Cooking With Metachat!

Monday, September 26, 2005

Taz's Gumbo

The major secret to incredible gumbo is the roux. This is what separates the weak-ass stuff from the wonderful elixir that makes you want to slap your mama. Otherwise great chefs have said that they just can't manage to reproduce the flavor of real Louisiana (et al) gumbo... The roux is why.

To make a great roux, you must be brave, patient, and persistent. I used to spend as long as 45 minutes making the roux... though now I do it in about 15 or 20 minutes. The only difference is your heat setting. Here's how I make it: I put 1/2 cup of olive oil (you don't need to use olive oil, but I do) in the bottom of a large flat frying pan (or enough oil to cover the bottom, but not less than a 1/2 cup), and turn the heat up to medium high. Then I put one cup of flour into a sifter and as soon as the oil is hot, I begin sifting in the flour, blending and stirring with a wooden spoon. Keep sifting and blending 'til you've got all the flour in the pan... then keep stirring and scraping and stirring and scraping and stirring. You want to keep it going until it gets to be a very, very dark brown color, like this.

Your entire goal here is to get it as dark as possible without burning it. So you can use a lower heat and cook it longer, with less risk of burning, or you can use a higher heat, as I do, and never leave it for a second. Stir, stir, stir.

And this, boys and girls, is the only great secret of gumbo - the rest you can play with and change if you like. You can make shrimp or crawfish gumbo, or vegetarian gumbo with lots of greens, or pretty much anything.

Today, I'm making chicken and sausage gumbo.

The first thing I do is cut the vegetables. Today I used two large red peppers, two large green bell peppers, two large onions, a small bunch of parsley, and three toes of garlic, all chopped, and two cupped handfuls of chopped celery, with leaves (our celery is different here from regular U.S. celery - but I think I used to use two or three stalks). Put all the cut up veggies together in bowl or on your chopping board.

Now the chicken: I use four chicken leg-thigh parts, which I shake up in a bag with flour, salt, pepper, powdered garlic and hot paprika to thoroughly coat the chicken parts.

While I'm making the roux, I fry the chicken in the same big soup pot that I'm going to make the gumbo in. The frying doesn't need to be perfect, because the chicken is going to cook for a long time in the soup. Basically, you just want to get them nice and browned. When they are done, put them on a plate with paper towel underneath, and throw out any remaining oil from the pot.

(Or you can do this step ahead of time, and use the remaining oil when making your roux.)

As soon as the roux reaches that magic dark mahogany color, I dump all the chopped vegetables into the roux frying pan, and quickly stir and toss with the wooden spoon until the veggies are all coated and have basically gathered up all the roux onto themselves. The aroma that explodes at this point will give you some clue about the treat that lies ahead.

Now dump the vegetables-and-roux and the fried chicken parts into the soup pot, and cover with water. I use about three quarts of water. Then slice up about a pound of smoked sausage and add that to the pot. (If you can find some Cajun Tasso, throw a little of that in, as well!) Season as you please. I use one or two tablespoons of hot sauce, three tablespoons of worcestershire, a little cayenne (or any hot, powdered) pepper, salt, black pepper, white pepper, and two or three bay leaves.

Simmer it for two or three hours (edited to say: "actually, boil for a while at first, then simmer". The chicken definitely must be falling from the bone), then remove the bones and serve over cooked rice. I sprinkle filé powder over mine in the individual bowls before serving - but if you've included okra among your vegetables, don't use filé.

It will end up looking something like this.

It's magnificent the first day, but the second day is when you go to heaven.

If you make this, and you don't love me foreverafterwards, then you're just not right, Jack. Get yourself back to the morgue.

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