recipe by Josh Jack
The cold is finally here and nothing warms the body and soul quite like a piping hot bowl (or two, or three) of gumbo. Many restaurants in the city serve some version of this storied stew, but the best stuff always comes from your own (or your mama’s) kitchen. Here’s a quick and dirty guide to help you improvise your own variation of Louisiana’s most beloved dish!
1) Start with a stock! Chicken and seafood stock are the most traditional, but you could use beef, or game-meat bones as well. Seafood stock is the quickest: parcooked shrimp heads/shells, halved and de-gilled gumbo crabs, and/or fish bones/heads aresimmered in a pot with onion, garlic, celery, and carrot — along with herbs, spices, and probably a bit of wine or lemon juice — for an hour or so. Chicken stock takes a few hours at least (raw, parcooked or roasted bones can all be used.) Either way, a good stock is the secret ingredient that will take your gumbo to the next level!
2) Make a roux! So, even though a gumbo can also be thickened up with okra or file’ powder, that toasty roux flavor is what most people think of when they’re tasting gumbo in their mind. You can use butter or oil (the former is the Creole style — the latter Cajun) with equal parts flour mixed in and whisked constantly over however high a heat you’re comfortable with. Don’t burn it! You’ll have to start all over! A lighter roux thickens better but tastes milder; the darkest rouxs have the look of melted chocolate and the flavor of liquid toast.
3) Deploy the Holy Trinity! Chop up onion, celery, and bell pepper: soul of south Louisiana cookin’. Wilt these in the roux you just created.(Also add some garlic near the end.) This should make your kitchen smell a lot like heaven!
4) Meat(s)! Add sausage, chicken, duck, rabbit, or whatever else here and brown. (Delicate shrimp, oysters, crab, or fish would instead be added near the end so they don’t get overdone.) If you’re using okra that can go in now as well.
5) Add that stock and simmer! let them flavors get to know each other in the pot for a while. Some people add in crushed or diced tomatoes at this stage, but that’s considered by some to be a bit of a maverick move. (Speaking of maverick moves, veggies/vegans can make their own version of another classic gumbo — gumbo z’herbes — by using vegetable stock, maybe with some smoked peppers in there for some depth, and lots of greens: think collards, turnips, mustards, rocket, dandelions, carrot tops, ect…. even kale if you really want to ruffle the traditionalist’s feathers.) Land meat should cook for at least an hour, but fish and shellfish can be added near the end and cooked til they are just done (just say ‘no’ to rubbery seafood!)
6) Dress it up! Add salt (Tony’s!) pepper, parsley, scallions, hot sauce — whatever your heart desires! If you’re using file’ powder that goes in last of all (it gets stringy if cooked which is gross.)
7) Eat it up!