BY PATSY R. BRUMFIELD – THE SOUTHFACIN’ COOK
Of course, gumbo is the quintessential New Orleans dish.
If you don’t have a big, ole gumbo pot, go get one. Doesn’t have to be fancy. Just big enough to hold about 4 gallons of liquid. I also use my gumbo pot to mix up other big recipes, especially Thanksgiving dressing and to brine my turkey.
If you have such a large pot, you will find a lot of uses for it. Don’t make too great an investment, though, unless you just want to show off.
Gumbo reportedly is the African word for okra, so expect to love it, if you don’t already know it.
I don’t start my gumbo with a dark roux, although it includes one. This may be locally heretical, but I have my reasons, which I’ll explain later in the recipe.
While this recipe looks complicated, it’s mostly about chopping, stirring and tasting.
- large tall cooking pot
- chopping board
- chopping knife
- large mixing bowls
- long wooden spoon
- measuring equipment
- 2-3 fish filets (catfish, tilapia or another firm, white fish)
- 4 boneless chicken breasts (diced into bite-sized cubes)
- 1-1.5 pounds smoked pork sausage (plain and spicy)
- 2 28-ounce family-size pkgs frozen cut okra
- 6 tablespoons minced garlic
- 2-3 large onions, pealed/chopped
- 1 bunch celery, washed and chopped
- 3-4 large bell peppers, washed/chopped (I like red, yellow, green)
- 1/2 cup fresh or dried parsley
- 2 28-ounce cans diced tomatoes
- 6 bay leaves
- 1/4 cup oregano
- pinch thyme
- salt, pepper
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup white vinegar
- 4 32-ounce cartons chicken broth
- 1/4 cup Worcestershire
- 2 tablespoons Zatarian’s liquid shrimp and crab boil
- Gumbo file’
- (Optional) 1 pound shrimp or crabmeat, or both
- 1/2 cup flour
- 1/2 cup olive oil
RICE – to serve gumbo over
LET’S GET STARTED:
Cooking gumbo is an all-morning or all-afternoon affair. It used to take me all day, but then I discovered I could cool it off in a sink of cold water, which made it quicker to put into storage containers for the refrigerator or freezer.
Like red beans and rice, gumbo keeps getting better as the flavors meld. Plan for garlic bread and a salad, if you have time. A big, ole pot of gumbo makes about 3 gallons. That’s a lot, so plan to freeze it in quantities that make sense for you, whether it’s individual servings or enough for 3-4 at a time.
This recipe is also one of mine that takes periodic taste-testing to add this and that to suit your tastes. In the end, you want lots of flavor, which is a blend of sweet-salty-sour in a juicy broth slightly thickened by your roux and gumbo.
In your gumbo pot, add tomatoes, chicken breasts, diced fish, salt, pepper, chicken broth, garlic, parsley, thyme, oregano, sugar, lemon cut in halves, 1/4 cup vinegar.
Heat on medium-high until you get a slow boil going. Reduce heat to simmer, cover and cook for an hour, stirring periodically. (Your goal is to get the chicken/fish to start to fall apart. You also are building your flavor base.) Cook 30 minutes.
Next, add onion, peppers, celery and sausage, which you’ve cut in half and then into 1/4-inch crescents. (You want the sausage to break down a little, too, which is why it’s cut in half. If you prefer some whole rounds, do it.)
Your pot should be about half-filled now. Wait 30 minutes before you consider more liquid or salt, if you think you need it. Remember, the veggies you just added have liquid in them, and sausage has salt, too. Ultimately, you don’t want a watery or salty gumbo. You want a thick, savory concoction.
Return pot to simmer, cover and cook another hour, stirring and tasting periodically to decide what other flavors you want. You also will notice your chicken falling apart. (Is it salty enough? Do you need 1/4 cup vinegar to give it a little sour punch? What about a little more sugar? You shouldn’t be able to taste it and say, “That’s sweet,” but you should have enough to balance the piquant nature of the lemon and vinegar. If it tastes flat, it usually needs a little more salt.)
