Friday, January 8, 2010

Gumbo: the method, the art

For quite a while we have had our gumbo recipe posted on our family blog. The thing about making gumbo is that it is more of a method (or an art) than a recipe. Gumbo is what I call a poor man's stew, in that you start out with flour, oil, and water and you can add really anything that you have lying around the kitchen after that. Serve it over rice and you have a gumbo!

Making a roux:
All good Cajun gumbos start with a roux. A roux is just a mixture of flour and fat. Recipes usually call for a 1:1 ratio but that makes a really oily gumbo. It is a commonly held family secret that some of my (and Philip's) relatives use pre-made roux that you can buy in a jar. That is what Philip and I did for over a year when we first moved here, but eventually our stash ran out and we had to make our own roux!

We have tried out many different ratios of flour to vegetable oil. Our current ratio is 2 cups of flour to 1.5 cups of vegetable oil. To make a roux you need a heavy bottomed pot. Traditionally this is a cast iron skillet or a cast iron dutch oven. I use my 12" cast iron skillet and it works great.

Set your cast iron skillet over medium high heat and make a paste with the flour and oil. When the flour and oil are combined it will look like this:

The most tedious part of making a roux is that you must stir continuously as it cooks. You don't need a "Cajun Spoon" to make it, but it does help because it has a flat bottom that makes scraping the bottom of the skillet easier. This is important because you don't want to burn the roux. It is also important that you use a wooden or metal spoon to stir your roux because it will get really hot!

Continue to stir the roux until it is a "chocolate" or "copper" brown in color. While it changes color it will begin to get more pasty in texture and it would be a good time to turn down your heat so that the roux does not change too quickly. Be careful about how dark you let it get because the darker your roux gets the less it will thicken your gumbo. Typically you want your roux to be one or two shades of brown darker than you want your final product to be.

Also remember that when cooking in a cast iron skillet the cast iron can retain a ton of heat. If your roux is getting too dark it will be necessary to transfer it to your stock pot immediately to prevent it from burning. Once a roux is burned it is done for! You will have to throw that batch away and begin again from scratch.

After your roux is nice and dark you are going to want to prepare your soup pot for receiving your roux. Gumbo traditionally starts with the "cajun trinity": onions, celery and bell peppers. We add our onions directly to the hot roux so that they cook down a bit before adding the liquid. It is important to note here that you do not want to pour roux into liquid, rather you need to add liquid to the roux. If you made your roux in a skillet this means that you'll need to transfer the roux to your stockpot before putting the liquid in. Philip and I speak from experience on this one....

Roux can be made ahead of time and stored in the fridge indefinitely.

Adding Liquid:
The stirring is not over! When you add the water to the roux you will have to continue to stir until the roux is completely dissolved so that the roux does not settle to the bottom and then burn. Remember you are adding water to and oil based substance so this can take a little bit of time (especially if your liquid was cold or only at room temperature). At this stage if it does burn a little bit it is not disastrous to your gumbo, but you do want to try and avoid it.

The liquid that you add at this stage of the game really depends on what type of gumbo you are making. When you are making a chicken gumbo by adding raw chicken to the pot you can just add water because as the gumbo cooks the bones will make their own stock. How much water to add becomes a factor of how much chicken and sausage you are adding to the pot. Start by dissolving the roux with 2 quarts of water, add your meats and then top off the stock pot with more water if needed.

When making a seafood gumbo you really need to make a stock ahead of time so that the whole gumbo has a seafood taste without overcooking your seafood ingredients. For shrimp gumbo we use the shrimp shells to make a stock ahead of time. This can be done the day of, or if you freeze your stock, months ahead of time.

For the roux recipe supplied here you will need a total of 2-3 quarts of liquid. This is not an exact science as more liquid will give you a thinner gumbo, less will give you a thicker one.

This dish would not be complete without white rice! We use medium grain rice (or whatever Walmart had on sale), but typically Cajuns use long grain rice. The ratio of rice to gumbo is a matter of taste, and for me depends on how thick the gumbo is.

Traditional sides include potato salad, fried sweet potatoes, or bread with butter. Mawmaw actually puts her potato salad in her gumbo and eats it out of the same bowl.

Adding file' to your gumbo is an option, but our house is divided on this issue.

Here is my shrimp and egg gumbo recipe:

Shrimp and Egg Gumbo
1 Large Onion Chopped
1 Large Bell Pepper Chopped
8 Cloves of Garlic Chopped
4 Stalks of Celery Chopped
2-3 pounds of shrimp
8-10 eggs
other seafood if you like including oysters and crab

Complete the steps listed above including: make a shrimp stock from shrimp shells, make a roux, transfer the roux to a stock pot and add onions. After the shrimp stock is added and the roux is incorporated, add bell peppers, garlic, and celery. Season with salt, cayenne pepper, and add a bay leaf or two. Let this simmer for about 30min to an hour.

Bring the mixture to a slight boil and then add shrimp (you would probably add raw oysters here too). After about 5-10 minutes when the shrimp look pink turn down your gumbo so that it is no longer bubbling. Carefully break eggs near the surface of the gumbo and let the gumbo sit (no stirring) for 15 minutes. Try to break the eggs in a pattern around the pot so that they do not land on each other. After 15 minutes you can turn the heat back up on the gumbo and stir carefully. If you are adding other cooked seafood you can do so at this time. As soon as the shrimp and eggs are cooked through the gumbo is ready to eat! Serve over rice with any one of my suggestions above.

This is one of my favorite gumbos because the shrimp often get lodged in the poached eggs and they are delicious.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

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