The Game Will Be On the Gumbo Tron!!!
January 27, 2008 9:38 PM   Subscribe

Gumbo. Recipes, tips and tricks, please.

I know there's info all over the interwebs. I'm just hoping to narrow my focus group a bit.

The story: I'm a decent-to-above-average amatuer cook who put himself on the line to cook gumbo (for the first time) for a small Superbowl party. Eight people, tops.

I'll have access to a good 6-qt cast iron pot and and can get pretty much any seafood fresh (I'm trending towards seafood gumbo, but want some andouiee around even if it isn't in the gumbo.) I'm also more of a file than okra person, but I could go either way.

posted by Cyrano to Food & Drink (17 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
Also, unless it gets over six hours, time is not an issue.
posted by Cyrano at 9:41 PM on January 27, 2008

Here ya go...
posted by dchase at 9:48 PM on January 27, 2008

First, You Make a Roux. The two easiest ways to go about this are:

1) Mix oil and flour for about hald an hour, adding spices along the way, or

2) Buy a jar of Kary's and save yourself some trouble.

Other than that, it's up to you. You want beef 'n bacon? Fish 'n mudbugs? Rabbit 'n rice? Y'all make the call.
posted by Smart Dalek at 10:19 PM on January 27, 2008

Whoops, bad link. First - You Make a Roux.
posted by Smart Dalek at 10:21 PM on January 27, 2008

put himself on the line to cook gumbo (for the first time)

Tip #1: practice on yourself before the big day. Just once should do it, but it's never a good idea to try making a presentation-grade centerpiece dish for company the first time out of the gate. Make a half- or quarter-sized batch in the next couple of days to test your skills and get some familiarity with the process under your belt.

I'm a filé person myself, so I support you there. Bad experiences of elementary school lunch okra ruined me for the vegetable. And I usually make my gumbos and jambalayas with andouille, shrimp and chicken thigh meat (and bacon lardons), so you won't get any complaints from me about mixing seafood and sausage. I'm not a big fan of crab in it, though, 'cos I think it tends to get lost among the stronger flavors. Obviously there are lots of crab gumbo recipes that differ with me here.

I have no advice about making a roux. It's hit or miss with me, and I've singed more than a few. For this reason, I make more jambalayas and paellas than gumbos. Never tried using Kary's... it's tempting, but I'm suspicious of gravy-in-a-jar.

I like adding chopped carrot to mine, since it holds up better than the peppers, celery, onions and tomatoes and adds a bit of sweetness and good color. I've used winter squash, too, a la Thai pumpkin curries, but you probably want to be a bit more traditional here. Gumbo's kindof an evolving thing with me, but I taste it as I go and am known to use twice the green pepper that any recipe recommends, sweet paprika and a dash or two of liquid smoke. Angostura bitters in moderation can be good. If you are using fresh shrimp and are cleaning them yourself, you should simmer the shells in water for a while, to make some good shrimpy stock. Failing that, bottled clam juice will give you some more fishy liquid goodness.

For inspiration, if you've got the time and inclination, I'd suggest a trip out to Gilhooley's in San Leon, where a bowl of their gumbo and plate of shrimphooley oysters will get you very much in the right frame of mind. (And if you don't do it before the game, consider visiting later. Looks like a bit of a drive for you, but it's oh-so-good. /plug)
posted by mumkin at 10:42 PM on January 27, 2008

It's pretty time consuming, at least for me, so watch that. I also like sausage, chicken, and shrimp gumbo. I've tried other mixes but mostly come back to that.

For best results make your stock from scratch. You can make a vegetable stock or you can do shrimp and/or chicken.

The roux is specifically the difficult part. I like it as dark as I can get it without burning, which tends to take 30-40 minutes of basically continuous whisking in a cast iron pan. Do that outside if you've got a burner on the BBQ so your house doesn't smell like oil for a day. Some people will do their roux in the microwave. I've never had that work out so, given the limited time before the game, I'd not recommend you try microwave roux this time around.


1) Start the stock. You want to simmer for a long time, like 4+ hours. You can do this ahead of time. Cut up some celery, quarter an onion, and chop up some garlic, as the minimum ingredients for the stock, but some seasoning never hurts. Do add water if it gets low. Do not put peppers in the stock.

2) Do the prep work. Chop all veggies; I usually mix the onions, celery, and peppers in a big bowl. Get your spices measured and combine into a small dish/bowl. Cook the chicken and cut it up. Peel the shrimp if you didn't already use the shells in the stock. Cut up sausage.

