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.