces the kind of leftovers that become a 2 am snack, fixed as soon as your stomach finishes processing the first round.
I start with a whole duck. Carving a duck is very similar to carving a chicken, except duck has more fat. Just use a sharp knife, feel for the joints to slice through, and you’ll be fine.
Making duck stock while the roux simmers is a great way to use the extra duck parts – wings and bones – and boost the flavor of your product. I make a light stock here and some would even use water instead. But if you’re a detail-oriented home cook, you’ll enjoy boosting the flavors of your dishes. And besides, any leftover stock can be used to make soup, or simmered down to become the base of an unbeatable sauce for another dish.
The hardest part of making gumbo is achieving the bravado required for the gumbo to darken up to the Cajun standard, which is “the color of dark chocolate” according to Emeril Lagasse. After you’ve spent an hour rendering duck fat and gently stirring it into a roux, the fear of burning is great. It’s very tempting to call the roux a roux when it’s golden brown, or even chestnut brown. All sources advise you to let it go as long as you can. 
Slap ya Mama Duck Gumbo with Andouille Sausage and Shrimp
serves many… at least 6-8

Slap Ya Mama Seasoning – hot
1 duck, whole
1/2 c flour
1 onion, diced
2 green peppers, diced
1 c okra, sliced
1 c celery, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp salt
A few sprigs fresh thyme, or a tablespoon dried
2 bay leaves
2 large links Andouille sausage, sliced (about 3/4 lb)
1/2 lb shrimp, peeled and rinsed
Using kitchen shears or a sharp knife, carve the duck into serving pieces: two wings, two leg quarters, two breasts. Trim off as much of the fat as you can. Reserve the spine and rib cage. Then, using a sharp knife, score the skin of the duck breasts.
Next, make stock. Place the duck wings and body into a stock pot. Just barely cover with water. Allow to come to the barest simmer, skimming off any scum that rises to the surface.
While the stock is cooking, in a Dutch oven on low-medium heat, render the excess fat that you removed from the duck. When the pieces do not give off any more fat, remove them. Turn up the heat to medium. Season the duck pieces with Slap Yo Mama, then brown the legs and breasts until golden. Remove the pieces from the Dutch oven and reserve on a plate.
Now we’re going to make a roux. You should have about a half-cup of golden liquid duck fat remaining in the Dutch oven. Add a half-cup of flour to this and stir constantly until the roux is dark brown. All of the Cajun cookbooks advise letting it go until it’s mahogany-colored, almost black. See how brave you can be. This will take at least thirty minutes.
When the roux is as dark as you can stand for fear it will burn, add the vegetables (green pepper, okra, celery, onion, garlic). Stir occasionally until vegetables have softened a little. In the meantime, remove the duck pieces from the stock and skim or strain until clear.
When the vegetables have softened, add about six cups of stock to the pot. Add the thyme (tied together with twine if using fresh), 6 tsp Slap Yo Mama, bay leaves, and salt. Then add sausage slices. Stir everything really well to make sure that all the roux has been absorbed into the stock. Then raise the heat to medium-high. Let everything come to a boil, then bring back down to a simmer.
Add the remaining duck pieces and allow to simmer uncovered for at least two hours.
Remove the duck pieces from the gumbo and, as soon as they are cool enough to handle, remove the skin and debone. Slice the meat into rough chunks, then add back to the pot along with the shrimp. Let simmer for another 5-10 minutes, until the shrimp are cooked through. Salt to taste.
Serve with white rice.

To see the rest of the Slap Ya Mama challengers, check out the official blog here

The Time We Went Skydiving

Me, falling from the sky

I don’t have a bucket list. The majority of things I want to do are impulsive, either done immediately or quickly forgotten. That being said, the idea of jumping out of a plane has never appealed to me. For one thing, I’m afraid of heights. Footbridges freak me out. Adding 14,000 feet to the equation is just terrifying. For another, I’m simply not that adventurous. Roller coasters are great, but I’ve never felt the need to push my luck much more than that.

That changed this past weekend. For an assortment of wonderful reasons celebrating one of our own, a group of my coworkers organized a trip to Skydive Atlanta. With the combination of a great price and peer pressure encouraging me, I made reservations for Xavier and I to join. For the three weeks leading up to the dive, I vacillated between apathetic and nervous. I felt there was no real reason to ever jump out of a plane. I wondered why I would put my life at stake. I wondered who would take care of my dog if something happened to me. These questions kept me from getting excited.

