Last Sunday I promised myself gumbo. As you might guess, between work, mounting drawers, and this cold I woke up with today, I am just now getting around to it. After all, chicken and shrimp gumbo almost qualifies as chicken soup.
I have a long, somewhat troubled history with gumbo. The first time I ever made the dish, it was for about forty people at the beach. So I was accustomed to preparing huge proportions. Subsequent times out, I never quite figured out how much (or how little) roux I needed, with the result that you could stand a spoon in the gumbo it was so thick. (This may have had to do with the fact that I used okra and filé as thickeners). My wife eventually got to the point where she refused to eat it. This just strengthened my resolve to lighten it up enough that she would like it.
(A word on okra: when I grew up I didn’t know you were supposed to hate the stuff. Mom breaded it and fried it with potatoes and it was fantastic, chewy-crisp and flavorful. I wasn’t that impressed with how it did in gumbo, but this cookbook I found said you’re actually supposed to fry it first to get rid of any residual “sliminess,” then add it to the gumbo. This may be specifically a Creole vs. Cajun thing, I’m not sure.
But here’s the thing: this cookbook called for using either okra or filé (a powder made from sassafras and sage), but not both. And since I was trying to find a recipe she would like, I reluctantly held off on the okra this time.)
So anyway, this was the recommended sequence of events:
- Brown the chicken in oil (I used Crisco because the only other stuff at hand was olive oil and rice oil, both of which had flavors I didn’t want in the final product). Remove the chicken to a plate
- Make a roux with the same oil. (Roux can be tricky. In a nutshell:
- Equal volumes of oil and flour (I used a half cup this time; my previous recipes had me using a full cup)
- get the oil hot but not smoking (make sure you’re using a high sided pot so you don’t spatter yourself)
- add the flour a bit at a time and stir
- keep stirring and scraping the bottom of the pot until the roux goes from white to pale beige to brownish to the color of a 1979 penny you found in your driveway.
- Add chopped bell peppers (I use red, yellow, and green for color) and onion and stir them in the roux until soft.
- Add garlic, hot pepper (I used a serrano, sans seeds), seasoning (bay leaf, thyme, a dash of allspice, a little Pickapeppa sauce, salt, pepper), and chicken stock. Cook for about an hour.
- Add the chicken and correct the seasoning (with the hot pepper sauce of your choice).
- About ten minutes before serving add the shrimp.
- If you plan to eat all the gumbo at this sitting, stir in some filé powder off the heat; otherwise, stir a little into each bowl. (Apparently when you reheat the gumbo with the filé already in it, it makes the gumbo thick and ropy. Not desirable.)
- Serve over rice.
And that’s that. And, man, it’s good stuff. If I erred, it was on the side of too little hot sauce; but that’s easily remedied at the table. Hopefully Lisa will like it this time.