down on the bayou: gumbo

February 6, 2010 § 2 Comments

This is a dish I have been making for years; it has gradually evolved from a hastily-thrown-together mishmash to serve when the house was suddenly filled with leftover hungover party guests – to its present form, which is made with love, and not with desperation. I am trying to think of ANY recipe which is better when made with desperation isntead of love, and can’t think of one. Any ideas? Send them to me!

Anyway…if I could move down to the gulf coast my gumbo would reach its final apotheosis of perfection, since what it REALLY needs, to be REALLY excellent, is a lot of fresh seafood. It would also help if I had access to genuine andouille sausages (there are some in Kroger that  dare call  themselves andouille, but that’s a load of bosh).

So, here’s what you need:

celery + onion + pepper = the “holy trinity” of cajun cooking – chopped. I usually use a mixture of sweet and hot pepper. I don’t care for bell pepper so much – for this, I like a mixture of poblano, anaheim, and cayenne.

fat of some sort: butter, olive oil, bacon drippings, a combination thereof.  Bacon drippings are great for flavor.

flour

chicken or fish broth or both – about 3 cups

white wine – about 3/4 cup

tomatoes, fresh or stewed – 1 medium sized tomato, diced, or 1/2 cup stewed, crushed with the hands.

parsley, a big handful, chopped

okra. And here, a digression dear to my heart: the word “gumbo” is derived from an African word meaning “okra” – so, if you don’t like okra, and think you can make this without okra, you will have to just call it something else.  Incidentally, the Hindee word for okra is “bindi” because it is sticky – like the little bindis Indian ladies wear on their foreheads. You can take a thin sliver of okra and stick it on your forehad and it will look like a pretty flower-shaped ornament.  But most of it, cut into 1-inch pieces for your gumbo.

sausage – preferably andouille. Otherwise, get something spicy or smoked or both. I sometimes use smoked kielbasa, sometimes the hot Italian sausage which is, unfortunately, the only really decent sausage I can get, around here. Cut your sausage into 1-inch pieces.

something fishy: catfish, cod, shrimp, lobster, langostino, crawfish. I think the ideal mixture is crawfish (we called them crawdads, growing up down south) and catfish.  Obviously, shrimp or crawfish or langostino can go in whole – cut cod or catfish into big cubes.

You can add chicken too, if you like, but I usually don’t. Dark meat is better though. Cubed.

You see how this recipe invites you to play around and add your own twist? It’s like jazz – improvise!

And here is how you make it:

1) Heat your fat of choice in a large, heavy saucepan – cast iron or enamel.

2) Make your darkened roux. Add 2 tbsp flour to the fat, keep on a low heat, stirring regularly. The flour, suspended in the fat, will slowly begin to brown. It should turn a rich coffee color – but not burn. Like this:

3) Add your Trinity. It will sizzle and steam and produce a delightful smell, sort of savory and sort like things frying and sort of starchy. This is the smell of gumbo starting up!

4) Once your vegetables have sweated a bit, and the darkened roux is really sticking to them, add your broth.  Let it simmer gently a bit, scrape the pan with your spoon so the roue thickens the broth, instead of sticking to the bottom.

5) Pour in the white wine

6) Add your sausage – and, if you choose to add chicken, add that too.

7) Add your okra. It will assist in the thickening process. And add tomatoes now, also.

8) After about ten minutes simmering, you can add your seafood. Then, put the lid on and let everything kind of hang out and chat and sort itself out a bit.

Or, you can wait a while and add the seafood a few minutes before you finish. The thing with fish, especially shrimp and the like, is that it needs to cook either very quickly and briefly – or for a long, slow, leisurely time. For gumbo, I recommend slow leisure. Drink a few beers while you are waiting; dance to some Hank Williams, Sr; go outside and shoot at a tin can with a .22.

9) Add parsley, and salt and pepper to taste. You notice that I didn’t mention cajun seasoning? That’s because it’s not necessary. The flavor comes from the vegetables, from the smoky roux, from the fish and sausage. If you have access to “file gumbo” – powdered sassafrass root – you can add that, with the trinity. But I keep hearing about how sassafrass isn’t good for you.

But be your own judge. I’m not going to try to tell you how to run your life. I’m going to crack a cold one and pretend it’s Louisiana and summertime – as I’ve said before, smoking temperatures and boiling humidity are heaven, for me.  If I’m not sweating like St Lawrence on a gridiron, I’m not happy.

After about 45 minutes of slow, cheerful simmering (covered), your gumbo is ready to be incorporated into your being. I usually serve it with a big scoop of fragrant arborio rice – but you can use plain long-grain rice, if that’s what you’ve got. Or pasta. Like I said – improvise!

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