We met Ken Young when he became pastor of Stonegate Community Church. We hit it off, and Abby and I became friends with Ken and his wife, Carrie. Early in Ken’s tenure at Stonegate, I invited him to lunch a couple of times and took him to some of my favorite restaurants, a couple of which no longer exist. At one of our lunches Ken remarked on how well I’d done in choosing the locations for our outings. I replied that, as a member of his congregation, I was confident that I would disappoint him in many ways, but that food would not be one of them.
We left Stonegate when we moved to Arkansas in 2000, but remained friends with Ken and Carrie, and we quickly reconnected when we moved back to Waco in 2005. And of course, we’re friends on Facebook. Over the years Ken often posts photos of what he’s cooked, and it usually involves wild game or a dish we haven’t made very often, such as chicken gumbo.
On December 23, Ken – who is now a tenured professor of educational leadership at Lamar University; Carrie teaches kindergarten at Woodway Elementary School – posted a picture of a big ol’ pot of gumbo simmering on the stovetop, and said, “Because gumbo is always better after it rests … Christmas Eve gumbo cookin’ today!” Many folks responded to the post, asking what time they needed to be at the Young household for dinner. I posted simply, “I love you Ken Young!”
Ken was then courteous enough to offer a lesson in gumbo-cooking, and I was smart enough to take him up on the offer. So on a recent afternoon,
Ken and his father-in-law, Butch Bertin, came to our house, and we got to work. (Actually, Ken and Butch did most of the work. I took notes and made sure the Pandora channel — tuned to the music of the late New Orleans singer Allen Toussaint — was loud enough.)
Gumbo, back in the day, was made from whatever was at hand, Ken explained. If there was some leftover bacon grease from breakfast, use that in the roux. If there was a chicken in the yard, or maybe, you know, in the neighbor’s yard, make a chicken gumbo. Throw in some sausage if it’s available.
Ken learned to make gumbo from Butch before he married Carrie.
“I let him cook for me,” Ken said. “He wooed me first and then introduced me to his daughter.”
Butch laughed at this story, but didn’t disagree. The two men work
well together in the kitchen.
Butch and his wife, Christine, visited the newlyweds during their first winter together in Bryan, when it was cold and “Carrie was missing her momma and daddy’s cooking,” Ken said. “Butch brought gumbo pots and a spoon. We didn’t have anything. Our meals [usually] consisted of a can of Ranch Style Beans with sausage over rice.”
I’m not sure if I’ve ever eaten that dish, but I did have a couple of bowls of Ken’s chicken gumbo over rice (and a couple more the next day, and, like Ken said, it tasted even better). There was a nice depth of flavor in the broth, the big pieces of chicken were tender, and maybe some of us washed down our gumbo with cold Shiner Bock. Potato salad and fresh bread (or saltine crackers, for some reason) are often served alongside the gumbo, Ken said.
- 5 pounds chicken quarters
- Vegetable oil, butter or bacon grease but not olive oil (amounts below)
- 2 onions: one diced into small pieces, the other into large pieces
- Small can whole peeled tomatoes
- Small bag frozen okra
- Salt and pepper
- Cooked white rice
Cut chicken quarters into halves by separating the leg from the thigh. Put thighs in a pot and cover with water; add a tablespoon of salt. Boil chicken for approximately 30 minutes, or until you begin to see the skin drawing up from the bone. Turn off heat and remove chicken from the water to cool; set stock aside for use in the gumbo.
While chicken is cooling, heat a tablespoon of vegetable oil in a skillet. Add half of a diced onion and the entire contents of the canned tomatoes. Using the back of a wooden spoon, smash tomatoes to break them down. Add frozen okra. Cook, stirring occasionally, and removing the end pieces of the okra as you see them. As the liquid evaporates, add water until the okra gets cooked down, “until it’s mush,” Butch Bertin said. Remove from heat and set aside.
By this time the chicken should be cool enough to remove the skin and pull the meat from the bone. Set meat aside.
To make the roux, in another large pot, heat about 8 tablespoons oil (or whatever fat you’re using) over medium high heat; add flour, 1 tablespoon at a time, until you have a thick paste. Stir mixture constantly as it heats so that it does not burn. The goal is to cook it “until it’s the color of fudge,” Butch said. Once it’s the proper color, add the large pieces of diced onion to the roux and stir. Carefully pour in a cup or so of the chicken stock (the water in which the chicken cooked) and deglaze the pot. After thoroughly deglazing, add more chicken stock to the mixture, followed by chicken meat and then the okra mixture.
