Welcome to the South, y'all

By Jill Clair Gentry / Food editor people@gulfcoastnewspapers.com
Posted 7/22/13

When I love something, I want everyone else to love it, too. Telling people about good things happening in our community, inspiring stories and delicious recipes is what makes me love working for a community newspaper.

I'm especially fond of …

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Welcome to the South, y'all


When I love something, I want everyone else to love it, too. Telling people about good things happening in our community, inspiring stories and delicious recipes is what makes me love working for a community newspaper.

I'm especially fond of educating people who aren't from these parts about Southern cuisine. When I lived in Wisconsin for a few months, I made sweet tea for everyone and served jambalaya when people would visit our apartment. I was like a Southern food missionary, spreading the love of comfort cooking everywhere I went. And not to brag, but I've converted quite a few Yankees to sweet tea and fried okra in my day.

My most recent Southern food introduction was with some actual missionaries I've known for years, but never met in person. I went on a six-week mission trip in 2010 to North Africa, and the guy who coordinated my trip became a long-distance mentor and friend. He and his family were traveling around the country and made a stop in Alabama this weekend to meet my husband and me in person.

The first night, this Philadelphia family was treated to homemade gumbo for supper and and cream cheese and pepper jelly and fried okra for snacks.

The gumbo was a big hit, as was the okra — they had never eaten okra before and wondered if they could even find it in a grocery store back home.

And despite the strange looks I received when I poured bright green and red pepper jelly over a block of cream cheese, I knew they would love it. They did. I didn't tell them how much I enjoy putting pepper jelly on all kinds of other things, like fried eggs and hot dogs — that might be taking it too far, even for a lot of Southerners who love pepper jelly.

The next day, we ventured to Gulf Shores so this Philadelphia family could take a dip in the Gulf of Mexico, which was much warmer than their water at the Jersey Shore. We stayed in the water for over an hour because they just couldn't bring themselves to get out.

We brought some plastic bags to save some sand for an acquaintance who collects sand from around the world, and when we held the white Gulf sand up next to the greyish southern California sand, I just smiled.

At Tacky Jacks for lunch, I recommended shrimp and grits and fried crawfish tails, both of which, along with the duct tape graffiti décor of the restaurant, were well received.

We ended Southern Food 101 with strawberry and peach milkshakes from Burris Farm Market, and then they were on the road back to New England with bellies full of delicious food, wrinkled fingers from spending so much time in the Gulf of Mexico and a recipe for gumbo in their email inbox.

I've brought Southern food to other places before, but having out-of-towners in my territory was a first.

Watching people try the food that has always been commonplace for me was such a gift — what better way to introduce someone to the best parts of your culture than to feed them?

It made me so happy to have grown up popping fried, salty okra into my mouth (in moderation) since I was old enough to chew. The South — and even some of its culinary celebrities — may get a bad rap, but I'll forever stand up and shout from the rooftops that we have some of the tastiest food, the best beaches and of course, that wonderful Southern hospitality.

Chicken, sausage and shrimp gumbo

Servings: 6

Time: 2 hours, 30 minutes

  • 3 large boneless skinless chicken breasts
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 pound smoked sausage, cut into 1/4-inch slices
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 5 tablespoons butter
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 8 cloves garlic minced
  • 1 green bell pepper, seeded and chopped
  • 3 stalks celery, chopped
  • 1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/4 bunch flat leaf parsley, stems and leaves, coarsely chopped, plus chopped leaves for garnish
  • 4 cups hot water
  • 5 beef bouillon cubes
  • 1 14-ounce can stewed tomatoes with juice
  • 2 cups sliced okra
  • 4 green onions, sliced, white and green parts
  • 1/2 pound small shrimp, peeled, deveined and cooked
  • Season the chicken with salt and pepper. Heat the oil in a heavy bottomed Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Cook the chicken until browned on both sides and remove and shred.

Add the sausage and cook until browned, then remove. Sprinkle the flour over the oil, add 2 tablespoons of butter and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly with a whisk, until brown, about 10 minutes. Let the roux cool.

Return the Dutch oven to low heat and melt the remaining 3 tablespoons butter. Add the onion, garlic, green pepper and celery and cook for 10 minutes.

Add Worcestershire sauce, salt and pepper to taste and the 1/4 bunch parsley or cilantro. Cook, while stirring frequently, for 10 minutes.

Add 4 cups hot water and bouillon cubes, whisking constantly.

Add chicken and sausage. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat, cover, and simmer for 45 minutes. Add tomatoes and okra. Cover and simmer for 1 hour. Just before serving, add green onions, shrimp and chopped parsley.