I was reading an article about gumbo the other week and I had a craving for gumbo. Already armed with a reliable recipe, I got as far as buying chorizo and celery, but because gumbo takes some serious time to make, it all sat in my fridge for a week until yesterday when I cleared my schedule and gathered up some willpower to stand in front of the stove for an extended period of time.
Because it is an effort to cook from scratch (or as close to it as our busy schedules allow). Some things in the kitchen are worth the effort. Other things, well, that’s why store bought short cuts exist.
For me, there is nothing store bought that can replace the smell and taste of a roast turkey dinner, homemade mac and cheese, or cookies fresh from the oven. Other things….well, if chicken stock from a cube or a tetra pack means that I can make gumbo on a whim, then I’m going to take the shortcut.
My gumbo recipe *could* be made better with homemade chicken stock, or even better with a smoked turkey stock and meat picked off the bones. But honestly, I’d rather spend the time cleaning my house and inviting friends over to share this big pot of gumbo made with bouillon than buying and roasting a bird and making stock from its carcass just to make gumbo and then have to eat it alone because my house is still a disaster unfit for guests.
Even with the short cuts, gumbo takes time. The prep work takes time, making a roux takes time, and then you still have to let it simmer for at least an hour. The more time you give to your gumbo, the better it will taste.
My recipe comes from a Canadian Living magazine from the mid-90’s. My mom found it, saved it, and would make it for special occasions. When I got my first apartment, I remember handwriting the recipe and taking it back home with me. I still have it, folded up in the recipe box, though I don’t need it any more, as it’s been etched in my memory from repeated execution and multiple transcribing to share it with my friends. Outside of making it exactly as per the recipe, I’ve also made a gluten free version with browned butter and cornstarch and a vegan version seasoned with smoked paprika, cumin, and chipotle peppers in adobo (fyi: neither are as good as the original).
The recipe is special to me because my mom taught me how to make a roux. She taught me to be patient with it, to keep stirring, and to let it brown but never burn. “It should be the colour of peanut butter” she would remind me, when I hollered at her from the kitchen to the living room, asking if it was done yet.
I’ll admit that my gumbo doesn’t look like much. It’s murky and brown. It’s not really an #instagram worthy dinner. It doesn’t wow people with it’s appearance, but leave the pot on the table surrounded by friends and you’ll wish you had made a double batch.
Let’s go through the recipe together.
½ c flour
½ c oil (vegetable oil or olive oil)
1 large onion, finely diced
3 stalks celery, finely diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp thyme
1 red or green pepper, diced
4 andouille or smoked chorizo sausage, sliced
2 boneless skinless chicken breasts, cubed
6 cups veg stock or chicken stock, warm
2 bay leaves
That’s the recipe, to the best of my recollection. Right off the start, I tend to double up the veggies and the flour and oil, and I use at least 8 cups of stock instead of only 6.
Why? Well, how big are the chicken breasts? What about adding shrimp? Were the sausages on sale or too lovely to pass up and now you have 6 instead of 4? How much or how little you add affects whether this is a soup or a stew. It’ll be delicious no matter what. Trust me.
- Get out a big heavy bottomed…pot. Call it Bust’er in my honour. If you have a fancy enamel ‘french oven’ or a dutch oven, feel free to use it here.
- Get your prep work done. Chop the onions and celery and peppers. Chop up your sausage. Warm your stock (head nod to my microwave on this one).
- Make the roux. Heat the oil in a large, thick-bottomed pot, such as a Dutch oven, on medium high heat, for a minute or two. Whisk in the flour and lower the heat to medium. Stir constantly, making sure to scrape the bottom of the pan as you stir. Let the roux cook until it is the color of peanut butter, about 20-30 minutes total time. It should look and feel like warm peanut butter. Add more oil if it’s too thick and lumpy, or just smoosh out the lumps if you’re like me and didn’t have quite enough oil on hand to turn it into a silky paste.
- Add the onion and celery, and cook for 3 or 4 min, stirring constantly. Add the garlic and thyme and cook for another few minutes.
- Slowly add the warm stock to the pot, stirring constantly. Don’t add cold stock because it can cause the roux to separate.
- Bring everything to a boil. Add the sausage and bay leaves.
- Skim off the foam that inevitably forms.
- Reduce heat to medium low and simmer, uncovered, for 45 minutes.
- Add diced chicken and peppers. Cook for at least 15 minutes longer.
- Turn the heat off. Put the lid on the pot and walk away. You’ll likely have some oil separate out and float to the surface. Skim it away if you want, or if you’re of the ‘fat is flavour’ camp, get ready to stir it back in when you reheat the gumbo to serve it for dinner tomorrow night.
Serve over rice while you re-read Pableaux Johnson’s ode to gumbo. http://www.seriouseats.com/2016/03/how-i-cook-gumbo-south-louisiana-cajun-country.html