After your gumbo has cooked these two phases (usually 2 hours to get here), it’s time to start the roux, which is just flour browned in oil. Frankly, this will take longer than you think it should but you don’t want to singe the flour.
In a separate, large pot like a dutch oven, heat your olive oil at medium-high.
When it shimmers, add the flour and whisk often to ensure an even browning. Reduce heat to medium. (Don’t walk away from this for long because if it burns, you must start over.)
You’ll notice after about 10 minutes that the flour starts to smell a little nuttier. That’s good. Your roux should be a coffee-with-cream color at 15 minutes. This is where I turn it off. Some folks like it darker, but I get a little nervous before this happens.
Bring out the frozen okra. Dump one of the okra packages into the roux. Expect it to steam up quickly. Stir so that roux coats the okra. (This does at least one very good thing: It makes it a lot easier to incorporate all your roux into your gumbo pot. Just take a large spoon and move coated okra to the big pot. Initially, I lifted the heavy dutch oven to pour the mixture into the gumbo pot and wound up dropping the whole thing into the gumbo. What a mess! Learn from me.)
Add your roux-okra carefully into the gumbo mixture. Add 1/4 cup gumbo file’. Add the rest of your okra. All this will thicken your gumbo. (It also will help incorporate some of the oil that comes from the sausage.)
Bring the temperature back to a simmer, cover and continue to cook another 15 minutes. Stir every 5 minutes because it’s gotten a lot thicker and you don’t want the roux to stick to the bottom. Add Worchestershire and crab boil. Taste and adjust. (Often, I add the rest of the vinegar, the other lemon half, salt, black pepper and about 2 tablespoons more sugar.) Your gumbo will be ready when the okra is very tender. Don’t worry about overcooking the okra. Turn off the heat. Remove the bay leaves.
Start your rice. If you use brown, it will take 30 mins to cook. White rice takes 20 mins. (For white rice, equal quantities of rice/water. For brown rice, 1 cup rice to 1 3/4 cup water. Package advises too much water and cooking time for my tastes.
SEAFOOD – If you want to include shrimp or crabmeat, make sure it’s clean/rinsed/de-headed. With shrimp, you should remove the legs but can leave on the shells although it makes eating a little messier. I recommend spending a couple of dollars more for deveined, peeled shrimp.
For crabmeat, make sure meat is clean and without shell pieces. (If you get shrimp in the shell, put the shells/heads in a freezer bag for other recipes like BBQ shrimp. That’s coming in another column.)
Once your gumbo is ready in all other ways, it’s time to add the seafood, which cooks very quickly, in just a few minutes. When the shrimp is pink and opaque, it’s ready – 3-4 minutes. Crabmeat happens even faster.
When you decide your gumbo is ready, serve it in a hearty bowl on top of a small amount of rice, like 1/3 to 1/2 cup of rice. Gumbo is different from red beans, which you serve over about an equal amount of rice.
Top gumbo with extra sprinkle of gumbo file’, which is powdered sassafras leaves. Tabasco to taste.
Garlic bread is essential. Green salad can make it a complete offering. Do what you have time to do.
Carefully place your heavy, hot gumbo pot into the kitchen sink. Fill sink with cold water, which will begin to bring down temperature of gumbo. Over about 20 minutes, you may need to empty your sink and add cooler water three to four more times. Stirring gumbo also helps.
I like to place the cooled gumbo pot directly into the refrigerator. The next day, I take it out and with a large metal spoon or strainer, carefully lift off the congealed sausage oil, which will have risen to the top. I think it’s just a healthier dish by doing this, and I don’t think it takes away any flavor from the gumbo.
At this stage, leave enough gumbo in a refrigerated container for your immediate consumption. Freeze the rest in containers or freezer bags for sizes appropriate for your personal use. Rice can also be included in personal quantities to make re-heating a lot quicker. Otherwise, rice doesn’t keep very well in the refrigerator or freezer. Start afresh with cooking rice, if you’re going to warm up more than one serving.
Come back every Wednesday for “Southfacin’ cook” at New in NOLA for Patsy’s basics to Southern cooking and eating. Contact her with suggestions, questions or requests at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Previous recipes from Patsy: