There are many ways to make and enjoy gumbo; let us recount a few

October 17, 2012 

Gumbo -- everyone has their own recipe and there are quite a few cooks who are willing to stand up and do battle over the details of the making.

Gumbo is iconic in more ways than one and the term gumbo has taken on a meaning other than its culinary definition. A gumbo is a rich mixture of diverse things, but gumbo as the food we love comes to us by a long and circuitous route.

A stew has to be one of the most economical ways to feed groups of people and if it is prepared correctly it can be delicious.

In its distant past a stew was made by combining everything that a group could forage, dumping it all in a big pot, adding water and cooking it over an open fire. That sort of stew might have a life of many days, as new foraged ingredients were just added to the old.

The modern gumbo we crave this time of the year was most likely a gift from a hungry Frenchman who had visions of his native bouillabaisse, the much-famed stew from Marseille, France. But to be fair we should recognize the hands of French, Spanish, Native Americans and African slaves who all contributed something. This is part of what makes gumbo so great.

There are as many variations for gumbo as there are people who cook it, but the most basic division is Creole vs. Cajun.

Many will quarrel over the differences, but the basic is that Creole would have tomatoes and Cajun would not. Another point of much debate is over the use of the three traditional thickeners used -- okra, filé powder and roux.

Traditionally, filé and okra are not used together, but there is no rule of science against it. There is something sacrosanct to many about the use of roux, but it is, in fact, only a thickener. Roux can add a deep color to your gumbo which is hard to achieve oth

erwise, but it has very little effect on flavor. Go ahead, throw stones if you must, but a good gumbo can be made with, gasp, no roux at all.

What makes a good gumbo is attention to detail, the best quality ingredients and the willpower to take the several hours it needs to be made properly.

A good gumbo should be made with a flavorful stock. A few pieces of chicken, some vegetables and seasonings in a pot of water simmered for several hours is a good way to start. The combinations of things that can go into a gumbo is a long list indeed: shrimp, fish, oysters, crab, sausage, duck, chicken, game, tomatoes, okra, onion, garlic are a basic but not exclusive list.

I know I am asking for trouble with this suggestion, but I tried it recently, and it worked very well. Instead of serving gumbo with steamed rice, serve it with potato salad. Yep, just drop a large spoon full right into your bowl of gumbo, and I think you will be mighty surprised.

This strange pairing might come from Lafourche and Terrebonne parishes in Louisiana, but no one is certain. Just to see if it would work or not I recently made potato salad with Mississippi sweet potatoes and added it to a shrimp and sausage gumbo and it was one of the best I ever had.

GUMBO STOCK

3 chicken thighs

Shrimp shells

2 leftover boiled crabs

1 rough chopped red onion

1 cup rough chopped celery

1 chopped bell pepper

1/2-cup rough chopped carrot

Salt and pepper

2 pinched red pepper flakes

Add oil to a thick bottom stock pot, season the chicken and sear over medium heat for 3-4 minutes. Add the vegetables and cook, stirring often, for 15-20 minutes. Add water to cover by 2 inches, add the crabs cut into quarters and the shrimp shells and simmer for 2 hours. Allow to cool and strain. If you want to use some of the chicken meat in your gumbo remove it after 30 minutes of simmering, remove the meat you want and return the bones to the stock.

JUMBO GUMBO #2

Stock (amount dependent on the number of servings wanted)

1 pound jumbo peeled shrimp

1 pint oysters and liquor

1-2 cups sliced smoked sausage

1-2 cups cooked chicken

1-2 cups chopped okra

1-2 chopped onions

3/4 cup chopped celery

3/4 cup chopped green bell pepper (red is fine too or use a combination)

4-6 toes chopped garlic

Uncle William's Signature Seasoning and Dry Rub

Black pepper

Red pepper flakes

1-2 pinches dried oregano or Italian season, optional

In a large stock pot sauté the okra in a little oil for 8-10 minutes, or until it starts to come apart. Separately, sauté the sausage in a little oil until they are well browned, then drain and set aside. Add onions to the okra, remembering to season as you go, sauté for 10 minutes, add the celery and bell pepper and sauté 15 minutes more. Add the garlic and cook 2-3 minutes more. Add the stock and the oyster liquor and bring to a slow simmer. Season the shrimp with Uncle Williams, heat a sauté pan to the smoking point and sear the shrimp for about 30 seconds on a side or until they take on good color. Add the chicken, sausage, and shrimp to the gumbo and simmer for 20 minutes. It is best if you can let the gumbo sit overnight, but if you must serve it immediately bring it to a simmer and add the oysters, stir and serve right away.

Serve with steamed rice, crusty French bread from a local baker or with sweet potato potato salad.

SWEET POTATO SALAD

2 cups diced Mississippi sweet potatoes

1/2 cup chopped red onion

2 strips smoked bacon

2-3 tablespoons best quality mayonnaise

Black pepper

Green onions chopped for garnish

Simmer the sweet potatoes in water until just tender, remove and drain. Fry the bacon crispy, drain and chop. Combine all ingredients, taste and season. Garnish with the green onions. It is best if the salad is refrigerated before serving. Be brave, put a scoop right into a bowl of gumbo.

Chicken and Smoked Sausage Gumbo with White Rice

1 tablespoon plus 1/2 cup vegetable oil

1 pound smoked sausage, such as andouille or kielbasa, cut crosswise 1/2-inch thick pieces

4 pounds chicken thighs, skin removed

1 tablespoon Emeril's Essence or Creole seasoning, recipe follows

1 cup all-purpose flour

2 cups chopped onions

1 cup chopped celery

1 cup chopped bell peppers

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon cayenne

3 bay leaves

9 cups chicken stock or canned low-sodium chicken broth

1/2 cup chopped green onions

2 tablespoons chopped parsley leaves

1 tablespoon file powder

White rice

Hot sauce

In a large enameled cast iron Dutch oven or large pot, heat 1 tablespoon of the vegetable oil over medium-high heat. Add the sausage and cook until well browned, about 8 minutes. Remove the sausage with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Set aside.

Season the chicken with the Essence and add in batches to the fat remaining in the pan. Cook over medium-high heat until well browned, 5 to 6 minutes. Remove the chicken from the pan, let cool, and then refrigerate until ready to use.

Combine the remaining 1/2 cup oil and the flour in the same Dutch oven over medium heat. Cook, stirring slowly and constantly for 20 to 25 minutes, to make a dark brown roux, the color of chocolate.

Add the onions, celery, and bell peppers and cook, stirring, until wilted, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the reserved sausage, salt, cayenne, and bay leaves, stir and cook for 2 minutes. Stirring, slowly add the chicken stock, and cook, stirring, until well combined. Bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook, uncovered and stirring occasionally, for 1 hour.

Add the reserved chicken to the pot and simmer for 1- 1/2 hours, skimming off any fat that rises to the surface.

Remove the pot from the heat. Using a slotted spoon, remove the chicken thighs from the gumbo and place on a cutting board to cool slightly. Remove and discard the bay leaves. Pull the chicken meat from the bones and shred, discarding the bones and skin. Return the meat to the gumbo and stir in the green onions, parsley, and file powder.

Spoon rice into the bottom of deep bowls or large cups and ladle the gumbo on top. Serve, passing hot sauce on the side.

Serves 6 to 7 cups, 6 to 8 servings.

-- Emeril Lagasse

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