This week’s home cook grew up in the heart of Cajun country, so cooking that way comes naturally to him.
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Name: Clifton Bergeron
Residence: Moncks Corner
Occupation: Curriculum developer
Family: One son living in Greenville with his wife and daughter.
Q. We hear that you are a real Cajun cook. What is your family background? Did that have anything to do with it?
A. Being brought up on the bayous of South Louisiana and the oldest brother of six children, we were all taught to be self-sufficient and to cook for our siblings and family. We were taught to cook all the traditional Cajun meals and to keep an open mind concerning other cultures and their type of cooking. Growing up in New Orleans enabled me to taste so many different flavors and textures that has built my taste in food.
We were taught that there is always a reason to hold a party, and family events revolve around food and drink. When we get together at family gatherings, we are each assigned a different dish to bring ... jambalaya, dirty rice, Cajun potato salad and seafood dishes that range from stews to gumbos.
Q. Who was most influential person in your life in regards to cooking?
A. My dad. He was a proud man that was brought up living on the bayous of south Louisiana. He taught my sisters and brothers simple rules to keep in our life and how to make sure that we knew what we were doing in the kitchen. ... Most of the dishes that my dad taught us were word of mouth.
Q. What is your favorite Cajun specialty?
A. My favorite is, of course, anything with seafood in it. Nature surely has blessed the Cajun people in allowing them to be brought up in a world where food is just a net, a hook or a shot away. I guess my favorite is my gumbo. I rarely give out the recipe because it was passed down from my father and his family.
Q. You have lived here less than two years. What Lowcountry dishes or culinary traditions were new to you and what have you liked best?
A. I was able to finally get a taste of shrimp and grits. We don’t have that in New Orleans. We have grits, but normally they are used during breakfast only. I enjoy the slightly spicy sauce on this dish with the flavor of shrimp. It is just great.
When I did explain to my family in New Orleans that I had eaten grits with shrimp in it, they could not believe the concept. I may be bringing that back to New Orleans on my next trip down for Mardi Gras.
Q. You play the trombone in local groups. What do playing the trombone and cooking have in common?
A. The best thing that these two have in common is they both allow me to relax. I love to cook — takes me back to my time in New Orleans and my family. I could cook all day long. The trombone is the same thing. It allows me to relax, to only think about the music and how I can make it better and bring joy to those who listen.
Q. Your idea of a great party and the food involved is?
A. It would be the traditional family gatherings and reunions. The main thing about Cajun cooking is that it can be done in one pot. Brings a new meaning to potluck, but all in all, it should be simple with the flavoring to the taste of the cook. Complex sauces and overly fancy preparations have no place in the basic Cajun meal preparation.
Most people think that Cajun food must be spicy. Well, to a point, that is true. The correct amount of spice should not be tasted until the third bite. This is when the food is seasoned perfectly. If the heat of the spice is tasted too soon, you will not be able to tolerate it for the entire dish. If it is tasted too late, then you will find the meal dull and boring, and man will they let you know about it.
A favorite recipe:
My gumbo. The secret to a fantastic gumbo is the roux. This is the oil and flour mix that is browned to form your base for the dish. This mixture has been nicknamed “Cajun Napalm,” so a long, flat wooden spoon or spatula is needed.
1 cup oil
1 cup flour
2 bottles of beer (optional)
2 onions, chopped fine
1 large bell pepper, chopped fine
4 ribs of celery, chopped fine
2 quarts of cold water
3 cups of okra, sliced medium
2 pounds of shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 pound of crab meat
1 pint of oysters
Tony Chachere’s Creole Seasoning or any good dry Creole/Cajun seasoning
In a large cast-iron pot or large stainless steel pot, heat the oil on medium heat so that when you drop in a pinch of flour, it starts to cook. Add the flour to the oil and open a bottle of beer. Stir the mixture, making sure that you run the spoon across the bottom of the pot so that the flour will not burn. Continue to drink the beer while stirring. Open the second bottle, and stir. The mixture will be starting to brown now. You want its chocolate color between dark and milk chocolate. This should happen after you finish the second beer.
Once the mixture reaches the correct color, add the onions, bell pepper and celery to the mixture. Turn off the heat and allow the mixture to cook the vegetables until the onions are translucent. Turn on the heat to low-medium. Add water and okra. Allow this to cook. This will turn into a soupy mixture. It should be watery once it comes to a boil. Cook for about an hour.
Add in the seafood, let gumbo come to a boil, and cook for another 15 minutes. Season the gumbo with the Creole/Cajun seasoning to taste.
Remember not to add too much, especially if you are using Tony Chachere’s. It is potent. It is better to have it slightly “bland” than to over-season. Enjoy.