My friend Meghan will tell you that Mardi Gras in NOT about beads and boobies… she’ll tell you that it’s about food, family and parades… What’s more mardi gras than Gumbo? I don’t know!
Most gumbo aficionados will tell you that making the iconic Louisiana stew can take days. It is a social dish, usually made in a very large pot (think turkey fryer) and shared with neighbors and friends… but I’m not cajun. I make my interpretation of "gumbo" about once a year- on a stove top… about 7-8 servings or so. Given my work schedule, I treat making gumbo the way one might prepare for a party, spreading out the cooking over a couple of days. Here’s the breakdown:
Day 1- Stock and Roux.
Basic stock technique is something that should be mastered by all cooks… this is one of those "recipes" where measuring is completely unimportant. Learn the simple technique and you’ll make a great stock every time. Just as a starting point, here are some rough measurements:
~2 chicken carcasses*.
1/2 Bunch Celery (I use the leafy top halves and save the meatier bottoms of the stock for a later use).
5 cloves of garlic.
1/2 bunch cilantro (or other leafy herb, eg: Parsley).
*If you roast the chicken bones first, you’ll have a darker, meatier stock… I store my chicken trimmings in the freezer and usually don’t have enough time and/or foresight to thaw and roast them. As such, most of my stocks are relatively light in color.
1/4 cup whole black pepper corns.
2-3 small bay leaves.
~10 Cardamom pods.
**You can really use any spices you choose but simple is usually best for "generic" stocks. If you know where your stock is going to go (ie- chicken noodle soup, asian style udon, etc) you can add spices or other aromatics (lemongrass, chili, ginger) that will reinforce the flavors of the final dish.
One thing that I do not do is salt my stocks… often I will reduce the completed stock so I season at that point. If you salt the stock at the beginning of the process you risk making it too salty… when you reduce it, it will become even saltier.
Next, everything goes in the pot. I simply break the veggies with my hands (except the onion). I don’t even take the time to peel the onion… it all goes for a swim. Cover all the ingredients in COLD water.
(notice the fine knife skills:)
On the stove over high heat until it comes to a boil, then reduce heat to med-low… and simmer for about 90 minutes.
Think of making stock as making a savory tea… all your flavor is extracted by the hot water. By starting with cold water, the entire mixture will come up in temperature together, giving you a better extraction. The amount of time that you simmer the stock will impact the amount of extraction you get. Ninety minutes is good for chicken or meat stocks. Fish and shrimp stocks are ready in about 25 minutes.
There is such a thing as too much extraction… just like tea and coffee can get bitter if over extracted, simmering a stock too long may result in the bones becoming brittle which will lead to a cloudy-irony stock.
Also, do your best to keep the heat at a level so bubbles barely break the surface of the water… too hot and you’ll over extract.
When it’s done, strain the stock through a chinoise.
Let the fat rise to the top (in the fridge overnight) and skim off if desired.
Equal parts butter and flour… for this recipe I use about 4 tblspn of each.
Roux is a thickening agent for soups, sauces, and gravies. It is flour cooked with butter- the butter coats the starch molecules preventing them from clumping up in a hot liquid. Have you ever had a lumpy gravy? Dumped flour into boiling liquid? These are both examples of not having a roux.
By combining the flour with butter before you add it to the hot liquid you will prevent lumps and clumps -neither of which are delicious in most applications. Louisiana chef Emeril Lagasse times his roux with beer:
“I put the flour in the oil and open the first beer. By the time I’ve finished the second one, the roux is just right”!
Alton brown says to cook roux in a duch oven to prevent burning.
In either of these applications, you are toasting the flour which creates a characteristic, nutty aroma and deep, rich flavor. Note: the darker the roux, the deeper the flavor, the less the thickening power.
I am extremely lazy- my roux sits in a crock pot on high for a few hours. I’ve never had one burn using this method… All I have to do is stir it every hour or so. I’ve gone as long as 6 hours… I think it is impossible to burn a roux with this method. When it gets to be the color you want, turn the crockpot to warm or use immediately. I will store it in the fridge until I am ready to assemble the gumbo.