Once the ingredients are in the pot, add more stock and/or water until the pot is full. Add salt and pepper to taste. Bring mixture to a boil, then lower heat and simmer for at least an hour.
Serve over cooked white rice. Makes 10-12 large servings.
Warm Bacon Potato Salad
- 1/2 cup white wine vinegar
- 1 tablespoon coarse-grained mustard
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 2 1/2 pounds red potatoes, diced into 1-inch cubes
- 6 bacon slices, chopped
- 1 medium-sized red onion, diced
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 2 cloves garlic, chopped
- 1/4 cup freshly chopped dill leaves, plus more for garnish
To make the vinaigrette, in a small bowl, mix vinegar, mustard and sugar; set aside.
To make the potato salad, add potatoes to a pot of salted cold water. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce heat to a simmer and cook for 20 minutes, until potatoes are tender. Drain and place in a large bowl. Cover potatoes with foil to keep warm, if necessary.
Add bacon to a large saute pan and cook over medium heat until crisp. Remove to a paper towel-lined sheet tray and reserve.
Add onion, a few grinds of black pepper and garlic to bacon grease; saute until tender, for about 3 minutes. Add vinaigrette and cook until reduced and thickened, for about 2-3 minutes. Add potatoes, dill and bacon to the pan and toss to coat with dressing. Allow to cook
for 3 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Transfer potato salad to a serving platter and sprinkle with chopped fresh dill. Makes about 4 servings.
- 3 cups lukewarm water
- 1 1/2 tablespoons granulated yeast (2 packets)
- 1 1/2 tablespoons kosher salt
- 6 1/2 cups unsifted unbleached all-purpose white flour
Use water that’s just slightly warmer than body temperature, about 100 degrees F. In a 5-quart bowl, add yeast and salt to the water (or use a resealable plastic food container or the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook).
Mix in flour. Kneading is unnecessary. If you’re not using a stand mixer and mixing in the flour becomes difficult with a spoon or spatula, wet your hands and press the mixture together, but don’t knead it. The dough will be wet and loose enough to conform to the shape of the container.
Cover the container with a lid, but not airtight. Allow the mixture to rise at room temperature until it begins to collapse, for about 2 hours. You can begin to use the dough at this point, or you can refrigerate it overnight. The dough is easier to form into a loaf if it’s refrigerated first.
When you’re ready to make the bread, cut off a 1-pound piece of dough (about the size of a grapefruit). Don’t dust the surface of the dough with flour. Use wet hands to help prevent sticking. Shape dough into a ball and then flatten the ball into a long oval about 3/4-inch thick.
About 20 minutes before baking the bread, heat the oven to 450 F and place an empty pan on a rack in the oven that won’t interfere with the rising bread.
Spray another sheet pan or cookie sheet with nonstick spray. Place bread on the pan and allow to rest for 20
minutes. Dust the top of the loaf with flour. After resting, place the pan in the oven and throw some ice cubes onto the empty pan to create steam. Quickly close the oven door. Bake for about 20 minutes, or until bread is a deep brown.
Allow to cool on a rack before slicing. One loaf makes about 8 servings.
Orange Date Nut Cake
- 3 cups flour, divided
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 3/4 cup butter, softened
- 2 cups sugar
- 3 eggs
- 1 cup buttermilk
- 8 ounces dates, chopped
- 1 cup pecan pieces
- Zest of 1 orange
- Zest of 1 orange
- 1 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup orange juice
Heat oven to 350 F. In a medium mixing bowl, sift 2 cups flour with salt and baking soda; set aside.
In a large mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar for 5 minutes or until smooth and sugar has dissolved. Add eggs, 1 at a time. Blend in dry ingredients alternately with buttermilk until combined.
In a small mixing bowl, combine remaining 1 cup flour, dates, pecans and zest. Blend well and add to cake mixture.
Pour into a greased Bundt pan and bake for 1 hour or until done. Remove and allow to cool for a few minutes; invert onto a platter.
To make the glaze, in a small mixing bowl, combine all glaze ingredients and stir until sugar is dissolved. Carefully pour half the glaze over warm cake. The cake will absorb the glaze. Allow to cool and gently turn cake over and drizzle with remaining glaze. Makes 12 servings.