I want to start this out by giving a Big Thank You to all of our fantastic customers and supporters! This past weekend was amazing and Gather Food Studio took home Gold at the Manitou Springs Mumbo Jumbo Gumbo Cook-off!
Also, a big thank you to Sue Ellen and Kelle, for without their help, this wouldn’t have been possible.
Alright, so… This week I want to talk about the Gumbo we made for the cookoff. I am going to share the recipes for everything we did and talk about what makes them work. Before I go on any further, I must stress that throughout this process, you must be patient. Gumbo, by itself is an easy recipe. What is going to keep people coming back is the technique. Also, I am not going to pretend that I invented Gumbo or the techniques within. Great gumbos have been around since the early 1700’s in southern Louisiana and people have been sharing their secrets to success ever since… From a lot of my reading about Gumbo history, it is of note that a lot of these secrets were highly valued, unwritten deathbed confessions that were passed down and used as building blocks generationally to perfect highly guarded family recipes. The Gumbo recipe that I am going to explain today is my effort of consolidating all of the wonderful knowledge and technique I have learned/researched over the years and combined into one soup pot. My lineage with Gumbo cooking only goes back about 15 years, so I feel very privileged to be honored with 1st place in a cook-off. I hope that after you through these next couple of paragraphs you will feel like you have the requisite handle on making a great Gumbo at home. Also, for those of you that know me… I always tell you that when a chef shares a recipe, she or he always leaves something out so you can’t perfectly replicate it at home… Today, this will not be the case. As I am removed from restaurants now, I do not hold certain recipes in high esteem – and as Cortney and I own a cooking school, and we want everyone to succeed in their quest of the perfect dish. Let’s get cooking!
So… Gumbo. By short definition: a stew or thick soup, usually made with chicken, seafood, or greens, and thickened with a roux, okra or sometimes filé.
Before I go any further, I want to stop and define the type of gumbo that we are making today. As okra does not grow in the south in the winter, we are not going to be using okra as a thickener. We are going to be using a combination of a dark Cajun (not French) roux and file to thicken. That being said the Gumbo we are making today is referred to as a File Gumbo. File, for those of you that are unfamiliar, is one of the Native American’s (Choctaw) contributions to the evolution of Cajun/Creole cuisine. File, or Gumbo File, (pronounced Phee-lay) is ground up sassafras leaves that are used as a thickener. They also impart a bit of flavor – a flavor reminiscent of Green Tea – but the flavoring aspect is not what we are going for here. File is going to be used in conjunction with the roux as a thickener. And if you were paying attention above, you surely noticed that I used File Gumbo, and also Gumbo File. The difference is the Gumbo thickened with file powder is know as File Gumbo, where as the ingredient itself is know as file, or gumbo file. A bit confusing yes, but not my rules…
Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s talk Roux. I am going to spend an extra minute or two talking about roux because, lets face it, the Roux is going to either make or break the Gumbo. The Roux cannot be rushed, and once you start you LITERALLY cannot stop – stirring that is. For what we are doing when we make this roux is technically burning the flour granules – but we are doing it in the name of flavor! Also, I must tell you that the longer you cook your Roux (flour) the less thickening power it will have as you are toasting out the flour granules ability to absorb liquid. That being said, you are going to need more dark Cajun roux than you would expect. But its all in the name of flavor!
Roux, by definition, is equal parts BY WEIGHT of fat and flour. I bolded, italicized, and underlined that for a reason. BY WEIGHT. Remember this. 99% of recipes you will see for roux will have equal amount by dry measure of fat and flour. I cannot stress enough that this is INCORRECT! The roux that I used in making my gumbo had a combination of three fats (vegetable oil, duck fat, and pork lard) that have a range in weight from 7.2 to 9 ounces per cup and flour weights between 4-4.4 ounces per cup (depending on how heavy someone’s hand is), so, if you were doing equal parts by dry measure, there would be a drastic difference in the amounts by weight! Is this important? YES!!! The most important being that there wouldn’t be enough flour to soak up all of the fat and you know where its going to end up? Sitting on top of your finished Gumbo. Then you have a new set of problems, and nobody wants that. Now that we covered that, lets talk about making the roux. I said a minute ago that I used three fats for my roux.
1. Vegetable oil, (Wesson) 1 C. = 7.7 ounces
2. Pork Lard (you can buy this fresh at any Mexican Grocery Store – we like Leonelas) 1 C = 7.2 ounces
3. Duck Fat ¼ C. = 2.3 ounces
For a total combined weight of 17.2 ounces. Remember, there may be a bit of variance in the fats you purchase and use, so make sure you always weigh!
