Help bring some spice to my poker game!
December 30, 2009 7:17 AM   Subscribe

Inspired by this post and a love for all things spicy. I am going to make Gumbo for New Years Eve. Where the hive mind comes in, well more inside.

First off I know I could read the original post and follow links to gumbo recipes but where is the fun in that? Half the fun of cooking is being pushed in a right direction and then doing things your own way! :) Back to the question....

I'm having a poker game from supper time (5ish) until about 9:30-10ish on the Eve and I wanted to make a classic poker style hot stew, cold outside ... great with lager/ale food. I know how to make a good/above average gumbo already. Noone complains yet noone is asking for the recipe. Roux, Shrimp, Chicken, Sausage, Celery, Carrots, Onion, Hot peppers, etc. Add rice at some point but I feel it has never been knock your socks off good. So if you don't mind could I pick your brains for some super secret gumbo cooking info. Stuff like techniques or secret ingredients that really hit it off. I know Okra should be added but that'll be a HARD find in the dead of winter in NE Ohio (can you use frozen Okra or do they even freeze it to begin with?) Any and all suggestions are welcome.
posted by Mastercheddaar to Food & Drink (15 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Frozen okra is definitely available around here (DC) all year long, but I can't say about availability in Ohio. However, if you're not using filé (dried and powdered sassafras leaf), you should be: it gives gumbo that characteristic thickness and taste. Also, it's not clear what you're using for cooking liquid; I've always found that making a stock with the shrimp's inedible parts and using that adds a lot of flavor.
posted by General Malaise at 7:43 AM on December 30, 2009

It would help to know your current recipe and what you do, so people could point out different things to do at various steps.

For instance, do you use Filé powder?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:45 AM on December 30, 2009

How do you start cooking it? Using a ham bone and/or smoked turkey necks in the initial boiling water helps bring out a unique, natural flavor as opposed to using chicken or beef broth
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:05 AM on December 30, 2009

I started with the recipe from Cook's Illustrated / "The New Best Recipe". I recently switched to using Alton Brown's oven method for the roux, and that works like a charm. The Cook's recipe does make a stock from the shrimp shells as mentioned above, and they add clam juice as well. I use okra, and I usually end up using frozen, which works fine. I generally crank up the okra over what the recipe calls for. I've never used file', although I would kind of like to try it sometime. Different Andouille sausages can be very different, so just find what you like there. This last time I used a Niman Ranch version that I liked a lot (not sure how authentic it is, but I liked it). I've done gumbo with shrimp and gumbo with fish (halibut chunks), and I think I might even like the fish version better (although then I don't have the shrimp shell stock).
posted by madmethods at 8:32 AM on December 30, 2009

You can buy okra both frozen and canned although the canned stuff will have a less than perfect taste. Also you might try a little bacon in the mix.
posted by stubborn at 8:33 AM on December 30, 2009

Response by poster: Awesome so far. I normally just use a chicken broth or a homemade chicken stock (from leftover bones and such) to start out with. Never thought about making a bacon/ham bone stock to start off with. I'm sure my parents have leftover ham from Xmas I could use. I never used Orka or File powder either. I'll have to do some shopping.
posted by Mastercheddaar at 8:45 AM on December 30, 2009

posted by 6550 at 9:31 AM on December 30, 2009

The Atlantic site just ran a story on gumbo. Included is a a very flexible recipe for "diaspora gumbo" from Poppy Tooker. The best tip I got from this recipe is to cook the roux until milk-chocolate-brown, then add the onions and continue to cook to dark-chocolate-brown: the idea being that the sugar in the onions helps the roux go darker, so they should be added before the celery and green pepper go in.

Also: in my opinion, carrots don't belong in a gumbo.

Also also: I've found that frozen okra tend to be pretty good, as far as frozen vegetables go. The best I've discovered is the house brand from an Indian grocery store, so if by any chance you have an Indian grocer near you, look for the Swad brand (it's national).
posted by neroli at 10:21 AM on December 30, 2009

Best answer: Carrots?? No.

Frozen okra is fine. I've only made gumbo with fresh okra once and couldn't tell the difference. You need to cook the okra for a long time so that it's soft and falling apart and non slimy, so it doesn't really matter if it's frozen.

I have heard that file should be put into the gumbo after it's all cooked. Supposedly, if you reboil the gumbo with the file' in it, it will be bitter. I just put the shaker of file' next to the pot and people can add it to their bowl if they want it. That way there won't be file' in the leftovers.

