Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Louisiana Gumbo (from The Fat Fallacy)

"Will Clower." It’s not a Cajun name. 

Maybe this gumbo recipe would be more credible coming from someone named Lafayette “crawfish” Prud’homme. But I promise this gumbo really is authentic.

Even though, it’s true, I have no bayou water splashing through my veins, I managed to get some good recipes and sneak them back east after my sister married a certified, born and bred, crawdad-snatching, zydeco-stomping Cajun. I’m not sure how legal it is, exporting genuine Cajun recipe magic across state lines, so just keep this to yourself.



My son was always a picky eater. He knows what he likes and, more importantly for him, he knows what he doesn’t like. This gumbo falls into the first category, and has become his definition of great food. 

In fact, since he was a kid gumbo has become a reward item for him – a prize for good efforts and noble deeds benefiting humanity at large. However, we’ve had to draw the line at him bathing in gumbo or eating it for more than 2 meals per day.

In the recipe below, you may notice in the “You’ll need” list that some of the items are a bit vague. But no worries, you cajuns-in-training, I’ll explain everything below. There’s a bit of alchemy involved. After all, it is authentic.

You’ll need:
1 ½ gallons water
8 large chicken pieces, bones and skin still on them
1 small handful salt
3 – 4 bay leaves
3 lb spicy sausage
1 cup vegetable oil
A little more than 1 cup flour
2 large onions, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
¼ cup parsley
1 – 2 stalks celery
Red and black pepper to taste
Tabasco
Gumbo filé
Green onions, chopped

First make the stock.
When you get the chicken, be sure to buy the parts with skin and bones still on them. This dramatically adds to the flavor you get on the other end. One result of the fat free frenzy is that people tend to just eat breast meat, and avoid legs and thighs. For the gumbo, you should include both. The darker meat is richer and, frankly, has a better flavor.

Put them all into the water with the salt and bay leaves, bring it to a chummy sort of boil in a large gumbo pot. During the early part of the boiling you’ll notice some whitish foam gooze bubbling on the top. Get a large spoon and ladle this out. It’s yuck. The stock should boil along until the chicken meat falls off the bones, about an hour or so. In the end, your stock should have boiled down by about ¼, from 1 ½ gallons to a little more than a gallon.

Make the sausage
There are a couple of options here. You’ll have to play with them to see what works best for you (I always love it when I’m instructed to “play with my food”).

You can get the firm Andouille sausage that slices into small medallions and fry them up like that. They’re generally very spicy, but it’s really great when this flavor seeps into the broth of the gumbo.

If you are not such a fan of spicy foods, you can also get the hot Italian sausage, which comes in the casing. Squeeze it out into the pan and chop it up as it cooks. Even though it says “spicy” Italian sausage, you’ll be adding it to a vat of gumbo, so never you fear.

Either way, you simply cook up the sausage and set it aside.


Remove the chicken from the bone 
After the stock has cooked down by a quarter and the meat is falling off the bones before your very eyes, pull out the chicken and pull off the meat.

Let it cool a bit first because it’ll be quite hot. But be careful to remove all of the bones. Cover the chicken and set it aside with the sausage.

Do the roux
Roux is the elixir of life. Not many people know this, although I guess this book has let the cat out of the bag now. If you do this part of the recipe correctly, your gumbo will be triumphant! (Triumphant. No kidding, you just wait and see if you don’t agree with that word at the end.)

Get a 2-cup measuring container. Fill the first cup with vegetable oil. Now stir in some flour until it’s smooth. Keep stirring in flour until the level gets up to 2 cups. You’ll end up adding in much more than 1 cup of flour to the oil, because it all mixes in together. 

After the total beige mixture levels out at 2 cups, get a rubber spatula and scrape it into a frying pan over medium-high heat. You’ll need a metal spatula to turn over the roux as it cooks.

Here’s what you’re shooting for: chocolate. Not Hershey’s milk chocolate, a rich dark chocolate. As the roux cooks and you turn it over and over, it will go from an anemic pale, to milk chocolate, to a fine dark chocolate. Also note the texture. This will go from liquidy, to firmish and bubbly, to crumbly. When it gets to “crumbly dark chocolate,” remember the aroma you smell. This means you have arrived at gumbo nirvana.

Now for the alchemy. Watch out that you don’t scorch the chocolate. Keep the roux just this side of burned. I can’t tell you where that line is, young Jedi knight, so you’ll have to use the force. Or maybe just be conservative to start with and take it off when it’s crumbly and dark, but not yet burned.

Add the roux to the stock
Careful here. The chicken stock is water-based. The roux is oil-based. These two like each other as much as two irate alley cats in a shower.

Take just enough roux to fit on your spatula and set it down into the pot, but not all the way down into the stock. Have the lid in the other hand because it’s going to hiss and spit at you when the roux hits the water.

After all the roux is in, boil it hard for 1 hour. Stir occasionally.

Finish the gumbo
After the roux and stock have boiled themselves into blended perfection, put in the chicken, sausage, vegetables, salt, pepper, gumbo filé, and Tabasco. Let these flavors simmer for another 20 minutes.

You may notice that I did not specify any amounts for the salt, pepper, gumbo filé, and Tabasco. I want you to add these in as you taste. You’ll get a feel for how much is enough. Remember, you are cooking in a vat, so you may need more than you think. 

Add the gumbo filé last. It gives it that “dirty” flavor that’s the essence of Louisiana cooking. Add, taste, add, taste.

When it’s ready, chop some green onions to sprinkle on top. Gumbo is served in a bowl, on a bed of rice. I dash some Tabasco in on top. But then I like it hot.


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