So, 17.2 combined ounces or fat, 17.2 ounces of flour. *** However, due to the flours diminished thickening capabilities, and better burnt taste characteristics, I upped my flour to 20 ounces. *** (This is a personal flavor trick that I think works well)***
Finally, making the roux… here’s a couple of hints.
1. Use a very heavy bottomed skillet or a cast iron pan for your roux. There is better heat distribution and retention (especially in cast iron) which aids in better flavor, and knocking off a couple minutes of stirring – you may think this isn’t important, but after an hour of constant stirring, your arm will be ready to fall off.
2. An infrared thermometer, or a heavy-duty frying thermometer.
3. A wooden spoon – this is a must. Prolonged exposure to the heat while stirring will transfer a metallic flavor from a metal spoon to the roux. This is bad. Make sure you dedicate 1 wooden spoon for roux making. A good wooden roux spoon will be black over time – look at the spoon I used just for 3 batches of roux change of color.
4. Gloves. WEAR GLOVES. Like little winter cloth gloves. The other name for dark roux is Cajun napalm. During the stirring process, you are going to splash a bit of roux on your hands. It is inevitable. Wear gloves, or enjoy the burning, blistering to come. Trust me on this… Wear Gloves – and an apron. You’re also going to splash it on your shirt. Experience talking here.
Finally, making the roux… For real this time. To promote better flavor building (toasting) of the flour, what I like to do is combine my fats in a heavy bottomed or cast iron pan. This is where the thermometer comes in handy. You want to bring your oil up to 385 to right under 400 degrees over medium high(ish) heat. 6/10 if using an electric or induction stovetop. It will be smoking, at that is ok. When the fat is at temperature, slowly in a couple of additions, add the flour, making sure it is stirred in after each addition. It may be a bit lumpy, but there will be plenty of time to work the lumps out. Now… I recommend having the TV on to your favorite show or movie, because for the next hour you aren’t going ANYWHERE. You have 1 job, and it is stirring. Ok, the flour is in the pan. What I like to do is start for 6-7 minutes by stirring on 6. Stirring aggressively and completely constantly. This is going to start the flavor development of the flour right out of the gate. After 6-7 minutes of stirring on 6, turn the heat down to 4 and continue stirring for another 5 minutes. You should notice that the roux has been wisping a bit of smoke. This is ok and will fill your house with a wonderful aroma. Keep Stirring. Now that you are 11-12 minutes in, turn your heat down to 2 (medium low) and continue stirring for 20 minutes. This will take you to the 30 minute mark. You will notice that the roux is starting to turn a color of peanut butter and the smell is starting to intensify slightly. You should also still be wisping a little smoke. A little smoke is good… A lot of smoke is bad. Now, why is the constant stirring of the utmost importance? Because there is a fine line between making a dark roux and a burnt mess. If you notice even 1 speck of black rise to the top of the pot when stirring, your roux is burnt and ruined and you must start over. Alright, back to the roux. About 30 minutes to go. Keep Stirring. You cannot for 1 second stop stirring. For about 10-12 minutes, you may notice a stall in the turning of the color. This is ok, keep stirring. The color will start turning a shade or two darker every couple of minutes now. This is when the magic starts happening. The color preference after 45 minutes is up to you. When I make my dark Cajun roux I like to take it 1-2 shades past dark chocolate. This is a very tricky thing for the home cook to do, so I would say to stop cooking your roux at a color in between milk chocolate and dark chocolate. There will be plenty of flavor at that point anyway. If you want to test the flavor of the roux very quickly remove a drop or two from the pan and place on a plate or cutting board. Wait for it to cool and give it a try. If you think a deeper flavor is needed, continue stirring in a couple minute increments and keep trying. If you think the flavor is good, move on, and if you think the roux is slightly burnt, but not all the way burnt tasting, you are right on the money. The vegetables will balance this flavor now. I’ll get to that in a minute. How does your arm feel? Probably needs a break right? Well, you have 2 options now. You can either remove the roux to a stock pot and continue on to the next phase of the Gumbo making process or you can remove the roux from the heat and let it cool and store it in the refrigerator for up to a month. But let’s just assume you are going to continue on to the Gumbo.
On to the next phase of the gumbo making process…. The trinity. A lot of cuisines rely on different vegetable flavors as the basis of their cooking process. The French have Mirepoix, the Spanish have Sofrito, and the Cajuns have Trinity. Trinity is a combination of onion, green pepper, and celery. I would generally say equal parts of, but not for this Gumbo. For this gumbo recipe, I used 1.5 onions, 2 green bell peppers, and about 3 stalks of celery.
