Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Gumbo! (Finally)

After I found a really great deal on okra at the local asian supermarket, I decided to FINALLY make gumbo.  (Seriously, what gives? I'd have made this sooner, but all the okra at the supermarket has been rather sad looking... and overpriced at that!)

I know you're going to want a recipe. I don't use a specific recipe, but I can recommend this one from Nola Cuisine. It's more or less how I make my gumbo, I just tweak the ingredients based on what's fresh and available. My only caveat - for me okra is a must. I also use filé a tasty thickener made of dried sassafras. I used to be allergic to filé (it gave me hives) but I loved gumbo so much, I just ate it anyway and took Benadryl (an allergy medication) that helped with the itching. Luckily I outgrew the allergy in my late twenties and can enjoy the gumbo sans medicine! So onward to the gumbo! I started with a roux, that I made with half oil and half flour. Since roux is so fatty, I decided I might as well use a healthy oil, so I used coconut oil (I have no idea if this is true, but supposedly it is burned instead of stored, like other fats).  HALF OIL and HALF FLOUR?! Yes. You read that right. I've experimented with making a dry roux in the oven using NO oil, but the results weren't were disappointing, and I haven't tried it again. So, in order to make roux, you basically heat the flour and oil and stir continuously (for a LONG time) until it starts to look like this:
Making Roux

About 15 minutes after this, it will start to loosen up a bit, and darken still more.  It's VERY important to keep stirring. Don't ease up for a second! The difference between good roux and burned roux is a matter of seconds!  And burned roux makes horrible tasting gumbo. If you burn it, just start over, and make a new batch of roux.  Here's a video of the master, Chef Paul Prudhomme making roux.  

Be CAREFUL! This stuff is basically cajun napalm - if you get it on you, it will stick to you and continue burning.  It will start smelling absolutely amazing, but remember you  haven't added any seasoning (and it's the temperature of lava) so don't try tasting it!

After this point, I removed the pan from the heat, and kept stirring a bit. I've found that if I immediately add my veggies, they burn.  So, I let my roux cool a tad before I add HALF of my veggies.  Veggies consist of equal amounts of bell pepper, celery and onion (AKA the cajun "Trinity") and okra.  I also had fennel in the fridge and added it as well, it added a nice, slightly sweet crunch at the end.

After adding half the veggies to the hot roux and stirring profusely to avoid burning, it starts to looks like this:

At this point I added chicken stock.  I used two containers. Purists will say that you want to add hot stock.  Since I didn't start with a whole chicken this time, to make stock, I used the boxed kind, which worked fine.  As you can see in the picture below, it came together nicely.  I also added crawfish stock that I'd previously frozen when my family had a crawfish boil.  If you have this or a seafood stock, by all means add it. If not, chicken stock will still give you a wonderful flavor.

After adding the stock, I brought everything up to a simmer and the other half of the veggies, raw cut chicken thighs (you can use breast if you want, I prefer thighs) and cut pieces of andouille sausage.  I also added a small container of oysters, in their juice, but I cut them in small pieces.  I don't actually enjoy the texture of cooked oyster in gumbo, but I enjoy the flavor it adds. By cutting them in small pieces and adding them early, they disintegrate, lending their flavor but not texture to the final dish.  I also added fresh chopped tomatoes, and all of my spices (bay leaves, chopped garlic, cayenne pepper, tabasco sauce and a dash of cajun seasoning).

In case you're wondering, THIS is real andouille sausage.  Notice the large chunks, with bits of tasso (a heavily spiced cajun ham). This looks nothing like the fine-ground, cajun flavored sausage that I usually find at the store marketed as andouille.  This was purchased in Shreveport, Louisiana. (Ironically, I have yet to taste a decent bowl of gumbo in Shreveport)  If driving to Shreveport isn't an option for you, I've heard great things about ordering online from The Cajun Grocer. But it *is* expensive.

Behold! Real Andouille!

