May 26, 2010

Red Gravy, Brown Gravy…my spoon's in both

It’s good to know who you are and where you come from. But you know how Dennis Hopper always plays the crazy weirdo? Sometimes I wonder if I’ve type-cast myself.

No, not the crazy weirdo. 

I want this blog to celebrate Cajun, Creole, and Southern foods—the foods I grew up eating. But I sure don’t want to become predictable. Old. Stale. Crusty.

I often wonder by focusing so much on one genre of cooking, will I run out of recipes?

A lot of Cajun & Creole recipes are just versions of:
“First you make a roux”
Add the trinity and cook
Build your gravy
Simmer for "a while"
Serve over rice, topped with green onions and/or parsley

I honestly have been concerned about running out of recipes/ideas lately. But then I was driving down the main drag through town and saw a sign.

(Literally and metaphorically.)

The sign was in front of a local joint advertising the daily plate lunch specials. On this particular day, one particular dish caught my eye: Meatball Stew.

I hadn't eaten or made meatball stew in years…and when I say years I really do mean that. If memory serves (admittedly it doesn't always) it’s been about 15!

My mother-in-law introduced me to Meatball Stew. I never had it growing up. In New Orleans meatballs are served in “red gravy.” Red gravy, also called tomato gravy, is a Creole version of basic Sicilian tomato sauce (there is a strong Sicilian influence on NO food). Red gravy is what most people call spaghetti sauce or tomato sauce—although I’m not talking about the canned stuff.

I’ve already mentioned that there are foods common to both Cajun & Creole culture—like jambalaya, gumbo, sauce piquant, but they are treated differently.

I’ve always felt the lucky duck to have lived in both Creole and Cajun areas…to have been able to dip my spoon in both.

One big difference between the two is that Creole, or New Orleans style dishes tend to be red from the addition of tomatoes. Cajun style dishes tend to be brown, using the browning of meat for the majority of color and flavor.

It turns out that the common little meatball is also part of the old red vs. brown debate.

While I ate meatballs in red gravy growing up in NO, when I moved to Cajun country my mother in law made meatballs in brown gravy.

We ‘d been married for about a year and a half when she did the Seinfeldian “pop-in.” I don’t mind pop-ins, especially when the person doing the poppin’ brings food! Mother–in-law made a pot of meatball stew and brought a container over for us to eat that night. That was my initiation. Meatballs in a rich, dark brown, roux-based gravy. I was a little disappointed at first because my mother-in-law also makes very good meatballs in red gravy. But I was also intrigued. And I tore it up!

It was good. And it was different!

I have wanted different lately.  I knew that’s what I had to make!

I'm submitting this to Kahakai Kitchen for the weekly Souper Sundays roundup.  


Edited 05/29/10--I heard earlier today that Dennis Hopper passed away.  The Husband has been picking at me about being the Black Widow Blogger b/c it's not the first time this has happened--where I've joked about some celebrity then a day or so later they're gone.  In all honesty, I dug Dennis Hopper...crazy weirdo and all.  I was first exposed to his work not by watching his classic Easy Rider, but by watching River's Edge at an age I probably shouldn't have been watching something like that.  I found it both disturbing and intriguing.  RIP Dennis Hopper, man.

Mise en place for meatballs stew.  For the meatballs: ground beef and pork, bread crumbs  eggs, milk, salt, pepper, cayenne, green onion, oil.  For the roux: oil, flour.  For the gravy: onion, celery, green pepper (I had a poblano today), garlic, water, Worcestershire sauce, Tony's.  For serving: more green onions, cooked rice.

Mix the meatball ingredients together. Honestly, if you are satisfied with your meatball recipe, by all means use it. Today, I’m adding ground pork since the pig is big in Cajun country. Sometimes I use 1 lb of beef. Heat about 1-2 Tbsp oil in a cast iron or stainless steel pot (not non-stick).

I learned this trick from my mom—make a small patty with the meat mixture and cook it. Eat it. Don’t feel guilty. You’re just making sure your family will like it.

Form meatballs w/ rounded tablespoons of the mixture and brown on all sides in the oil.

Remove the meatballs. Yum.

Measure the drippings. Add or subtract oil so that you have ¼ c. Add it back to the pot and heat.
Sprinkle in ¼ c flour to start and begin making a roux the color of pennies. If you've been reading, you know the drill. If not, it's here.

**A lot of people complain about oily roux. If you notice pools of oil forming on the surface of your roux, sprinkle in a little more flour during the cooking process.**

Add the vegetables and cook until tender. If the mixture is too thick to stir, add a little water. 

Next, add everything but the meatballs, additional green onion, & rice. You are cooking rice, aren't you?
Bring to a boil. Add the meatballs, simmer for 45 min-1 hour. 

Serve over rice.  Sprinkle green onion over the top.

Meatball Stew
from Ms. enPlace

1/2 lb ground beef
1/2 lb ground pork
2 eggs
about 1 cup breadcrumbs
3 Tbsp milk
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1-2 green onions, finely chopped
1-2 Tbsp vegetable oil

Mix all of the ingredients above, except for the oil. Use rounded tablespoons of the meat mixture to form meatballs. Heat oil in a cast iron or stainless steel pot. Don't use non-stick. Brown the meatballs in the hot oil on all sides. Do this in batches to avoid crowding, which will steam the meatballs. Remove meatballs and set aside.

Pour the drippings into a measuring cup. Add or remove oil so that you have 1/4 c. Return to the pot.

1/4-1/2 c flour
2 medium onions, chopped
2 ribs celery, chopped
1 bell pepper, chopped
2 large cloves garlic, chopped
about 2 1/2 c warm water
1/2 tsp Tony's Creole Seasoning
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1-2 green onions, chopped (for garnish)
cooked rice

Make sure all vegetables are chopped and ready before starting the roux.

Heat the pan drippings from the meatballs over medium or medium low. Add 1/4 cup of flour. Make a roux the color of a penny by cooking and constantly stirring (scraping) the flour and oil. If pools of oil form on the top, sprinkle in additional flour.

Immediately add the chopped vegetables and sauté until tender. Add about 1/4 c of water if needed.

Add the remaining ingredients, except for the green onions and rice. Bring to a boil. Taste for seasonings and adjust as needed. Return the meatballs to the pot and simmer for 45 min-1 hour. Serve over cooked rice topped with sliced green onion.


  1. You make this look so easy and delicious. I loved learning the difference between red/brown gravy. I also loved your mom's trick of making the small patty, and eating it.

  2. Fifteen years seems like too long to hold out on something tasty like this meatball stew ;-) I bet the boy loved it. I know I would. Like you, I would like both red and brown gravy. It's all good to me! So glad to see you participating in Deb's Souper Sundays roundup! I know that Deb will love your post! Recipe roundups are lots of fun.
    I'm gonna buy a cantaloupe and try those popsicles this weekend.

  3. Your stew looks delicious--I love anything with meatballs and of course gravy. ;-) So nice to have you at Souper Sundays this week. Hope to see you back soon.



  4. That meatball stew looks awesome! I've never even heard of this dish before. Seeing as how I've had only meager amounts of Cajun/Creole cuisine, you'll never become predictable to me!

  5. Bigcas7/03/2012

    Mai's! I'm going a cook dat yah!

  6. This looks so delicious! I definitely want to try it!! I just have to find Creole seasoning...pinning it!


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