Gumbo-making

I was originally going to email this to some folks, but I decided to post it here instead. I am a cajun. I make gumbo. There are many gumbos, but this one is mine. My gumbo is tasty and hearty and you will love it. There are no tomatoes in my gumbo. Ever.

Introducing: the roux

The roux is the most important part. 1 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour, and up to 1 cup of oil, though you can get away with 1/2 to 2/3 cup. More on this later.

The prep

So, first, put on some shoes. You’ll be standing for at least 20 minutes. And before you start the roux, dice your veggies first. Onion, Celery, Bell pepper. I measure by dicing 1-2 onions (depending on my mood) and 1-2 bell peppers (about the same amount), and an equal amount of celery. Big dice, small dice, your choice. This is peasant food, but I like it chunky. Put them in the big pot. You know, the big one. You do have one, right? How can you make soup without one? Have a good 2-3 cups of water standing by, too. You’ll need more, but not til later.

Starting the roux

So, heat your heavy 12-inch cast iron skillet. You like to cook, I assume you have one. Do not use stainless steel if you can. Do not use nonstick, ever. Heat on medium to medium low. Medium will go faster but risks burning. Use a wooden spoon, the sacrificial kind, you’re going to seriously brown the end of it. Add the oil and flour. Start stirring.  It’ll turn into a paste. If it’s seems watery before the skillet is hot, you have too much oil, but that’s not the end of the world. You can skim it off later. The mix may start out a bit dry and crumbly, but the oil will thin out as it heats. If when the heat is fully on it’s still dry, add a bit more oil.

Stir. Keep stirring, really. Don’t stop for more than a second. Burning the roux is the quickest way to ruin a gumbo. It should be a bit bubbly if you stop stirring, but you’re not stopping, are you?

Are we done yet?

Has it been 20 minutes yet? No? Probably not. Keep stirring, switch hands. Your arms are probably getting tired unless you do this often.

Are we done yet? Ok, sure.

Stir until the mix is dark rusty brown. We’re not looking for golden brown here. Deeper than that. Use your judgement, if you stop early, you’ll get a nice thick gumbo, but you may not have the real depth of flavor. If it smells burned, well, you can always start over.

When the roux is done, dump it into the soup pot with the veggies. (If you leave it in the skillet it will burn, of course.) It’ll sizzle and sputter, which is normal. You just dumped what is effective cajun napalm onto raw vegetables.

This does two things, it cooks them a bit and it cools off the roux a bit. Add the 2-3 cups of water. This will halts the cooking of the roux. It’ll be messy too, so stir it up some and get the roux and water mixed together.

Spice it up!

Add stuff to your taste. Cayenne, minced parsley, salt, pepper, garlic, thyme, oregano, bay leaf, whatever you like, really. Then you can throw in whatever meats you want. Chicken, andouille, seafood, okra. Check the web for ideas. I usually go with chicken and andouille. If you do chicken, you can put what cuts you like. The meat will cook off of the bones and then you can fish the bones out later. That’ll give it more flavor, too, boiling the bones.

If you want to put in some boneless cuts, then you can add chicken broth instead of water. Again, add anything you want but you’ll need enough liquid to cover everything. This is a soup after all.

Darnit, now I’m hungry!

Good! Let it sit for a couple of hours while everything simmers. If you’re doing seafood, add it last as it tends to cook fast.

Finishing touches

See if you can find some filé powder. That’s the ground leaves of the sassafras plant. It’s a thickener and it’ll give even more flavor that’s almost unique to cajun cooking. 2-3 tablespoons will do the trick.

If there’s a lot of oil on the top of your gumbo, you can skim it off with a spoon. Especially if you put a bunch of chicken in there.

Steam some rice. Traditional is white rice, but I’ll forgive you for using brown rice for a healthier kick. Put some rice in a bowl, cover with gumbo. Soup-style, not rice-and-gravy style. Open a beer. Eat. Enjoy.

Lastly

If you’re curious, this is the recipe I work from. It’s more of a cheat sheet so I don’t forget anything. And, yes, it looks like a flowchart. At this point, I think it’s a good 17 years old, if not more. I can still remember being on the phone with my mom as I wrote it down…