3) Roux time. You cannot be interrupted during this process or you'll burn the roux. So make sure the kids are out of the way and don't even think about answering the phone. This is basically 50/50 oil and flour. I like canola, personally. Heat the oil until very hot, even smoking. If you use canola you'll be alright but an oil with a higher flash point may be too hot if it's smoking. A whisk works best now. Start whisking and slowly mix in the flour. Make sure you don't miss any spots in whisking or the flour will stick and burn (you'll see dark flecks if it's burnt). I usually use welding glove (seriously!) on my whisking hand to protect my arm but then I do high heat and an open flame. Make sure to wear long pants and closed shoes in case of any spilling.

The roux will start out very pale then turn straw yellow and darken from there to milk chocolate, a dark ox's blood red, and finally to a very dark/near-black brown. You can stop at blood red, if you wish.

Hopefully your veggies are close by, and your seasoning. Start dumping in the veggies and stir stir stir (time for a heavy duty spoon or similar). After a few minutes add the seasoning mix. See why you had those combined in bowls already? Garlic goes last because it's easy to burn.

4) Once veggies are cooked to your satisfaction (maybe ten minutes or so) take it off the heat. Then strain your stock, saving the liquid. Put the liquid back on heat. Once simmering, start slowly slowly stirring in the veggie/roux mixture. Too fast and you'll get unappetizing black oil floating on top. So go slower than you think you need to.

5) Add chicken (hopefully already cut up) and sausage. Simmer awhile (prob twenty minutes but time isn't very critical here). Shrimp goes in at the very end, right before you serve. Shrimp hardly needs to cook at all and gets tough if overcooked.

6) Forgot about the rice, huh? If you've got a helper you assign the rice cooking to them. If not, probably should start the rice after the veggies and roux are off the heat but before you start stirring them into the stock. Traditional is white sticky rice but sometimes I'll use brown or even barley for a bit of a change.

I'll leave the specific recipe for you to find as everyone has their favorite. I don't use okra or file. Pretty heavy on the garlic. Sometimes I'll use something other than bell peppers, like poblano/pasilla or anaheim. If you cannot find andouille a good pure pork kielbasa is a fine substitute. I've even used chorizo but be careful; good chorizo is very good but bad chorizo is simply gross. I make a very good gumbo but as you can tell I'm not quite a purist about it.

You can use other seafood but I think crab isn't quite robust enough and, given the price, probably not worth it, though I think I used imitation crab once and it came out alright. I've used oysters before but the texture was odd, particularly after freezing and reheating; I freeze a bunch since it's so much work to make and aside from the shrimp being a bit tough it re-heats fine. Crawfish are great, if you can find them locally (try an asian market).

Any other questions, feel free to ask or email.
posted by 6550 at 11:39 PM on January 27, 2008 [6 favorites]

Nice, 6550. I'll just chime back in to reinforce a couple of your points. When I have burned my roux, it's because I thought I could turn my back on it for a minute or so to do something else. Do not think you can dice a quick vegetable, return to stirring, and then dice another. Get the iPod, queue up some interesting 'casts, crack a beer and and pull up a stool next to the stove if need be. Stir like the rouxbot you are. Incidentally, given my track record with roux, I have never attempted something as intensely dark as 6550 describes, figuring that if I've managed something medium-dark I oughtn't tempt fate. Don't be ashamed of getting out when the getting's good.

And yeah, you very likely already know this, but ignore any recipe that tells you to put the shrimp in and simmer for 1.5 hours... I don't know what they're thinking. The last 10 minutes will be more than sufficient.
posted by mumkin at 12:29 AM on January 28, 2008

This recipe comes from Alton Brown, I have not actually made it myself, but i have consumed gumbo from this recipe, and it was very good. I like the idea of the oven roux, just to make things a little easier...
posted by pupdog at 1:03 AM on January 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

Something I have recently discovered that I really like is to fry the chicken as the first step in whole thing.
1. flour your chicken and fry it in a small amount of oil. To do this, using boneless chicken that is already cut is easiest.
2. Take the chicken out of the pan and next fry your sausage.
3. Remove your sausage and leave the oil in and use the oil that you fried the chicken and sausage in to make your roux. You will need to turn your heat down here and cook the roux long and slow, stirring often.
3. Once you have that red/chocolate brown color add your celery, onion and green pepper (Cajun trinity).
4. Add heated not put it in cold or it will not combine properly.
5. Add chicken and meat back.
6. Add bay leaf and cook for 30 minutes.
7. Add okra and and cook another 10-20 minutes.
8. Add shrimp and cook about 10 minutes more.
9. Add gumbo fille powder (sassafrass) here at the end.
posted by pazoozoo at 1:41 AM on January 28, 2008 [2 favorites]

It is not gumbo without okra. Period.

For shrimp: boil whole shrimp first just until tender, then reserve the stock. Shell and clean the shrimp, take the shells, throw them back in the stock. Refrigerate the cooked shrimp to keep them from sitting out at room temperature while you're doing other things. Keep simmering the shells to get a nice pinkish broth, then strain them out & toss 'em. That's the base for your stock.