After letting everything simmer until it is ALMOST ready (veggies tender - check! Soup is delicious - check! meat is done, but not over cooked - check!) you're ready to add your seafood.  Bring it up to a rolling simmer, add your shrimp, precooked picked crawfish, pieces of fish, whatever seafood you plan to add.  Then the heat off. Put the lid on. Wait 5 minutes (or until shrimp are curled, beautiful and plumply done, fish is slightly flaky, etc.)  This is the secret to not overcooking your seafood.  (Results may vary - it's really going to depend on what type of seafood you use)  But if you've followed these instructions with love, (and a LOT of sweat and elbow grease!) your gumbo will look like this:

THEN add your filé.  If you add it at the end, you'll be rewarded with maximum flavor.  I serve this on top of steamed Jasmine rice or any other long grained rice.  (I usually eat short grained rice, but trust me, the long grained kind is what you need here)  Top with fresh chopped green onions, maybe some parsley if you have it.  


It's also much much better the next day!  And it freezes well - when I make this, I make a HUGE amount so that I can take some to work and freeze the rest.  From start to finish, this generally takes me about 4 hours to make, so freezing a couple of batches makes a lot of sense!

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Haven't gotten around to that gumbo yet... but we made smoked salmon last night at my mom's.  And a full Japanese feast - kinpira, wakame soup, wakame salad, simmered daikon - it was awesome!

All I took picures of was the salmon... here are the salmon heads that were given to me by one of my favorite Japanese restaurants in Fort Worth:

And after smoking....

Amazingly good. I had leftover in a bento box for lunch today.  I think I need to pick up some cream cheese.... salmon rolls with smoked salmon and cream cheese sounds awesome!

Monday, February 25, 2013

I've been quiet, haven't I?

I've been insanely busy with work and college... but I will be posting soon, and something really awesome!  Homemade gumbo from scratch!  Now, I can tell you that there are a lot of gumbo recipes out there, and if you don't live in southern Louisiana, chances are the only way you're going to find decent gumbo is to make it yourself.  (Even when I've gone to Shreveport, LA, I have yet to eat a decent bowl of restaurant gumbo)  If you’ve never been to NOLA (New Orleans, LA), and you don’t know someone from there, chances are that you’ve never actually had a good bowl of gumbo.

My gumbo has developed over years and years of making it, originally from Chef Paul Prudhomme's recipe. However, I finally visited New Orleans a couple of years ago. Eating the 'real deal' at Mulatte's completely changed the way I think about gumbo. Now, the awesome thing about gumbo is, you make it your own.... as long as it's fantastic, it's all good.  There’s plenty of argument about whether gumbo has okra or tomatoes, and when to add the filé.  There are as many varieties of gumbo that you can imagine - I've even had gumbo with beans in it. Seriously!

I’m getting ahead of myself though.  What exactly is gumbo?  I can tell you that it’s not the canned stuff you find at the grocery store.  Gumbo originated in Southern Louisiana during the 18th century, and like the people of the region, gumbo is literally a melting pot meal from a wide variety of cultures, such as French, Spanish, German, West African, and Choctaw.  The name “gumbo” probably comes from the Bantu word for okra “ki gnombo” or else the Choktaw word for file (ground sassafras powder) “kombo”.  There are some that prefer their gumbo without okra, but I feel that real gumbo requires it – it’s where the name probably originated from after all!  Gumbo will always contain the “holy trinity” which is onions, bell peppers and celery, and starts with a base or roux.  Traditionally, the color of the roux will depend on the type of gumbo you’re making.  Gumbo containing seafood and lighter meats such as chicken will have a dark roux.  Gumbo made with game meats, or darker colored meats will have a lighter colored roux.  New Orleans gumbo will usually be a mixture of seafood (shrimp, crawfish, oysters, crab) or poultry (usually chicken, but sometimes duck) and sausage (andouille sausage).  I generally combine all three, using what I have one hand.

So, I hope I’ve whetted your appetite for gumbo! I’ve recently returned from Shreveport, LA with some amazing andouille from Bergeron’s https://www.facebook.com/BergeronsOfShreveport and I’m looking forward to making a huge pot of gumbo.  For more information, I *highly* recommend The Prudhomme Family Cookbook http://www.amazon.com/Prudhomme-Family-Cookbook-Louisiana-Recipes/dp/0688075495 or Chef Paul Prudhomme’s Louisiana Kitchen http://www.amazon.com/Chef-Paul-Prudhommes-Louisiana-Kitchen/dp/0688028470/ref=pd_sim_b_1 .  Chef Paul’s books are amazing because he provides not only the recipes, but also what he knows about the history of that dish. In the case of the family cookbook, you also get the bonus of his family history of that dish.  These two books are treasures, and I own both of them.