Laissez Les Bon Temps Rouler
Today is Fat Tuesday...AKA Mardi Gras .... so I though you chaps might like my Gumbo Recipe and cooking tips. It makes about a dozen hearty servings. My wife was born in New Orleans and raised in Gulf Port, so Gumbo has to be right in our house. It took a long time to convince her a Yankee could actually cook edible gumbo
What you need to have on hand:
A 10-12 quart pot, preferably a heavy bottom one. A large Dutch oven is best, but a heavy aluminum/stainless stock pot works well. Slotted spoon, a wire whisk, sharp knives, a big ladle, a good size cutting board, lots of room, a stack of disposable soup bowls ( for cooking), an uninterrupted morning/afternoon in the kitchen, a half-bottle of good wine or two Guinness.
Extras that don't hurt to have on hand- 5-6 good Friends in the living room, a nice oak fire in the fireplace, snow outside.
As you slice/dice/chop the ingredients, place them in the plastic soup bowls for easy adding at the right time. When cooking a complicated meal or recipe, I put all my prepped items in bowls and disposable cups, including the measured spices and such. Arrange those in the order of addition/use. It makes it nearly impossible to leave out an ingredient or add one at the wrong time. Toss the bowls and cups when done to eliminate a lot of dish washing.
Prep safety - Cut all vegetables first, then the chicken, ...then wash the board, knives, and hands.
Gumbo is a classic New Orleans/Cajun soup. It has no exact recipe, as the ingredients are mainly based on what you like and what you have.
The name "Gumbo" is from the African word for okra. Many recipes use okra, but it is left out of most nowadays. If you like okra, by all means add it. It will make the gumbo thicker. It won't be slimy by the time the soup is done.The best way to prepare the okra is to slice it into 1/2" rounds and lightly brown it in some bacon fat. Set aside until the roux is done.
"File' gumbo" is when you use file' powder in the final stage. File' is powdered dried sassafras leaves, and adds a wonderful earthy flavor ( it smells somewhat like tea). NEVER, boil the soup after adding the file'. Some people ( my wife) like to have it on the table and sprinkle it across the soup just before eating it. This is a good way to allow each person to decide how much file' they want. A small bowl filled with the file' and a salt spoon is a nice way to do that.
Gumbo is classically a seafood dish. That said, any meat ( even ducks, geese, and venison) could be used. My taste is a blend of fat producing meats and seafood:
1 pound peeled and deveined shrimp ( tails off)
1 pound crab meat ( claw meat is best, IMHO, but any crab meat will be fine)
1 pint oysters - drained ( or more if you like)
[other choices are scallops, clams, firm fish, crawfish tails, lobster, snails, etc.]
1 pound Andouille sausage ( or use regular pork sausage, like Italian sausage. If you like the "kick" use hot Italian Sausage, if not, use the mild.)
1 pound smoked beef sausage ( beef brats, beef kielbasa, little smokies, etc.)
1 pound chicken breast cubed
The base is a rich stock of the Cajun "trinity" - Onion, celery, green bell pepper.
The ingredients for the base are:
5-6 quarts chicken stock ( I use one or two quarts of the "Cajun" stock and the rest regular chicken stock. It adds flavor and just a tad of "kick")
1 large onion, minced
1 large green bell pepper, minced
3-4 stalks of celery, thinly sliced or minced
1 clove garlic finely minced ( optional)
1 pound sliced and browned okra ( optional)
The roux is what thickens and flavors a soup/sauce. The longer you cook the roux, the darker and more earthy it gets. Gumbo requires a dark roux.
A roux is just fat and flour - One cup oil/fat and one cup regular flour ( I like good olive oil, but regular vegi oil, butter, duck fat, or lard will work) If you like your gumbo a bit thicker, use 1&1/2 cups each. If you have a favorite roux making method ( oven roux, or skillet roux) you are familiar with, use it. The one given below is almost fool-proof, though.
