19 December 2015

Louisiana gumbo with shrimp

Louisiana cooking is based on three main flavoring ingredients that they call "the holy trinity" or something like that: onions, celery, and green bell peppers. Along with a roux and some meat, that's the basis for what is called a gumbo. Why gumbo? I'm not sure, but in French — and French is one of the three or four languages that are or used to be spoken in Louisiana — gombo is the name for the vegetable we call okra. Gombo is an African term. Okra can serve as a thickener in stews and soups. Plus, it tastes good.


Yesterday I made a gumbo. It was Walt's idea. We had the vegetables except the okra, a couple of pieces of chicken, and a bag of frozen shrimp, so the ingredients were in the kitchen. We also have plenty of hot red pepper powder and flakes, along with some Louisiana hot sauce that I brought back from the States recently. The ingredients in the hot sauce are not numerous or complicated: hot red pepper, vinegar, and salt.


The first step in making a gumbo is to make the roux (especially if you don't have any okra). It's simple: put 4 or 6 fluid ounces of vegetable oil or melted butter in a big pot. Add an equal amount of flour and whisk it into the oil to make a smooth paste. Cook that paste until the flour turns brown. You can cook it in a medium oven for a long time or you can just cook it (in less time) on top of the stove. Keep an eye on it and don't let it get too dark. The color of peanut butter is what I aim for. A roux, which is also the basis for white sauces like béchamel in France, can be white, red, brown, or black in Louisiana.


While the roux is cooking, dice up the vegetables. Most gumbos have some tomato in them. I decided to use oven-dried tomatoes from this past summer's garden in mine, but if I'd had fresh tomatoes or even tomatoes out of a can, that would have been good too. Another essential ingredient is chopped garlic — say 5 or 6 good-sized cloves. (Not shown in the photo above are the bell peppers — I used frozen ones from Picard.)


Since I didn't have any smoked sausage, which is another Louisiana ingredient — they call it andouille down there, but it's a smoked pork sausage and doesn't resemble French andouille (made with pork intestines) at all — I decided I could use some lardons fumés to give the gumbo a slightly smoky taste. I sauteed the lardons (bacon) first, actually, and used the fat they released as part of the fat to make the roux (for more flavor). I also put a couple of chicken thighs into the pot to brown along with the bacon.


Another flavor ingredient in the gumbo, which is a stew, is broth. In this case, I peeled the 3½ dozen shrimp I had and boiled the shells (not the shrimp themselves!) in a light chicken broth with bay leaves, hot red pepper flakes, black peppercorns, and allspice berries. That cooked while the roux was turning brown.


The next step is to toss all the chopped up vegetables, including the dried tomatoes if that's what you're using, into the hot roux, along with the lardons, and stir all that together over high heat until the vegetables start to look cooked. At that point, add a couple of quarts (liters) of broth to the stock. In other words, strain the shrimp broth into the roux and vegetables (and then discard the shrimp shells, bay leaves, and spices). The roux will thicken the broth nicely. Add as much water as you want to get the desired thickness and consistency. Don't forget to add salt and even some herbs like oregano or thyme.


Voilà ! Let the vegetables cook in the stew for about half an hour. Add the browned chicken thighs (as many as you want, really) at that point, and let them cook in the stew for another 15 or 20 minutes. Then turn the heat down to low, or even completely off, and toss the shrimp (peeled and deveined) into the pot. Let the stew sit for another 10 minutes and the shrimp will be cooked just right. Serve the gumbo with steamed or boiled rice. Don't forget the hot sauce (Tabasco, Texas Pete, Piri-Piri, or whatever you've got).

P.S. I forgot to mention that since I didn't have any okra, I added some green beans to the gumbo — those big wide, flat Romano (Italian) green beans. I put them in the gumbo when I put the chicken in.

25 comments:

  1. This looks like quite a rich dish and very appetising. While I rarely cook, I might have a crack at this using a combination of an internet recipe and your adaptations.

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    1. I followed this Alton Brown recipe for portions and proportions and also read through recipes published by the late chef Paul Prudhomme and another Cajun cook. Those recipes called for cooking many pounds of meat and shrimp in gallons of broth, which was a little over the top for me.

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  2. This sounds like a lovely Winter warmer!

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    1. If you spice it up a bit it becomes good hot weather food. They don't really have a winter in Louisiana but they do eat a lot of gumbo.

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  3. Gumbo, jambalaya and etouffee are all cool-weather standards in this Hoosier household. =)

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    1. Not just cool or cold weather, I say. It's still weirdly warm here, but not too warm for a good spiced-up gumbo.

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  4. I wish i were there for lunch. Whenever I was in Palm Desert, in SoCal, I went to my favorite restaurant, The Elephant Bar, and had my favorite dish, an enormous portion of Chicken Jambalaya. I ate only half of it and the rest went into a doggie bag. Wonderful memories!

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    1. Wow, jambalaya. Good idea for January.

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  5. Gumbo is one of my two favorite soups, though you're right that it's more like a stew. It's a big production, so I don't make it often.

    The recipe I use has a sidebar: "Youx toux can doux a roux."

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    1. Besides the dicing up of the aromatic vegetables and the cleaning of the shrimp, the gumbo wasn't as huge a production as I was afraid it would be. It gave us two really good meals.

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    2. Oh, LOL for the "youx toux roux" quote.

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    3. Hahaha, I love that 'Youx toux' etc. :))

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  6. I made a big pot of red beans & rice yesterday....as a LA native, I was born thinking about food......I tend to make the beans & jambalaya (oh and etouffee) more than gumbo.....but yours looks tasty..I dont use the okra in mine when I do it....it has been feeling like NO weather wise here, until this am, when temp was 24

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    1. Repeating myself: Wow, red beans and rice. A great idea for January.

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  7. Love this! I have the cookbook Are You Catholic? Who's Your Mama? Can you Make a Roux?" for Louisiana ideas. Or perhaps I gave it to one of my daughters. I'm sure you got lots of extra flavor from cooking the shrimp shells.

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  8. What a dish! Looks delicious, Ken.
    I hadn't realized that New Orleans andouille wasn't the same thing as the French andouille, and that's a good bit of info to know. :)

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    1. No, Louisiana andouille is more like kielbasa (sp?) than like French andouille or andouillette.

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  9. I love cooking the way you do....using a technique rather than a recipe!

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  10. Clever, using the shells for seasoning with the other spices. We used to buy a bag of spice called "crab boil," to make shellfish, that had: mustard seed, coriander seed, cayenne pepper, bay leaves, dill seed, and allspice. Sounds similar.

    Your meal looks wonderful.

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  11. You gave me two ideas: boiling the shrimp shells and substituting green beans for the okra. I've never tried an Alton Brown recipe that I didn't like.

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