That's the tricky thing about "shrimp gumbo"--gumbo is supposed to simmer for a long time, shrimp themselves aren't supposed to cook for that long.
posted by gimonca at 5:46 AM on January 28, 2008 [2 favorites]

I use both filé and okra, because I like okra. Whole okra doesn't slime up, so people can fish it out if they want. I use fresh when I can get it but frozen works, too. And don't overcook it! Just throw it in the last ten minutes or so.

Seconding gimonca on cooking the shrimp separately and making stock. This really makes a difference in the flavor--not shrimpier, but richer.
posted by dogrose at 6:04 AM on January 28, 2008

If you chop okra and fry it in a separate pan for a while, you can cook off most of the slime. I know someone who enjoys the taste but not the texture, and that's what he does for gumbo.
posted by nebulawindphone at 7:08 AM on January 28, 2008

Microwave Roux: I make gumbo all the time, making roux in the microwave is a life saver. It's easy and almost never breaks. Here's what you do:

Put a cup of oil in a pyrex dish (WITH A HANDLE!) Heat it for 30 seconds to a minute in the microwave (doesn't matter much, the flour just mixes better with warm oil. Stir in a cup of flour. Microwave for 2 minutes, take it out and stir. Then 1 minute, stir, 1 minute stir.. until you reach 1 shade slightly less than you want. It'll continue cooking for a bit so you don't want to push it to far.

Let it sit, then stir it up when you're ready to use.

Here's my chicken sausage gumbo method (will work with whatever meats)....

1. Make a pot of chicken stock with half/whole chicken (the night before, or... just by a couple cans of chicken/veg/beef stock.)
2. Brown some sausage - smoked/andouille, whatev
3. Toss into your pot of stock
4. chop up some celery, 2 peppers, 2 onions
5. Brown in the pan with the sausage fat, toward the end toss on some Tony Chacheres (or whatever spice mix)
6. toss into the pot
7. Brown the chicken
8. Toss into the pot
9. Bring the pot to a boil.. add some tabasco and a bay leaf
10. Bring the temp down, stir a bit, toss in your roux. If it's still real hot WATCH OUT, that stuff will blow the roof off.
11. Stir your roux in, turn up the heat and bring back to a rolling boil
12. Turn the heat down and simmer for awhile. Like hours.

Make some rice, toss in a bowl, toss on the gumbo, sprinkle some file if you care. The next day it's better, day after that it's divine, after that... wow.

Oh and just because the word gumbo means okra, doesn't mean you need to have any okra involved. I can't take it or leave it, but it's not really necessary. I learned my method from this 90 year old louisiana grandmother, and i think mines better ;)
posted by muddylemon at 7:46 AM on January 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

It is not gumbo without okra. Period.

Not to start a war but don't feel obligated to put okra in if you don't want to. Chef Paul Prudhomme's Louisiana Kitchen has more than one gumbo recipe without okra and I've never come across someone stating his food was unauthentic. That's a worthwhile book to pick up if you become interested in the style.
posted by 6550 at 8:14 AM on January 28, 2008

Native born, Cajun-descended gumbo cook seconding that it's OK not to have okra.

My favorite gumbo recipe is based on Chef Paul Prudhomme's Louisiana Kitchen (as linked by 6550), Cajun Seafood with Andouille Smoked Sausage IIRC. I highly recommend going with that and using whatever ingredients are available to you. Mise en place is your friend and you can mix your spices in one bowl, process onion, celery and bellpepper into another bowl and get it all done in an hour or so.

Whatever you do, MAKE A SHRIMP STOCK! This and the roux is what will make it a memorable, rich dish instead of a brown soup with seafood in.

Also, PP really leans on the cayenne in this book. Halve or less whatever red pepper he calls for. YMMV, but I like spicy hot food and it was over the top.
posted by turbodog at 5:08 PM on January 28, 2008

So... how was the gumbo? Everything work out? Here's hoping you're a Giants fan.
posted by mumkin at 11:14 PM on February 3, 2008

OK, so here's how it all went down:

I bought the Paul Prudhomme book and settled on the Cajun Seafood Gumbo with Andouille. I was going to make the shrimp stock all along, so I quested about town a bit looking for a place that might have the heads and shells already bagged for stock makers rather than having to peel my own. Couldn't find any, although time constraints kept me from going to some of the further out specialty fish markets. I did go to an Asian market and stumbled across some packaged "little shrimp" (about one-inch long shrimpettes, basically,) so I bought a pack along with some crawfish tails which aren't in the recipe in the book but I figured, hey, why not?

