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They All Ask'd for Roux

Creole Cookin' with Anthony Scanio: Emeril's Delmonico Chef Offers Gumbo Wisdom, Recipes

Emeril Delmonico's Chef de Cuisine Anthony Scanio talks about his NOLA childhood, the universality of gumbo, and gives his favorite recipes. 


It seems as if chefs are always talking about their early food memories. It’s easy for a chef to wax nostalgic about being a little tyke, pulling a chair up to the kitchen counter and cooking with his or her grandmother. Well, I’m kind of stuck.


What I recall is watching the football game with my grandfather while my grandmother cooked in the kitchen. And the aromas wafting from the kitchen? I’m certain that they were amazing, but what I remember more is the fragrance of Kool menthol cigarettes mixed with Old Spice after shave and my paw paw in his recliner yelling over the ballgame, “Evelyn, make me a cup of coffee!”


My earliest food memories tend to be no more romantic. I mostly recollect an early fondness for Gerber’s vanilla pudding, and although I still find great pleasure in simple pudding and custard desserts, I am under no illusion that my Gerber experiences inspired me to become Chef de Cuisine at Emeril’s Delmonico. Yet here I am, an heir to two wonderful culinary legacies: Emeril Lagasse’s “New New Orleans” cuisine and Delmonico’s history as a Creole dining favorite dating back to 1895.


Before I begin to write about this culinary legacy and what it means to me as a chef, and, more importantly, to you as a reader, I would like to give a little more background about my own personal legacy.


I am a New Orleans native. In fact, my earliest memory is of riding in the Elks truck parade on Carnival day 1973. I was two and half years old. I was in a high chair. My family and I were costumed as gypsies. I remember the proverbial sea of faces as the float turned onto what I imagine was Canal Street.  OK, that is pretty romantic. Nevertheless, it is a memory that I had forgotten for a long time just as I—despite living here my entire life (except for an early teen year in Pass Christian, Miss. and an early 30s year in Italy)—had forgotten my love of New Orleans. In fact, I thought of calling this piece “Confessions of a (Formerly) Lapsed New Orleanian.” That would be a pretty accurate title. But really it is more about memory— both personal and the collective memory of our city itself.


My personal story and the story of New Orleans come together in my position as chef at Delmonico. I am now part of Delmonico’s 118-years-and-counting tale. Late at night at the restaurant after all the guests and cooks and servers and managers and dishwashers have left, there are rattles and creaks one hears. Really it is just the ice machine going about its business of making and dropping ice. Nonetheless, one can imagine there might be spirits in this stately old building. Benevolent, of course. And they speak to me and through me about the food of our city, about Creole cuisine and what it means. Our team at Delmonico is attempting to take the story of our city and cuisine and combine that with Chef Emeril’s philosophy of innovation through “New New Orleans” cooking. Basically, we’re exploring: We’re exploring where Creole cuisine came from, where it’s been, and where it might go.


Meanwhile, if there are indeed spirits, they would perhaps tell me to explain a little about Creole cuisine. Maybe they’d share a couple recipes with me to pass onto our readers. Creole, criollo, kreyol. Simply French, Spanish and Creole versions of the same word. Originally, throughout the New World it merely meant a colonist or slave who was born in the colony as opposed to the Old World or Africa. In different cultures and at different times the term Creole has had racial significance. In other places and times it does not refer to race, or at least not solely. For our purposes, a Creole culture and the cuisine that springs forth from this culture is a New World blend of the Old World (or particularly French and/or Spanish), the African and the Native American. That definition encompasses the cuisines of the Caribbean, as well as parts of Central America, even down to the coast of Colombia. Naturally, this includes on own Louisiana Creole cuisine. In every region, the blend was a little or a lot different. Regardless, all these cuisines are culinary cousins as part of the Creole world.


About right now a voice—not a spirit, but my wife Jennifer standing over my shoulder—is telling me not to be so dry and academic. “All you’re saying,” she continues, “is that Creole food is like a gumbo.” “Not like,” I interject. “It is exactly a gumbo!” Yes, it may be a cliché to call our culture and cuisine a gumbo, but in this case it is completely true. It is, in short, a perfect distillation of New Orleans. It is the most iconic dish of our cuisine (even though there are as many versions as there are cooks), and is one of the few dishes that everyone cooks and eats regardless of economic status, regardless of race. In other words, rich, poor, black, white, Uptown, Downtown, Back-o-town, Da’ Parish: Everybody’s eating gumbo. If one would like to discuss New Orleans food, one must begin with gumbo.