The "others things"
1 bunch green onion sliced thin
2-3 tsp. thyme ( or 2 tsp. of your favorite "herb blend")
2-4 bay leaves
salt and pepper to taste. ( I rarely add any of these. It is best to let the people add these seasonings at the table)
Cooked Rice. Rice is not a necessity, but makes the gumbo go farther. Judy and I eat the gumbo as is most of the time. For a fancy gumbo diner, use a mix of wild and white rice.
Hot pepper sauce, if that is your thing. But frankly, a good gumbo needs nothing "spicy" added. It would just cover the delicate and wonderful flavors you spent an hour or so developing. I suggest you serve hot sauce on the table, not cooked in the gumbo. Try the gumbo before shaking hot sauce in it.
1) Clear the kitchen of guests and anything else in the way. Pour a glass of wine or open a Guinness. Hit the privy/loo/head/john/bath/etc. - because the next hour you will be standing at the stove.
2) Put the pot on the stove, and brown the pork sausage. Remove the pork, and brown the beef sausage. Remove the beef and brown the chicken. Remove the chicken. Slice the sausages into 1/2" pieces. Place all the browned meats in disposable soup bowls and set aside.
3) Add the oil for the roux to the fat and "brown bits" in the pan. Heat over medium heat until it is fairly hot. It should "shimmer", but not smoke. Add the flour gradually while stirring with the whisk. Keep whisking and cook the roux for about 15 minutes. It is imperative that you stir the roux continuously, or it will burn
. If that happens, clean the pot and start over with fresh oil/flour. By now, it should be a medium brown ( well past tan, which is called a "blond" roux). This medium brown color is a "brown" roux ( often called a chocolate roux). If it is darkening too fast, turn down the heat. You can cook a roux too fast, but not too slow. Some chefs consider a roux that takes less than an hour "rushed" (I find that a bit excessive, but their point is well understood). Add the onion and continue stirring. Cook the roux and onion about 5 minutes more until it is dark brown. Add the celery and green pepper (and garlic if used). Cook until softened, about 5-7 minutes more. By now the roux will be very dark and have cooked nearly 1/2 hour. If it isn't dark enough, continue to cook ( adjust the heat a bit higher if needed). At this point you have made a "dark" roux.
4) Add 5 quarts of the broth ( hold one for later if needed). Stir the broth in slowly and continuously to mix the roux and broth, bring to a boil. Once the stock is well mixed and boiling, add the cooked meats ( and okra if used). Bring back to a boil and reduce to simmer for 45 minutes to an hour. Check and give a stir every so often. It should thicken a good bit during cooking ( more if you added okra). You don't want it like gravy, but it should be thicker than the stock was by a good bit. If it starts to get too thick, add some of the reserved broth.
Pour a second glass of wine or open the other Guinness and go join your guests while the gumbo simmers.
5) Once the broth/meat is cooked and thickened, add the spring onions and the seafood. Cook until the oysters "frill" and the shrimp "pinks". DON'T over cook! 5 minutes is all you should need. ( if using fish, it may be wise to sear the fish and cube it first. Some pre-cook their shrimp, but I don't. Overcooked shrimp is like cardboard. Properly cooked shrimp should be barely white - just past transparent, and have a slight pink blush on the edges.)
6) If you add the file' in the pot, turn off the heat and wait a minute, then stir in about 2Tbs. file'. Again, this can be done at the table in the bowl just as well.
7) Ladle a good serving into a wide soup bowl, making sure you get some of all the meats and seafood in the bowl. If serving rice, place a well packed scoop of rice in the center of the bowl. Sprinkle the rice with some garnish, like chives, if you want a fancy look. The rice is "drawn" by the spoon into the soup as you eat it. Done right, you get the last of the rice with the last of the soup. Of course, you can be a sacrilegious troglodyte, and just stir all the rice in your bowl of gumbo
8) Serve to the guests with buttered French bread and hearty ales or robust wines. Serve "seconds" and "thirds" as needed