I’m not Cajun. I didn’t grow up in the Deep South, and I’m not related to Gordon Ramsay or Emeril Lagasse. But I have lived in the Deep South for about 4 years during my 20’s and have been to plenty of restaurants that serve top-notch gumbo, so I do know what I like. I was also roommates with a hard-core Louisianian during my college days, and watched him make gumbo a few times on weekend ski trips to the Rockies. Using the residual flavors etched in my memory as a guide, I’ve followed my nose (and taste buds) to tease out, what in my mind is, the perfect gumbo.
Gumbo (and Jambalaya, for that matter) was traditionally just a mixture of whatever ingredients you had on hand while holding true to a few simple techniques, and I take advantage of that mantra mainly in the meat department. Also, I tend to add spices to taste, meaning: I don’t really follow recipes, nor do I write down exact amounts that I used. I add, taste how it is, and then decide whether or not it needs more (or if I have to add something else to balance out the flavor because I put too much in). So below is my gumbo recipe for the by-the-seat-of-your-pants chef.
- ½ cup vegetable oil (or some other type of fat)
- ½ cup flour
- ½ -> 1 chopped onion
- 2-3 chopped celery sticks
- 2 cloves minced garlic
- Bag of okra
- 2 cans chicken broth
- 1 can diced tomatoes
- 2 bay leaves
- Cayenne pepper
- Worcestershire sauce
- ½ Andoule sausage
- Package of crawfish
- Use whatever you want to (crab, oysters, alligator, etc)
And of course, Rice.
Chop up onion, celery and garlic and set aside (there won’t be time to do this later)
- In a frying pan set to medium, mix in the oil and flour. Constantly stir for about 20 minutes until it darkens. This is called “roux.” It should look like a dark brown porridge. Take care not to burn it: do not ignore the stirring.
- Once darkened, add all the chopped veggies and garlic into the roux. Cook for about 10 minutes, stirring. I added a little bit of thyme and paprika at this stage.
- Throw all this into a pot/dutch oven. Add to the pot the diced tomatoes, chicken broth, a dash of Worcestershire sauce (I used about a teaspoons-worth), and all the spices (to your liking). I used a few Bay leaves, about 2 tspn salt, 3 tspn black pepper, 1 Tblspn each of oregano and basil, a Tblspn or 2 of thyme (this is probably my favorite spice to go overboard on; I just like the flavor it brings), and dash of paprika and sage. At any point, to add a little more kick, don’t be afraid to use cayenne pepper to augment the paprika.
- Cook the meat all together on high in the same pan that you initially did the veggies. Again, add spices to your liking. This is where I added a little more thyme, paprika, cayenne pepper, basil and oregano to coat the meats with a dry rub of spicing. Once the pan starts to get dry and the meats become seared or ‘blackened’, dump all the meats into the pot/dutch oven. Quite often, I will be psuedo-liberal with the cayenne pepper to dry rub and sear the meats because the perceived spiciness of the cayenne will burn off in the cooking, whereas when you add it to the broth, it won’t so much.
- About 20 minutes before taking it off the heat, dump the bag of okra in and start the rice.
To serve, put a ‘volcano’ of rice into a soup bowl (or a bread bowl if you’re out to impress), and pour the Gumbo on top of the rice. The consistency of the gumbo should be a “thick soup” or a “thin stew”.