Gamer’s Tavern Specialty of the House: Gumbo


I’m half Cajun from both sides of my family – my mother and my father both are half Cajun. I can trace my paternal line all the way from my grandfather in Lake Charles, Louisiana, to several generations in Louisiana then back to Canada and finally France in the 1400s, and more than two generations back it’s like a dozen kids all named Jean-[Insert Saint’s Name] or [Insert Saint’s Name]-Marie. That’s about as pure Acadian as you can get outside an accordion and a pencil mustache (which my grandfather had). So trust me when I say I take my gumbo very seriously.

This recipe is going to look weird. It’s less a recipe and more a bunch of explanations. Because gumbo scales up and down so easily, it’s the best way to write the recipe. I’m sure there’s a proper culinary professional term for this and it’s probably french, but this is what I call a Ratio Recipe. Rather than listing specific weights or volumes, I list them as ratios in parts. One “part” in this recipe can be anything from a quarter cup to a gallon and the recipe still works. To show you how it works, I’m going to reprint the recipe using “4 oz” as one part at the bottom, or you can skip down to there if you don’t want to read this crap.

There are four steps to gumbo: The Roux, The Stock, The Vegetables, and The Meat. I’m going to break this down by each part since there’s a lot of weirdness going on here, but trust me, I’m lazy. I wouldn’t add extra steps if they weren’t needed.

Things You Need

Cast iron dutch oven

Whisk

Wooden spoon

The Roux

1 Part Fat

1 Part Flour

For the fat, here’s my order of preference: Lard, vegetable oil, canola oil, peanut oil, and corn oil. Do not use butter (there’s water in butter which throws off the ratio, plus the flavor is off), shortening (it’s not horrible, but it seems to burn more easily for some reason to me), or olive oil (the smoke point’s too low and the whole point to buy olive oil is for the flavors, which are obliterated when making the roux so you’re wasting money).

The flour should be normal All Purpose flour (I’ll go more into different flour types when I do something baking related).

Heat your oven to 350 degrees. Put the cast iron dutch oven over medium high heat for a couple of minutes. Add the fat and either wait for the lard to melt or the oil to start shimmering. Sprinkle in the flour while whisking and do your best to break up any lumps. Cook it until it starts “boiling” or you smell something nutty. At this point, turn off the heat and put it in the oven.

The reason I bake my roux is because, again, I’m lazy. I’d rather watch TV for an hour or two while it bakes than sit for twenty or thirty minutes whisking or stirring. Every 15 minutes or so, go whisk or stir the roux. Somewhere between an hour to two hours, it’ll be almost done. Now, you can try to bake it all the way, but I’ve never had good results myself. So I put it back on the stove on medium heat, stirring like crazy so nothing burns, until it hits brick (that means it’s a dark reddish-brown).

WARNING! Roux is culinary napalm! I have eight scars on my hands and seven of them are because of roux burns. Remember making that flour-and-water based clue in elementary school? This is that stuff only hotter than boiling hot. So make sure to use care when moving the roux or adding any liquid to it.

The Vegetables

2 parts onion, diced

1 part green bell pepper, diced

1 part celery, diced

1 clove garlic per part, minced

This is pretty simple and you can eyeball it if you want. It’s up to you how finely you want to dice things, but I like them very fine. Add these to the roux and stir frequently for a minute or two until the veggies get soft. And no, you can’t sub anything in here. Sweet onions or white onions only.

The Stock

8 parts stock

If you’re making a gumbo that’s leaning heavily on seafood or shellfish for the protein, I’d suggest using seafood stock. You can make it yourself by pouring clean water over the shells and heads from shrimp and boiling it for a good half hour to an hour. You can also buy it in cartons in most chain stores by this point in time. If you can’t get seafood stock or if you’re using more fowl than seafood, use chicken stock.

Once the stock gets to a boil, add in all the seasoning below. Now, these seasonings aren’t listed as parts because they’re small. Assuming that “one part” is 4 oz, use these amounts. Half them if you’re going smaller, double them if you’re going higher.

1 tsp dried thyme

1 tsp freshly-ground black pepper

1 bay leaf (don’t worry about halving this, but leave it out if you’re going under 2oz)

1 tbsp kosher salt

1/4 tsp to 1 tsp Cayenne pepper (up to you how spicy you want it)

Stir these in, then reduce heat to low and let it simmer.

The Meat

6 parts protein

2 parts Andouille sausage, sliced or diced

Okay, I say “protein” instead of giving specific meats to use because you can use pretty much anything but beef. I personally prefer just shrimp, but you can also use chicken, crab, oyster, clam, turkey, duck, or anything else you can think of. Pork is iffy outside smoked sausages.

Speaking of sausage, I specifically say andouille sausage because it’s so traditional. It uses ham instead of pork shoulder and the set of seasonings used when curing it is so perfect for gumbo. If you can’t find it in your area, you can substitute any smoked sausage, but I’d highly recommend chasing it down if you can. Brown the sausage in another pan first!!!! It’s so friggin’ worth it for the extra flavor it adds.

Now, for cooking. This where it gets weird. Seafood and shellfish should not be added at this time. Just let the gumbo simmer for about an hour or so and add it in the final step. Same goes if you’re using pre-cooked chicken, turkey, duck, etc. If they’re raw, though, put them in now and give the simmer some extra time to make sure it’s fully cooked (the meat should be almost falling apart).

Finishing Touches

Now this part is controversial in gumbo circles. There’s two main types of gumbo, file gumbo and okra gumbo. I loathe okra gumbo! File powder (pronounced “fee-lay”) has a much better flavor and creates a far better texture in the finished gumbo. If you want to use okra, add one part to the vegetables section above and know that I’m looking at you with scorn and disappointment. File powder’s dirt cheap and it has just an amazing flavor that, to me, is pure gumbo.

Just like the other spices and herbs, add 1 tbsp per 4 oz “part” to the gumbo as well as any seafood or shellfish meats you’re using. You can let it simmer for a little bit or you can turn the heat off (the meat will still get cooked). Serve over steamed long-grain white rice, because if I see you using potato salad, see above about okra.

And that’s it. I know it seems like a lot, but I’m going into a lot of detail here to make sure you understand what to do when and why. You can also tinker with the recipe a little bit if you like, but if you stray too far, it won’t be gumbo anymore (just like I didn’t call last week’s episode “carnitas”). Gumbo will last tightly covered in the fridge for about a week or so, and it’s usually better the next day (if you used homemade stock, there’s a chance it’ll set up like jello, but don’t worry, that’s a good thing and it melts in the microwave or on the stove).

Traditional Recipe

This version is enough for 4 people with lots of leftovers, or 8 people. See above for instructions on how to put them all together.

4 oz lard, vegetable, or canola oil

4 oz AP flour

1 c onion (white or sweet, diced)

1/2 c green bell pepper (diced)

1/2 c celery (diced)

1 clove garlic (minced)

1 1/2 lb of a combination of shrimp, oyster, clam, chicken, turkey, duck, or any other meat

1/2 lb Andouille sausage, sliced or diced and browned

1 tsp dried thyme

1 tsp freshly-ground black pepper

1 bay leaf (don’t worry about halving this, but leave it out if you’re going under 2oz)

1 tbsp kosher salt

1/4 tsp to 1 tsp Cayenne pepper (up to you how spicy you want it)

1 tbsp file powder

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