Simply combine the ingredients in a crockpot… turn it off when it is dark enough (usually a brick/milk chocolate color)
Here are the stages my roux went through over about 2 hours.
Light brown "Peanut butter".
Brown… this is where I stopped for the Gumbo, you could go darker if you wanted…
Not my picture, but here is a "chocolate" or dark brown roux
1/4 pound shrimp- peeled and devained, but shells reserved.
4 cups chicken stock (see above).
2 tblspn rendered chicken fat from stock.
1/2 handful green onion.
1 med onion, small dice.
2 small bell peppers, seeded and small dice.
3 ribs of celery, small dice.
4 cloves of garlic, finely minced.
1 pound andouille sausage, sliced.
1/2 pound dark meat chicken, boneless and skinless, diced.
Cajun Seasoning (to taste).
Cayanne pepper (to taste).
Hot sauce (to taste.
Steamed rice (see below for pressure cooker method)
The next day: Turn on some cajun music… I like Pandora.
Peel, De-vain, and rinse some shrimp- about 1/4 pound per serving.
Take the chicken stock out of the fridge- the fat should have risen and congealed… skim off the fat and reserve about 2 tablespoons.
Cover the shrimp shells with chicken stock, and a small handful of green onions… simmer this over medium heat for 20 minutes.
Prepare the holy trinity, small dice: 1 onion, 2 small green bell peppers, 3 stalks of celery.
Smash up about 4 cloves of garlic.
Slice up about one pound of smoked andouille sausage.
Sautee the sausage in the chicken fat until light brown.
Remove the sausage and add about a half pound of diced dark meat chicken.
Season with your favorite cajun seasoning.
Remove the chicken and add the veggies (but not the garlic).
When the veggies are brown, add the garlic… adding it later will keep it from burning and becoming bitter.
Strain the chicken/shrimp stock into the pan and stir to lift up all of those delicious brown bits (A.K.A. fond) that have accumulated to the bottom of the pan.
Add the roux that you made in the crockpot. Mine was hard from being in the fridge, so I broke it up with a wooden spoon.
Use a hand blender to puree most of the vegetables into the sauce…
Here is the consistancy we are looking for:
Add about two cups of chicken stock and reduce over medium high heat by half. When the consistancy is to your liking, add the chicken and sausage back to the pot.
I had some extra chicken stock, so I bagged it and put it in the freezer for a later use.
Oh yeah, Gumbo is generally served with rice… remember the other day when I said rice would take about 40 minutes in a rice cooker? Well, today my Pressure cooker came back from LA… Rice in 10 minutes! Use the same rinsing/measuring as before, but cook on high pressure for 3 minutes, then let it rest for 7 minutes before venting the pressure.
Now would be a good time to taste and season your gumbo… It’s a good idea to know what’s in your spice cabinet and what it tastes like. I wanted more heat in my gumbo so I added some cayenne pepper and hot sauce. Add heat/seasonings to your taste.
Speaking of spice cabinet… I’ll share the organization technique that I stole from Alton Brown…
I also fried some Okra in oil and added that to the gumbo. The pre-fry helps keep the okra from going gummy.
A good way to see if your fry oil is hot enough is that a chopstick will bubble rapidly when dipped into the oil… this is an old Asian trick.
There’s a big debate on whether or not to add file (Feel-ay) powder to gumbo. This year, I chose to add the aroma of ground sassafrass without adding it into the actual gumbo… I put about 1 tablespoon of File into a small bowl, and light it with a lighter until it was smoldering. I then placed a snifter overtop of the bowl to collect the smoke… while eating the gumbo- i would ocasionally lift the inverted glass and perfume my meal with the incense-y smell of file powder.
I also tried pouring some beer into the snifter… the result was interesting… not particularly good or bad, but interesting… a rich aroma of File Powder, with the taste of beer, back to the cooking.
I sautéed the shrimp in a seperate pan to cook them perfectly. One of my complaints about regular is that the seafood is almost always over cooked. To solve this problem, I cook the seafood seperately and re-assemble.
Here is the finished gumbo:
And all of the accoutrements:
As they say this time of year: