Pat and I attended our local Mardi Gras parade Saturday afternoon here on Saint Simons Island. Having attended the celebration in New Orleans a half-dozen times, I found that St. Simons has embraced the spirit of the season in a surprisingly enthusiastic manner. Zideco music, gaudy bead throws, and costume clad citizens (many of them senior citizens) making spectacles of themselves while imbibing from plastic “to go” cups of beer and spirits…you get the picture.
Since it was Mardi Gras, I found myself wanting to do some “Cajun cooking” this weekend and I needed some Okra to do it. What should it be? Red Beans & Rice, Jambalaya, Crawfish Etouffee, or how about Gumbo?
The word “Gumbo” apparently comes from the word “Gombo” in one of the African dialects. ”Gombo” means “Okra” in English. It’s not a bad thing, because I love Okra…cooked just about any way except plain old boiled Okra.
I personally have dined on at least a couple of hundred bowls of Gumbo over the years. Most was edible, some was excellent, and a few bowls were awesome. I don’t like tomato based Gumbo, however. I like Roux based Gumbos, and I wanted to make some awesome Gumbo, if possible. I've watched Justin Wilson make Roux based Gumbo on his TV show many times before, so here is what I did…
For the Roux:
1 stick of semi-sweet unsalted butter
2/3 cup of plain flour
1/8 cup vegetable oil
1 tbsp sausage (or bacon) drippings
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
6 cups water
1 cup, browned spicy sausage, sliced into thin pieces
¼ stick of butter
1 medium onion-diced fine
2 stalks celery, chopped fine
¼ red bell pepper, diced
¼ yellow bell pepper, diced
1 can chicken broth
1 can beef broth
½ lb sliced, fresh okra (or 1 can chopped Okra—I had to use this)
½-¾ pound pealed shrimp (your choice of size)
1 cup rice
Diced scallions (green onions--for all my southern friends)
First, brown your sausage in a heavy skillet (preferably cast iron), reserving the grease which cooks out of the meat. Turn the heat down to low and let the skillet cool off a little, then add the butter and let it melt.
Redneck Tip: You absolutely HAVE to carefully pay attention to your skillet temperature and not let your Roux burn during this step. Adjust the temperature of the cook top eye SLOWLY as you cook your Roux. Using a cast iron skillet, there is a delay in the heat distribution, so don’t make sudden changes. If you burn your roux, you will have to start all over.
While the butter is melting, put the 6 cups of water into an 8 quart boiler and add the chicken breasts. Bring it to a low boil and skim off any foam that floats to the top.
In another large, heavy skillet, melt ¼ stick of butter. Add the onion, then the celery, and cook for a few minutes over medium heat. Stir the mix every now and then—com’ on…When the onions start to get clear, add the colored bell peppers and turn the heat down slightly. Cook for another ten minutes while you start your roux
Back over in the skillet in which you cooked your sausage--when the butter is melted in with the bacon grease, start sprinkling in the flour a little at a time and stir continuously and slowly. Once the flour is all in, add the vegetable oil and KEEP STIRRING.
What you are trying to do here is to bring the Roux to a very, very, low boil (it will actually have little bubbles in it.) In this process, the flour will change chemically and the Roux will thicken and start changing color. We want to make a dark brown roux. KEEP STIRRING, don’t let it burn.
Meanwhile, over in the boiler, check your bird parts and don’t let them boil over. After 20 minutes, turn off the heat and let everything coast. Also turn off the heat on the vegetables and finish your roux, turning off the heat on it when you are done.
After the chicken has cooled a little, remove the pieces to a cutting board and dice or tear it into bite sized pieces. Add the pieces back to the water in the boiler over medium heat and bring it to a low boil. Now add the cooked vegetables, the sliced sausage, the chicken broth, and the beef broth. Turn the heat down a little and stir in your thickened brown roux. Now add the piece de resistance, the sliced Okra.
Adjust the heat so that the Gumbo is just simmering, then toss a lid on the pot and go shell your shrimp. Remove the tails also, place them in a bowl, and squeeze some fresh lemon juice over them. (Don’t add them to the gumbo yet.)
Now mix yourself a cocktail and go watch the Weather Channel or Food Network, stopping back by to check on the progress every ten or fifteen minutes or so.
A good Gumbo can cook anywhere from one to four hours, or even longer if you have enough liquid. About ten or fifteen minutes before you are ready to serve your Gumbo, toss in your shrimp and cook until pink and done.
My Gumbo cooked for two hours before we turned it off and served it over rice, with a piece
of my Killer Cornbread for Two (or a Few) on the side, garnished with fresh parsley and diced green onions.
Ummmmmm, Ummmm Good...
The Redneck Gourmet