Gumbo is one of those great foods that is at heart a peasant food fit for a gourmet.
More than a few books have been written about making gumbo. I’ll try to keep it shorter than that.
Shrimp / Stock
Shrimp stock is not something I tend to keep on-hand in the freezer. It can happen! No doubt. But not too often.
You could use chicken stock, especially if you’re making a chicken gumbo, but today I’m using shrimp.
And I almost always use frozen shrimp. As I’ve been known to lament, there are only two kinds of seafood in Kansas: catfish and frozen. (There is of course a third type: flown in. But that’s generally above my pay grade.)
These last few years I’ve been lucky enough to find Paul Piazza shrimp at most of our local grocery stores. Wild caught off the coast of Louisiana in the Gulf of Mexico, sustainable practices, and priced reasonably. I prefer 31/40 for my gumbo.
Once you thaw them, toss the tails and peels into a stock pot. Use the top and peel of your onion; the tops, bottoms, and leaves of your celery; the bottoms of your green onions; and a couple of carrots if you have them. A piece of bacon or leftover fish wouldn’t hurt anything if you have them. A small handful of black peppercorns and a bay leaf and maybe a couple of smashed garlic cloves work well too. Just a basic flavorful stock.
Fill the pot with water up to the handle rivets. Or about four quarts. Whichever comes first.
Remember not to use salt for stock — use salt in the final dish, that way you can control the amount.
Let all of that simmer on the back of the stove for an hour or so and then strain off the stock.
Dice your onion, green onion, celery, green pepper, and garlic before you get started.
I’ve been using Niman Ranch andouille sausage from the Natural Grocer’s down the street. If you can’t find a good andouille sausage then use regular smoked sausage. The key is to use something you like, right?
I slice it up into coins and then cook those off quickly in my dutch oven. Once browned, I spoon them out onto a paper towel to drain for use later.
Blues is like the roux in a gumbo. People ask me if jazz has the blues in it. I say, if it sounds good it does.
— Wynton Marsalis
This is going to take a while. I spend at least half-an-hour on the roux. Sometimes more.
And be careful! Chef Paul Prudhomme used to call gumbo roux Cajun Napalm. It’s super hot and super sticky. A longer-handled wooden spoon goes a long way.
Traditionally, you use the same amount of oil and flour for a roux. I tend to use a bit more flour, myself, but that’s a personal preference.
And I like to use an organic canola oil. You’ll need some sort of vegetable or seed oil that has a fairly neutral taste. So don’t use olive oil for this.
Heat the oil in a heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat. That heavy-bottomed part is important, otherwise you don’t get the heat distribution you need and you increase your chances of burning the roux. Regular cast-iron works well too if you’ve got it.
Once the oil is hot, after five minutes or so, whisk in the flour. Reduce your heat a little bit to medium-low and keep stirring. The key to not burning a roux is to keep stirring. Scrape the bottom and sides of that pot.
Your roux will start as a light tan color. After ten minutes or so it will be the color of peanut butter. Another ten minutes and it will be more milk chocolate. Another ten minutes and it’s the color of dark chocolate and now perfect.
Add the Cajun holy trinity: diced onion, celery, and green pepper.
As you’re stirring for about five minutes to tenderize the vegetables, you’ll get that smell and a calm will start to seep in, and you’ll think to yourself, this is gonna be so good.
It’s okay, it happens to all of us. Soak it in.
Add your chopped garlic and let it cook another couple of minutes.
Then the sausage goes back in along with the spices.
It’s about this point where people start coming to the kitchen from elsewhere in the house.
Now add your stock, gradually, one cup at a time, stirring well, letting the gumbo absorb the stock. No hurry here.
If you’re having it, start your rice now. Just plain long grain rice, nothing fancy. It’s served either on the side or, if you’re like me, as a scoop in the middle of the gumbo bowl.
After about half-an-hour of gentle simmer, adjust for salt and pepper to taste. If you used prepared stock be a little careful — those often contain a fair amount of salt already.
Bring it Together
Once the rice is done, add your shrimp and chopped green onion. Turn off the heat and let the shrimp cook while you get bowls down from the cupboard. The shrimp needs about 5 minutes to fully cook.
What’s filé powder?
Ground, dried sassafras leaves. A wonderful and inexpensive contribution to the cuisine from the Choctaw people. It will thicken the gumbo a bit and add a nice flavor that some people (like me) love and others don’t care for. Which is why I put it on the side.
Hey, where’s the okra?
Sorry, I’m not a fan of okra in gumbo. If you and yours love it then by all means add it in. You do you.
Suppertime Blues Shrimp and Sausage Gumbo
Gumbo is one of those great foods that is at heart a peasant food fit for a gourmet. Visit suppertimeblues.com to learn more.
- 3/4 cup oil canola or vegetable
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 8 cups seafood stock
- 1 onion, diced
- 2-3 celery stalks, diced
- 1 green pepper, diced
- 2-3 garlic cloves, chopped
- 1 pound shrimp, peeled, deveined
- 1 pound andouille sausage or smoked sausage
- 1 bunch green onions, sliced
- 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- 1 teaspoon oregano
- 1 bay leaf
- salt and pepper to taste
On the side
- hot sauce
- filé powder
If using homemade stock (and I hope you do!), make the stock at least an hour ahead of cooking time.
Brown your sausage and set aside.
Add your oil to a heavy pot over medium heat and let it get hot, about 5 minutes.
Whisk in the flour and reduce the heat to medium-low.
Cook the roux slowly, stirring more-or-less continuously, until the roux is dark and the color of dark chocolate. About 30 minutes.
Add the onion, celery, and green pepper. Cook for about 5 minutes to help tenderize.
Add the garlic and cook another couple of minutes.
Add the sausage and spices.
Gradually add the stock, one cup at a time, stirring to combine well as you go. Take your time.
Let cook for another half-an-hour.
Adjust for salt and pepper to taste.
Add the shrimp and green onions. Stir. Remove from heat and let sit for 5 minutes until the shrimp is cooked.
Serve with cooked rice, hot sauce, and filé powder as desired.
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