The onions, diced about ¼ of an inch, but not perfectly – this isn’t fancy French cooking, are split into 2 equal piles. (Also, here’s a tip – you are going to be using green onions later on in the cooking process. I like to use the green parts later and slice up the white bottom parts and throw them into the roux with the first pile of onions) The celery, which is half of the amount of the onion and bell pepper, should be cut about have the size of the onion and pepper, and the pepper should match the size ( ¼”) and amount of the onion. And the thyme should be stripped and ready to go as well. The prep for these 4 ingredients should be done ahead of the roux making process (if going right into the gumbo making process) and waiting patiently. Now, the roux is made and has a slightly dark flavor. Time for the vegetables. Turn your heat to 4 (just under medium) and add half of the onion and the thyme; season with salt and pepper and stir in well. Let this cook your onions down until soft, about 5-7 minutes. This will begin flavoring your roux. It is almost as if you are donating half of your onions to the roux flavoring process, but this is ok. Also, 1 medium onion has just over 1 sugar packet’s amount of sugar, so this will begin to balance out the slightly burnt, bitter flavor of the dark Cajun roux. Now that the first wave of onions are cooked into the roux, you should notice a color change to very dark in the roux. This is going to come from the sugar in the onion. This is good… don’t panic! Add the celery in now, season with salt and pepper, and cook for about 4 minutes, giving a good stir every minute or so. After the celery has cooked into the roux, add the other pile of onions and the green bell pepper, and season with salt and pepper. 1 medium bell pepper has about ¾ of the amount of 1 sugar packet, so there will be a bit more sweet enhancement going into the roux from the remaining onions and pepper. Cook the onions and bell pepper for 4-5 minutes and then add the chopped garlic and the andouille sausage to the mixture and cook another 3-4 minutes, giving the occasional stir. (I must add that I used Usingers Andouille Sausage - you can buy this from the Cheese Haus up on 21st. I just gave Chris a heads-up that I was writing this and he will have a case in stock next week! - I took all he had for my Gumbo) Now is time to add the stock. DO NOT, AND I REPEAT, DO NOT add all of your stock at once. Also, make sure your stock is at least at room temperature, if not hot. If the stock is too cold, you run the risk of cooling down the roux to a point where it is unable to absorb liquid. So, the stock… add the stock ½ C. at a time, and make sure it is completely stirred in before adding another ½ C. Continue this process until the roux begins to get creamy (about half of the stock) and then you can add in 1 C. at a time the rest of the way. Also, you can now add the diced tomatoes, and bay leaves. Bring the Gumbo up to a rolling simmer and let it reduce for 1 – 1 ½ hours. After it has reduced, add the shredded chicken, sliced green onions (green parts), and the chopped parsley. Continue simmering for another 10 minutes to 30 minutes. The idea that gumbo needs to gently reduce for 8 hours – overnight is phooey. Now season up your gumbo with hot sauce, I like Louisiana brand hot sauce, and throw in some Cajun seasoning, if that’s your thing. The gumbo should be about 80-85% thickened. Now remove the bay leaves, and place in the refrigerator for 1-2 days. I read somewhere that some people think that Gumbo isn’t Gumbo if it doesn’t sit for 3 days, but 2 days is good to me.
After 2 days, and when you are ready to serve, place the Gumbo on the stove and heat up, covered, over medium low heat, stirring often or it will burn to the bottom of the pot. When the gumbo is mostly hot, remove the lid and let it reduce until just about thickened to the desired consistency. About 10 minutes before serving, turn off the heat and add the file and stir in well. This will gently flavor and thicken the gumbo the rest of the way right before serving. I must tell you that if you cook the file it is going to produce a stringy and unpleasant texture in your Gumbo, so it is of the utmost importance that you add it off the heat! Then finally, to serve, ladle some gumbo in a bowl, top with some steamed white rice and then garnish the whole thing with a little bit of sliced green onions, and a little bit of chopped parsley. Don't forget the cornbread and you are all set and ready to go! Easy, right?
You're all set! Like I told you above, the recipe for Gumbo is easy. The flavor comes from the technique. When the Gumbo is all set and done, you will have a pretty large pot. Invite some friends over, crack a couple of cold ones and Laissez Les Bon Temps Rouler (Let The Good Times Roll)!!!
(It also freezes well). Click on the links below for the recipes