And then the designated weekend came, and we drove out to the airport and prepared to leap from a plane at 14,000 feet. To add to the adventure, it was an incredibly hot Georgia day in late June. Ground temperatures were measuring up to 108 degrees Farenheit. I was overheated and sweaty: nowhere near enthusiastic. After signing our lives away, all we could do was wait for the load schedule to be announced. This took a couple of hours. We were able to play foosball for a while during the lag time, which was a fun distraction.

Xavier and I waiting in the  hangar for the jump

Finally, training began. I’d heard horror stories of six-hour ground schools, but the session was remarkably quick and put me at ease. It took ten minutes, tops. We learned about the parachute, the harness, and how to position our bodies during the jump. Once I heard that there was a secondary parachute that activated automatically at a certain altitude, I resolved to relax and let my instructor take care of things. As my friend Marie said, “You could throw a dog out of the plane with a parachute and it would land just fine!”

Then we suited up, which was remarkably awkward. We had dressed for the heat, expecting to be provided with jumpsuits and safety gear. But the weather was so extreme that the staff decided we would jump in whatever clothing we were wearing. Skydiving in a tank top and shorts sounded like an awkward proposition. The harnesses were comfortingly complex, with tons of safety straps and buckles, but had the tendency to dig into sensitive areas. Everyone walked bow-legged to the loading zone.

Once we were in the plane, we had a moment to relax while the instructors did the work. Each instructor harnessed their jumper, having us sit in their laps for a moment to make sure we were literally attached at the hip. It was awkward, but the jokes and laughter sort of calmed everyone down. Everything still felt surreal. I was relaxed, except when I looked out the plane’s window at the patchwork of Earth below and thought “I am JUMPING out of this thing!” Then I was a little scared.

When we reached 14,000 feet, things began to move quickly. The plane’s door opened, filling the plane with a deafening rushing noise. Then a solo diver jumped. Then the camera guy. It’s a weird feeling to be on a plane that’s slowly emptying out. It’s not like watching people get out of a car and stretching out, knowing you have more space to stretch out.

One of the worst feelings of my life was watching Xavier jump first. Seeing your boyfriend disappear from the plane at 14,000 feet is creepy to say the least. At that moment, I went from cautiously relaxed to full-on-freaking-out. I tried to think about how much fun my boyfriend was having in that very moment, but was immediately distracted by my instructor jamming his hips into me from behind to scoot us up the bench. It was almost our turn to jump.

Things happened fast. We positioned ourselves in the doorway, and I saw the farms and fields and trees below us. Everything looked so far away. I felt the instructor’s taps on both shoulders, which meant it was time to lean out. At this point, I don’t remember if we leaned or if I arched my back the way I was supposed to: all I know is that I was screaming a terrified-but-thrilled obscenity as my feet left the floor of the airplane.

That first second was insane. I remember seeing the ground below us, and then looking to my right as the plane dove out of sight. And then we just fell. Warm air blasted my face and I tried to keep my hands up like a flying squirrel. The fall was exhilarating. There is no other word for it. It felt like floating and flying all at once, especially if you forgot the rapidly-approaching ground below. All of my fears melted away as I enjoyed the rush. There was no time to assess the landscape, or how much closer it was getting, and then suddenly the parachute was open. It was comforting to be scooped up by something much more powerful than myself, but it jolted a little. The fall slowed down. “That was a little rough,” my instructor yelled into the wind.

(Time for an aside. Ladies, if you’re skydiving, before you go up, please pay careful attention to where your instructor places the chest strap. If you happen to be well-endowed in that area, make sure the strap is placed comfortably. It won’t bear any of your weight when you’re attached to the parachute, so you’re going to want to make sure it’s not in a position where it will press uncomfortably into your boobies during that portion of the jump. If this happens, it will definitely distract you from the awesomeness that is skydiving. Be prepared).

My instructor let me steer the parachutes for a minute. Then he took over, confirmed that I didn’t get motion sickness, and we did some spinning. It was like riding the best roller coaster in the world, except the ground was rapidly approaching. We landed on our feet, taking just a few steps to regain equilibrium. And then we were done. The whole jump took maybe four minutes.

Would I skydive again? Yes, absolutely. Despite not having any interest in it beforehand, the experience was so amazing that I am definitely going to try it again at some point. We decided that you’d need at least two jumps to really appreciate the experience. The first one is so amazing that you can’t take much in. By the second, I think you’d be able to enjoy the surroundings and notice a little bit more. We wished we’d scheduled two jumps in the same day.

Immediately after the jump

So, that was The Time We Went Skydiving. I don’t know what we’ll do next weekend, but it probably won’t be as exciting.

All photos were stolen from my former coworker, and now friend, Matt.