Todd Escudier, Rylee Mac's executive chef, demonstrated three dishes for the "Stews & Gumbos" class Thursday night: Chicken & Sausage Gumbo, Crawfish Stew and Seafood (Swamp) Gumbo.
The latter had a few surprises in the ingredient list, including frog legs and alligator meat. Alligator tastes like chewy, salty pork, and Escudier enigmatically says it also has an "amphibious flavor." These exotic meats, along with a lobster paste and filé powder (ground sassafras) can be hard to come by in Durango, but Escudier said they can be special ordered by Rylee Mac's, or substituted, or omitted.
He also is quick to encourage people to substitute ingredients for convenience, such as using canned clam juice instead of making fish stock from scratch.
"We're not cooking in a professional kitchen; you're cooking at home. Use what technology has given us. I'm not going to feel bad if I use the tricks and someone says 'you cheated.' It's not a competition."
During the Thursday class, Escudier offered a handful of tips on soups, stews and other assorted culinary issues. "Thirty years of cooking, and I'm gonna give you all my secrets tonight," he said, laughing.
Here are his tips:•For a stew, get your sauce to the right consistency before you add proteins.
•When you add cold foods to a hot soup, bring the pot back up to a boil to kill any bacteria.
•Chill onions in the refrigerator for an hour before chopping to prevent eye sting.
•Lobster paste or concentrated chicken paste will add a layer of flavor to stock.
•If you want to add color, use Kitchen Bouquet for brown and tomato paste for red.
•Make a stew or gumbo and serve it the next day, after the flavors have merged.
•Season with salt and pepper as a finishing process to balance out salty stock or meat.