Gumbo combines ingredients and culinary practices of several cultures, including French, Spanish, German, West African, and Choctaw. It’s a dish that’s rich in history, culture and flavor.
But more simply put, gumbo is a heavily seasoned soup that combines any variety of seafood, meat and vegetables. It begins with the “holy trinity” of vegetables: celery, bell peppers and onions. It is thickened by a combination of okra, filé powder and roux, and is layered with meat, vegetables and seafood. Many ingredients can be taken or added to personal taste and what you have on hand. Styles vary widely between Creole gumbo, Cajun gumbo (and even meatless gumbo z’herb) with countless regional variations.
The resulting dish is sexy enough for the billionaire exhibitionist in us all.
Gumbo is a fantastic way to use freshly harvested vegetables when your garden begins to overflow. It also a great use for leftover meats or freshly caught seafood. It takes a few hours to make but it can feed a bunch of people and is well worth the time and effort. Whenever I make it, I crank some tunes, sharpen my knives and put my heart and soul into it. If food could be sexy…I’d say this would be one of the sexiest. I can’t say I found the 50 shades series sexy, but I can show you some fantastic shades of roux, layered with one delicious ingredient on top of another that can easily send you into a sensual explosion of taste and flavor when it all comes to fruition.
Gumbo with Andouille Sausage, Chicken, Shrimp, and Tomatoes
¾ cup oil or bacon drippings
1 cup celery, chopped
1 large onion, chopped
1 large green pepper, chopped
2 large cloves garlic, chopped
1 lb andouille sausage, chopped
½ leftover baked or rotisserie chicken torn into pieces (light and dark meat)
1-2 lb shrimp, peeled and deveined
3 bay leaves
½ tsp thyme leaves
I 4.5 oz can diced or stewed tomatoes
2 tbs tomato paste
8 cups chicken broth
4 cups water
2 beef bouillon cubes
2 tbs white vinegar
2 (10 oz) packages frozen okra
3 tsp gumbo file powder
Spicy Cajun or creole seasoning to taste -at least several teaspoons. (I use a combination of seasoning mixes but prefer Spice Island Louisiana style as a base).
Let’s begin with the roux- a base of flour and fat (oh, who couldn’t love that).
When it comes to roux, the darker the roux the richer the flavor. Plan on a good thirty minutes of non-stop stirring with a whisk and wooden spoon in a good cast iron skillet.
Now for the 50 shades of roux…sure, you can go with your plain ole “vanilla” roux and have a perfectly fine gumbo but that seems rather boring. Let’s make sure we keep the blind folds off this time and turn up the heat!
To begin, add your oil and flour together over medium/low heat. It will start to bubble after about 5-10 minutes. Keep that bubbly blonde mess at the same low-medium heat and see it transition to a sultry caramel. The house will start to smell quite nice at this point. However, you can take take it a little further, but be careful not to get too hot, too fast. This takes time. Nurturing. Patience.
You may have to adjust your heat a bit as you whisk. When you see it turn a deep caramel color, turn off the heat and continue to stir and watch it turn to a perfect shad of mahogany. Finally, set it aside. It will keep cooking off the heat.
Next, start sautéing your sausage while the roux cools. I’m kicking myself for not buying some New Orleans sausage when I was down at a huge open market last month but store bought will have to do. Sauté’ your sausage until you get a nice layer of fat to coat the pan and add in your trinity of celery, onions and peppers.
Next add in your garlic. Once vegetables soften a bit, pour it all into a large stock pot then add your roux to the pot. Turn heat to med/low and stir well.
Add Tomatoes, tomato paste, herbs, seasoning, vinegar, broth, water, bullion and the party’s really going to get started. If you like a hotter gumbo, add some cayenne powder. Bring to a simmer and cook for an hour then add chicken. Continue to simmer for another hour then add okra.
At this point, you can simmer until it comes together to your liking. Probably another hour or so. Adjust seasonings to taste. Some good hot sauce will add a nice kick.
Finally, before you are ready to serve, I bring the heat up a bit and get a little boil going and add the shrimp and file’ powder and remove from heat.
Stir off and on until shrimp turns pink. Allow it to cool and thicken. Take one last taste and make sure it’s as hot as you like.
Serve with rice and top with fresh parsley and scallions if you have some.
Gumbo can have so many variations. Experiment. Step out of your comfort zone and get creative with it!
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