The Recipe: Every good gumbo – according to some, every good Cajun dish – starts off with a roux, a silky fat and flour mixture cooked to colors ranging from Mardi-Gras gold to black-as-voodoo. This gumbo recipe uses Cook's Illustrated's almost-no-stirring technique where the roux [pronounced ROO] is baked in the oven to a rich mahogany color. My Gumbo King thought the shortcut foolhardy and unnecessary but came away impressed by the results. "Seriously terrific gumbo," he called it, then paid the ultimate compliment, "Justin Wilson would be proud."
The Conversation: How to make a perfect roux in the oven.
If you asked Justin Wilson, the storied Cajun humorist, "What's for dinner?" he'd answer, "Whaddaya got?" Except that's not quite right – in fact, he would probably say, "First, make a roux. NOW whaddaya got?"
A roux isn't hard to make. In fact, home cooks make a roux every time we cook butter and flour as a thickener for soup, cheese sauce, etc. All it takes is fat, flour and patience.
Patience comes into play because a good roux, a pitch-dark roux, takes time. Find yourself a stool and a spoon and just stir and stir and stir and then stir some more, never letting up, never letting the mixture separate or burn, letting the color and flavor develop over an hour or longer.
As they are wont to do, Cook's Illustrated turned that formula upside down, putting the roux-maker out to pasture by letting the oven do the stirring.
Praise be, the technique works like a charm.
Cook's Illustrated also uses an unusual ingredient that boosts the seafood dimension of the gumbo. It's fish sauce, the salty liquid known in Thai and other Asian cuisines. I had no trouble finding a bottle in the Asian shelf in my everyday supermarket and in the pantry, not the fridge, it keeps for a long time. Fish sauce has a distinct flavor, I use it occasionally in recipes here, see recipes calling for fish sauce. But if you can't find a bottle, then I'd suggest shelling the shrimp while the roux cooks. Make a simple fish stock by cooking the shells with 5 cups of water, an onion, a carrot, a rib of celery, simmering for an hour to cook down to about 4 cups. Use this instead of chicken stock.
MORE JUSTIN WILSON Want to know more? Books and cookbooks by Justin Wilson.
SHORTCUT GUMBO? I started to call this recipe "Shortcut Gumbo" because honestly, I took shortcuts at every turn, using garlic from a jar, bouillon cubes instead of homemade chicken stock. But two hours of hands-on time is hardly an every-day cooking session. Even so, gumbo is no high art. It's Cajun peasant food, completely forgiving, so long as it starts with a good roux.
Gumbo makes great party food. In these parts, it's tradition to serve gumbo on Christmas Eve afternoon and last year, we made a big pot for a Mardi Gras party complete with a crawfish boil in the back yard, the kitchen table spread with newspapers for easy clean-up of the shells, finished with bananas Foster.
Laissez les bons temps rouler! Let the good times roll!
Time to table: 4 hours
Makes 16 cups
FIRST, MAKE A ROUX
- 3/4 cup flour
- 1/2 cup vegetable oil
START THE GUMBO
- 1 large onion, chopped fine
- 1 large poblano pepper, chopped fine
- 1 large green pepper, chopped fine
- 1 rib celery, chopped fine
- 5 cloves garlic
- 1 tablespoon flour
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (see TIPS)
- 15 ounces canned diced tomato
- 4 cups chicken broth, room temperature
- 1/4 cup fish sauce
- 2 pounds chicken, preferably boneless, skinless chicken thighs, chopped into small pieces and seasoned with black pepper
JUST BEFORE SERVING
- 16 ounces frozen okra, thawed to room temperature
- 2 pounds fresh shrimp, peeled, deveined and halved
- 8 ounces andouille sausage, chopped small
- Salt & pepper to taste
- Cooked rice, Oven-Baked Brown Rice is great
- Filé powder, also called gumbo filé (don't skip this)
FIRST, MAKE A ROUX Place an oven rack in the lowest position, preheat oven to 350F.
In a large heavy Dutch oven, toast flour on medium heat, stirring continuously. It will take some time for the flour to begin to cook, watch for a little smoke rising, then observe the texture change and the color to almost imperceptibly begin to darken. This takes about 10 minutes, stirring continuously, keeping a close eye.
Remove from heat and stir in the oil, a bit at a time. If little chunks of "fried flour" form, try to break them up, if not, at the end, fish them out.
Cover and bake for 45 minutes. Remove from oven and stir well, don't be alarmed by what appear to be dark chunks, these are easy to stir out. According to Cook's Illustrated, a roux can be made ahead of time and refrigerated for up to a week. If so, bring the roux back to a boil before continuing.
START THE GUMBO Over medium heat, stir in onion, poblano pepper and green pepper and cook, stirring often, until vegetables are soft, about 10 minutes.
Stir in garlic, 1 tablespoon flour and cayenne, cook for about 1 minute.
Stir in tomatoes, cook until the liquid is absorbed into the gumbo about 1 minute.
A splashful at a time at first, stir in chicken broth and fish sauce, letting the liquid become fully absorbed by the gumbo before adding more. Take your time here, it will pay off in texture.
Stir in seasoned chicken and bring just to a boil. Reduce heat to maintain a slow simmer, cover and let simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
IF ADDING SOME OKRA, SHRIMP & ANDOUILLE EARLY (see TIPS) Stir in about 1/4 the okra, shrimp and andouille, then return to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and let simmer for another 30 minutes.
IF MAKING AHEAD Stop here, let cool, cover and refrigerate for a day or so. Before serving, return to a simmer.
JUST BEFORE SERVING Stir in the andouille and let heat through. Stir in the okra and cook for about 5 minutes. Stir in the shrimp and cook for about 5 minutes or until the shrimp is fully cooked. Taste and adjust seasonings.
TO SERVE Place a spoonful or two of cooked rice in a bowl, top with gumbo and sprinkle with filé powder.
This Week, Years Past 2002 - 2011
Lentil Soup Vincent Smashed Potatoes & Broccoli Trio of Vegetables with Sour Cream On-the-Run Breakfast Bars Black Walnut Bread One-Pot Chicken with Beans & Vegetables Julia Child's Soubise (Onion & Rice Casserole) (<< personal favorite) Chimichurri
This Week, Elsewhere
More Favorite Shrimp Recipes
More Recipes Inspired by Cook's Illustrated
~ World's Best Green Bean Casserole ~
~ Butternut Squash Soup that Actually Tastes Like Butternut Squash ~
from A Veggie Venture, my food blog
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