This is the recipe that I riffed off for the shrimp stock. I had fresh thyme and tarragon so I used that instead of the dried and didn't worry about the sachet thing since I was going to strain it all anyway. I bought and peeled four pounds of head-on shrimp for the stock (a little over half of which once peeled was used for a pre-game shrimp cocktail.) My major deviation from the recipe would be that I didn't dice anything and just rough chopped everything. And I tossed in the little shrimpies in whole with the heads and shells. Simmered it for about four hours on Saturday while fragging people on TF2, then strained it, ice water bathed it and stuck it in the fridge. It was a nice, rich brown color and definitely tasted shrimpy. And my apartment still smells like a seafood boil (which, really, isn't a bad thing.)

On Sunday I picked up the andouille, lump crab meat and oysters and headed off to the party to cook with everything all nice and tucked away on ice in coolers. Did some veggie shopping when I got to my parent's house (site of the party,) necessitating a second grocery trip because somehow I forgot the green peppers (BLASPHEMER!!!) Diced up the celery, onions and now-resigned-to-their-doom green peppers to the tone about a half cup more than the recipe called for (more on why later.) Set aside and mixed together the seasoning, minced the garlic, etc. All the prep work, basically.

At this point I went off the reservation on all the recipies that I read, because I decided I wanted to brown the andouille rather than just chuck it in raw, so I peeled of the casing, cubed it into bite-sized pieces and browned in the cast iron pot. Once it was done I used a bit of the shrimp stock to deglaze the pot and then set aside the stock and brown bits. Then I cleaned the pot and got ready for the roux.

Disclaimer: I bought a jar of pre-made roux in case I fucked this next part up. Did the 50-50 flour and oil thing and whisked away. The Prudhomme book calls for a high heat, high chance of failure roux making method that I wasn't brave enough to try, so I went medium-high heat and whisked away hoping all those nights I spent dateless in high school and college would finally pay off. Ok, this is important: when they tell you that you can't ignore your roux for a second they're not lying. I got it comfortably to a darkish peanut butter color, turned away to watch the TeeVee for about fifteen seconds and the dreaded DSOB (Dark Specks Of Burned) made their appearance. Only one or two, though. So I dragged the pot onto a cold burner, whisked away like a madman and dumped in half the veggies that I had prepped and set aside for just such an occasion into the roux to slow down the heat.

Oh, did I mention that I had put the shrimp stock into an adjacent pot and brought it to a rolling simmer? No? Well the stress of making a If-You-Bone-This-Up-Your-Whole-Meal-Is-Ruined roux will make you forget the little details. After adding half the veggies the stock got much darker and thicker, so I whisked away for a bit and then added the rest of the veggies and the seasonings, plus the andouille-crispy-bits deglaze I had set aside earlier. *Whisk* *Whisk* *Whisk* "Shit, this is getting too thick!" *Spoon* *Spoon* *Spoon*

Then I started to ladle in the shrimp stock. This led to another point where I thought I had totally screwed it all up. The combo of the veggies and the hot-but-not-blazing stock apparently dropped the temperature down to where it looked like the roux was starting to break, with wispy bits of fat starting to show up on the top of the gumbo. My also cook-ish friend standing next to me assured me that once it got back to a boil all would be well and he was right. *Whew!* Kill-crazed rampage averted! Everything started to tighten back up once the bubbles made an appearance.

I dumped in the sausage, waited a bit and tasted. It was flat. It needed more pepper, salt and cayenne than the recipe called for. Then I threw in a bit of Old Bay and Louisiana Hot sauce. With a bit of tweaking I did get it to a nice, round flavor with a touch of heat at the end, but not too much.

So in went the crawfish, crab, shrimp and oysters, in that order. Some of the people at the party were a little squicky about the oysters so I only put about a dozen in. Things looked a little loose near the end, so I used a few tablespoons of file powder to bring it back together.

Those extra veggies from earlier? Those went into the Prudhomme recipe for basic cooked rice, which is actually rice and some seasonings mixed into a loaf pan with stock, covered in foil and cooked in the oven. I'd never made rice like that before so I tested it the same day I made the stock and it came out pretty OK. So I decided to go with it on game day and it turned out even better. Everyone thought I was crazy but once it came out of the oven no one complained. It's my rice cooking method from now on.

The verdict? It was universally hailed as tasting awesome. And two of the guests were Cajun, so those were votes you can count.

Things I would do differently? I could have cut the amount of sausage and crawfish I put in by half (the first of which I used twice what the recipe called for and the second wasn't in the recipe at all.) I misread the recipe and though I would have to double it to feed everyone, but decided to dump everything in even after I had realized my mistake so the resulting dish was a bit crowded. That being said, I should have used all the oysters. Even the people who said they didn't like oysters and then got one in their bowl liked both their texture and flavor in the gumbo.

Other than that, I'm pretty much 1-0 on gumbo.

(And I had no dog in the fight. Seeing a perfect season and Seau getting a ring would have been nice, but you can't hate on the guys who wanted it more.)
posted by Cyrano at 8:43 PM on February 4, 2008 [3 favorites]

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