It’s been four years and, with the holidays coming, I thought I’d write a blog about cooking something. My favorite something to cook is gumbo. Though, this isn’t my favorite thing to eat. Actually, it’s probably not even in the top ten, but there is something calming and peaceful for me about cooking it. Which is why I’m writing a blog about cooking it rather than just cutting and pasting a recipe. Gumbo cooking kind of requires a narrative.
I first learned to cook Gumbo in New Orleans at the School of cooking. Which, BTW, is a bit of a misnomer ‘cause you don’t actually cook at the school of cooking, but rather watch them cook and then eat what they cook. Which, when all is said and done, is really better. Also, free beer. But I’m getting off topic.
First, Get yourself one of those rotisserie chickens. I know, I know. You can roast your own chicken. But this is easier and really, pretty much the same. Don’t get any weird flavors like BBQ, just the regular. Then, just kind of go to town pulling off all the chicken and put it in a bowl for later. Break it up into bite sized pieces. If you are lucky enough to have a strainer pot, you can put the chicken in a strainer with like, maybe, a gallon or so of water. Then break up the chicken parts and just let it boil for an hour or so. The longer the better. You can add some salt if you like—or even some garlic sliced up. The school of cooking sells some cool dried sliced garlic that I use in the broth. You could also add prawn/shrimp bodies here, if you wanted to have a more seafood tasting broth.
Get a bunch of celery, onions and bell peppers. I usually buy like two onions and three bell peppers, and then however many stalks of celery then cram into those bags at the store. Cut them all up into small pieces and then set them aside. If you happen to have a sous chef, then this part is easier, or if you live in New Orleans on somewhere in the south where you can just buy pre-cut pepper, onion and celery, then again, you are golden here. But otherwise, ya gotta get to cutting.
Next up, the fun part. It’s roux time. You can do this different ways, using oil or butter. If you use oil, use vegetable oil and not olive oil. Butter can burn faster, so oil is more forgiving. But butter tastes better. I’ve even heard of some folks using bacon grease. I just use a stick of butter and a cup of flour. If you are making a lot, you can use two sticks of butter and two cups of flour. I recommend a nice cast iron skillet if you have one. Melt the butter first and then stir in the flour. Then you stir pretty constantly with a spatula or wooden roux spoon for about 10-15 minutes until it has this amazing smell and looks like a chocolate color. Don’t burn the roux.
Once it’s done, you can add the trinity of peppers, onions and celery to cool down the roux mix. Turn the flame down and stir occasionally. Next, either strain your broth or just pull the top of the pot out that has the strainer. Basically, you want a nice clean broth. I add a few cups of broth to the roux and pepper, onion and celery mix and let it sit and cook for a few minutes.
I’m a fan of browning the chicken in the pot I’m gonna cook the roux in. So, I do that with some oil, salt and pepper. For me, it’s good when the chicken leaves some marks on the bottom of the pot and is nice and cooked (don’t burn it, but that kind of crisp brown look). If you like a sausage gumbo along with the chicken, you can do the same to the sausage here. Most recommend a hard andouille sausage. I find that sausage overpowers my gumbo and prefer just a straight chicken.
Once the meat is cooked at the bottom of your soup pan, you add the chicken broth (should still be hot)—and stir off the chicken stuck on the bottom of the pan. Kind of your call on how much broth. I like a thinner gumbo with a darker roux taste and my favorite part is the broth, so I make it more that way. If you do less broth, you are basically making closer to an etouffee, which is a thicker and meatier version of gumbo great over rice.
Once you have your broth quantity figured out, then you add your roux mix with the celery, peppers and onions. Do yourself a favor and give that a taste. Its hot, so don’t burn your tongue. If you have something like Kevin’s hot stuff or the New Orleans School of cooking spice mix, I’d add some of that here. Remember you can always make it hotter, but you can’t take away the spice. If you don’t have the mix, you could do something like this: 2 tablespoons of paprika, salt and garlic powder, then 1 tablespoon of onion powder, black pepper, cayenne pepper, dried leaf oregano and dried lead thyme. Some add white pepper, thyme and basil—that’s your call.
Now you are pretty good to let it simmer for a stretch. I usually do about an hour. But again, the longer the better. If you like shrimp in your gumbo—I’d add them about 15 minutes before serving so they don’t overcook. Timing here depends on the size of the shrimp. As an aside—if you are into the shrimp and seafood, you could get the full prawns and add the bodies to the stock with the chicken earlier if you like.
The traditional service is with a ball of rice in the middle of the bowl and then pour the hot gumbo around it. Enjoy!
(Today—my flask has a nice Cabernet Franc called Brave and Maiden)
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