People seem to love my gumbo. I would say that my secret is WAY too much roux. Like a whole big frying pan of roux. But then, I make so much Gumbo I can't pick up the pot when it's done. Also, to speed up the gumbo making, I microwave all of the vegetables with a a bit of water until they are soft so that I don't have to cook everything for hours and hours in the pot. I microwave the okra too, but separately. Since I make so much, I cook a lot of the ingredients separately and then combine in the pot so there's less danger of burning everything. (My giant gumbo pot is thin and crappy. My roux pan and the pot that I brown the chicken and sausage in is heavy and thick. I once let the entire pot of gumbo burn, I never want to do that again! Someone recently referred to burned roux as "Cajun Napalm" ) I do dump the microwaved onions and bell peppers in the roux, but I do it when the roux is dark so that the onions cool it off.
posted by artychoke at 10:48 AM on December 30, 2009

I'm pretty convinced that if you're not using okra or file' in your gumbo, you're not making gumbo. They both add to the thickening process started with the roux.
posted by runningwithscissors at 11:17 AM on December 30, 2009

Oops, didn't see that caused a small battle on the other thread.
posted by runningwithscissors at 11:25 AM on December 30, 2009

Best answer: Okra, roux and file' is a must for gumbo, don't forget the bay leaf. Tabasco sauce is on the table for personal preferences. I add the file' while cooking, I never noticed a bitter taste when reheating my gumbo.

All I use is frozen okra. Be sure that you saute the okra in it's own pan to cook out the slime before adding it to your gumbo pot. The one time I skipped that step, the gumbo was so nasty I threw it out, even the dogs wouldn't eat it.

My ex's family (Southwest Louisiana, speaks Cajun French) uses potato salad along with the rice, then ladles the gumbo over it. That definitely was never done in my family (New Orleans).
His family turns their nose up at stewed tomatoes, mine can't imagine gumbo without it.

I know you said you are not looking for recipes, but some of your ingredients seem a little off. Fresh garlic, bell pepper, okra, stewed tomatoes and celery are the only vegetables I use. When making Chicken and sausage gumbo, the only other meat is smoked ham. Shrimp is used in Seafood gumbo, along with oysters, small cleaned crabs and any other seafood that is in season or on sale.

Bon Appetit!
posted by JujuB at 11:55 AM on December 30, 2009

My gumbo recipe is vegetarian, but I've been making since omni days, I just replaced the seafood with more vegetables, chicken broth with vegetable, etc.

I was always told that authentic gumbo will use okra or filé, but not both, so I've always used just okra. I've never fried it first and the gumbo isn't slimy, even if it's been frozen.

For flavor, I replace 1 tablespoon of the oil in the roux with toasted sesame oil. Also, for 1 quart vegetable broth, the gumbo has:

1 tablespoon Pickapeppa sauce
2 tablespoons soy sauce
½ teaspoon liquid smoke
¼ teaspoon Tabasco sauce or to taste
1 bay leaf
3/4 teaspoon salt, or to taste
½ teaspoon paprika
½ teaspoon oregano
¼ teaspoon thyme
posted by zinfandel at 4:27 PM on December 30, 2009

Best answer: Regarding Filé powder, I noticed over on the NOLA* Cuisine site that the filé you buy in the store contains all sorts of spices, and sabotages your gumbo's flavor somethin' terrible. Authentic filé consists of dried, ground sassafrass leaves and nothing else, has great thickening power, and can be made at home (although not in time for your gumbo tomorrow) by stealing some sassafrass leaves from your local woods and drying them.

But then, in a footnote, is this pearl of wisdom:
    I recently noticed a container of Tony Chachere’s Filé powder at the store and picked some up. It’s the real deal, pure Sassafras, just like my homemade. Highly recommended!
So there you go. If you're going to use filé, buy the right brand.

*NOLA = New Orleans, Louisiana
posted by exphysicist345 at 5:01 PM on December 30, 2009

Response by poster: Couldn't find File Powder or the way to make the ' over the "e" either... Anyways I used a lot of what everyone said here. I made a ton of roux, cooked it a little bit longer until it browned up nicely. Found Okra (frozen), cooked it up first. Added my veggies, sausage, shrimp, and WOW. I also used an Ecuadorian hot pepper in it I had left over from my garden. It was dried out but it put a little spice to it. I'm going to watch it when I reheat it on the stove to make sure I don't burn anything. I think I got a winner here. Everyone is right you need to make a kick ass roux, have okra, and I'm guessing the file powder would complete it. Can't wait til I get to make it again with the powder next time.

I think this question is resolved!
posted by Mastercheddaar at 7:05 AM on December 31, 2009

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