I love gumbo and it’s with a certain amount of displeasure that I confess to you that I usually only make it once a year. Why you might ask? She said she loves it! The answer is simply this…it’s the roux.
Roux is a double edged sword for me. The positives are that it’s the signature on the gumbo and there isn’t anything terribly complicated about making it. But the negative is that you’re heating fat and flour together and it takes vigilance, patience and constant stirring to prevent burning and to develop the desired color. And if I’m being completely honest, I’m not a patient person and attaining a dark roux can take up 20 minutes after the oil reaches its smoke point. Just briefly about the oil, the vegetable oil you choose must be able to withstand high heat.
Gumbo comes together with relative ease after achieving the perfect roux. The next question you might ask is what is a perfect roux? The answer — it’s a matter of preference. For me it’s a dark, reddish brown roux that imparts a wonderful smoky flavor. From what I gather though, in Louisiana the perfect roux depends on who’s cooking. Is the cook Creole or Cajun? Roux ranges in color from light (known as blonde) to very dark. Creole cooks prefer blonde to medium while Cajun cooks favor a darker roux.
Let’s talk gumbo basics. The basics are the roux, the trinity and the thickener. The trinity in Creole/Cajun cuisine is onion, celery and bell pepper which is cooked briefly in the roux before adding it to the stock. The trinity can also be used to slow down the heat if your roux is getting too hot. If this happens take the roux off heat and add some or all of the trinity and then when the temperature is under control return the pan to the heat .
There are three ways to thicken a gumbo: okra, filé (pronounced FEE lay) powder and roux. Frankly unless okra is pickled I don’t want to have anything to do with it so enough said about okra by me. (But please give it try as the thickener and let me know what you think!) As for the roux, the darker the color the less capacity it has to thicken. So if you choose to make a dark roux and desire a thicker base you can add filé powder which is made from ground sassafras leaves. The result then is filé gumbo.
On to the finishing touches. The protein… which again is a matter of preference. The filé gumbo recipe that I’m sharing with you today is created by the addition of spicy shrimp and andouille sausage. There is no prescribed right way to make gumbo. I venture to say there are as many gumbo recipes as there are cooks. The variations are practically endless by altering the color of the roux and choice of protein.
But whatever combination you decide to cook up, the roux truly is the secret. It is a key element to the gumbo’s flavor profile, it can act as both a cooling agent if your roux gets too hot and as a thickener. Let your imagination be your guide and remember that the only roux that isn’t acceptable is a burnt one!
A Mid-Autumn Dinner Menu
Mixed Greens with Manchego, Apple, and Spiced Pecans dressed with a Cider Vinaigrette
(Don’t judge me by my choice of desserts for this menu! I had all the fixings from last week’s experiment. If that hadn’t been the case I would have gone for a bread pudding with a bourbon sauce but… waste not want not!!)