I propose a number of rules for gumbo. First you make a roux. Except when you finish with your roux or if your gumbo doesn’t include roux. Gumbo must include okra, except when it doesn’t. Always add filé at the end, or you can add it at the very beginning of cooking as our saucier sometimes does. Never mix meat and seafood in a gumbo unless you care to do so.


There are only a few dishes in the Creole canon that everyone eats. After gumbo, another one that springs to mind is red beans and rice. Everyone eats it, and it is even ritualized. Red beans on Monday! Further, red beans and rice fits beautifully into our picture of the Creole world starting in New Orleans and moving south to the Caribbean. There seems to be a consensus among food historians (and unanimity among Delmonico spirits!) that our red beans and rice came from Saint-Dominigue, present day Haiti, possibly via eastern Cuba.


Now, I offer you a seafood and okra gumbo suggestion (that’s what recipes are after all—merely suggestions), and a red beans and rice recipe like my Mama made ‘em (kind of, anyway).


Seafood and Okra Gumbo

Recipe by Anthony Scanio, courtesy Emeril Lagasse and Emeril’s Delmonico



½ cup vegetable oil

¼ cup all-purpose flour

2 pounds fresh or frozen okra, chopped into ¼-inch pieces

3 cups small dice yellow onion

1 ½ cups small dice celery

1 ½ cups small dice green bell peppers

2 pounds medium-dice smoked ham (preferably Chisesi brand)

1 tablespoon minced garlic

2 pounds gumbo crabs

1 ounce dried shrimp

3 bay leaves

2 teaspoons dried thyme

2 pounds small gumbo shrimp (70/90 count), peeled

Salt, black pepper and cayenne, to taste

Hot boiled rice, for serving

1 bunch green onions, thinly sliced


In a large Dutch oven or stockpot, make a roux with ¼ cup of the oil and the flour. Cook it to your preference, although for this gumbo I would cook it until it is the color of a paper grocery bag. In other words, not too dark. While you’re making your roux, sauté the sliced okra for about 15 minutes in a large skillet in the remaining ¼ cup vegetable oil. This will eliminate some of the excessive stringiness associated with okra. Once your roux is the desired color, carefully add your trinity (onions, celery, bell pepper), as well as your ham. This will stop the cooking of your roux. Cook the vegetables and ham in the roux for about five minutes. Add garlic, gumbo crabs, dried shrimp, bay leaves, dried thyme, sautéed okra and 1 ½ gallons of water. Bring to simmer and cook for approximately one hour. Add the peeled shrimp and simmer another 15 minutes. Season to taste with salt, pepper and cayenne, adding a little at a time. You can always add more. Serve with boiled rice and garnish with green onions.


Red Beans and Rice

Recipe by Anthony Scanio, courtesy Emeril Lagasse and Emeril’s Delmonico



1 pound pickled pork, cut in 1 ½ inch cubes

¼ pound butter

3 cups small dice onion

1 ½ cups small dice green bell pepper

1 ½ cup small dice celery

2 tablespoon minced garlic

1 bunch flat leaf parsley, chopped

2 pounds dried red kidney beans (preferably soaked in water overnight and drained)

3 smoked ham hocks

2 bay leaves

A bouquet of fresh thyme (tied together with butcher’s twine)

1 teaspoon ground allspice (Optional, but I like the depth it adds)

Salt, pepper, and cayenne to taste

Hot boiled rice

1 bunch green onions, thinly sliced

Hot sauce of your choice to taste

Toasted French bread, optional


Caramelize pickled pork in the butter in a large Dutch oven. Add trinity (onion, peppers, celery), garlic and chopped parsley. Cook for five minutes over medium heat. Add beans, ham hocks, bay leaves, thyme, and allspice and simmer approximately two hours. Smash some of the beans against the side of your pot to produce a creamier texture. Season to taste with salt, pepper and cayenne. Serve with boiled rice, green onions, a couple dashes of your favorite hot sauce and some toasted, buttered French bread on the side. While you’re cooking, listen to some Louis Armstrong, Louie Prima, Smiley Lewis, Fats Domino, Dr. John, Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Rebirth ... Have a root beer in a bottle. Have an Abita beer or a NOLA Blonde. It’s good to remember that you love New Orleans.




Anthony Scanio, Chef de Cuisine at Emeril's Delmonico (1300 St. Charles Avenue) is a guest columnist for Nola Defender. Scanio's opinions do not reflect those of the NoDef Editorial Board.  

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