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landarc 12-07-2012 01:28 PM

Gumbo, California-style
From my blog, I am just posting stuff, so I can get my quality post count puffed up again. It wasn't cooked over a live fire, not BBQ, but, it was tasty. As always, there is nothing at my blog to make this post anymore useful than it is here.

With the onset of cooler weather, the desire for warming comfort food really kicks into gear. I happen to love gumbo, the traditional stew of the southern United States. Most often associated with Louisiana, it is actually a common dish in a lot of the southern coastal area. With as many variations as there are cooks. The most common characteristics associated with gumbo are roux, okra and filé. I decided, largely due to the okra looking bad at the market and being out of filé, to do a simplified version.

The Veggies

First step was to prepare the aromatics for the building of the stock. I went with a medium yellow onion, a small red bell pepper and three stalks of celery, along with a bunch of green onions. This is a fair amount of vegetables, but, it will all cook down and integrate into the stock. I prefer a dice on the small side for this dish.

Fried Chicken

Borrowing a technique from an old friend, I had the chance to befriend a cook that had worked at several restaurants in the Louisiana area and later in Oakland, she had a theory that roux is the fundamental carrier of color and flavor in a gumbo, and that the fat should reflect that philosophy. I learned from her, that by giving the chicken a very flavorful coating and frying it, you can jumpstart your roux. These chicken thighs were given a coating of 'red flour', a blend of salt, chile powder (I make my own, very similar to Harissa) and cayenne. Once fried to color, the oil will have a deep red color. I used a couple of strips of bacon to build the oil to fry the chicken. Yes, it is not healthy.

The Roux

For the roux, I used 1/2 cup of the 'red oil' and 1/2 cup of AP flour, and started toasting it up. Now, roux can be a lot of different things, depending on the technique and style of cooking you are doing. This is not about thickening the stock. It is about building the color and creating a toasted flavor to the stock base. The picture above is about halfway to where I wanted it to be. You can do this in the oven, but, I like to smell the roux as it is cooking. I took the color about to a brick red, but, what I really wanted was to get to the point that the roux becomes aromatic. There is a point where the roux smell will change from fat and flour to a very aromatic aroma that jumps from the pan, and yes, this is moments before it burns. I have the vegetables and 3 cups of stock, or water, ready to dump in. Just in case.

Veggies in the pool

The shot above shows the vegetables dumped into the roux, this effectively stops the cooking of the roux and allows you to control that very moment when the color is right. I was a little light on the color, no matter, the flavor was there. I also topped up with a couple of pinches of salt. I used fine sea salt for this, it just helps with the vegetables sweat a little better. After a few minutes, dump in the stock or water and let it cook for an hour or so. At this stage, as simple as it seems, there are amazing flavors that have developed, the red bells contribute sweet notes, the green onions and celery add vegetal flavors and aroma, the onion is, well, onion. The roux aroma and flavor really come through at this point, the toast adding a nice bottom note to the dish. As crazy as it might sound, water is a reasonable addition, it has solvent properties that pull the flavors together very well. After the first hour, I added the chicken thighs in and cooked them until tender, then the sausage was added, in this case a nice smoked linguica. Moments before serving, some shrimp were added.

Look at that color

The color worked out fine, and the choice of steamed Basmati rice was a sound decision. A note about the meat and ingredients. All of the vegetables were organic, I have taken to using organics for root and stem vegetables. I feel they seem to cook better and I like that I can feel comfortable about the food I am eating. The meat was pastured chicken, locally made sausage and wild caught USA shrimp, as I feel the texture and flavor is just a lot better than the farmed stuff. It does cost more, I just eat a little less.

This did not suck

Yes, this type of cooking required that I pay attention for short periods of time over a three hour length of time, and it is nice to be able to work at home to pull off a cook like this. However, there is no way you can find something like this in the store. And three hours or so, not so bad for a pot full of wonderful complex eating. The okra and File were not missed.

Just Pulin' Pork 12-07-2012 01:32 PM

That looks awesome! Thanks for sharing!

Sylvie 12-07-2012 01:34 PM

I like the idea of using the red flour. I'm gonna try that next time in my gumbo.

BBQ PD 12-07-2012 01:50 PM

OK, you're killing me. I now need a bowl of that and I think I'd pour big ole Cabernet. Thanks so much for making my mouth water uncontrollably.

Q-Dat 12-07-2012 02:35 PM

Ok now I can breathe! WHEW!!!

When I saw the title of the post I got a mental image of gumbo with avacado and tofu in it! Then I saw it was you posting it and I knew it would be legit.

I agree about the Roux and the smell. This is the best way that I can describe it. Most everyone has smelled burnt popcorn from someone leaving a bag in the microwave too long. Well there is another smell when the popcorn ALMOST burns but just gets a little bit toasted and brown. That is almost the same smell to me as a properly done dark roux.

Excellent job brother!

Al Czervik 12-07-2012 02:36 PM

Looks fantastic and sounds fantastic Bob... Thanks for sharing and making anything else I eat today suck! :tsk:

buccaneer 12-07-2012 02:41 PM

I was about 23 and making gumbo at my girlfriend's house, her Mum was an excellent cook.
When I started making the roux, that being a pretty unique thing and unknown around here even today, she started flapping her arms and squealing
"What are you doing...what are you doing"
like I was about to blow up the kitchen.
Great memories!

Thanks Bob, I want some...

landarc 12-07-2012 02:42 PM

Similar to that popcorn smell, I can see that. It is close. I think aroma is such a good way to tell where you are in a cook. I am still thinking that the smell of BBQ changes from stall, to almost done to done. You can definitely smell when the rub and protein in the meat is setting off and coming out of stall, assuming you have not wrapped in foil.

landarc 12-07-2012 02:43 PM


Originally Posted by Al Czervik (Post 2290956)
Looks fantastic and sounds fantastic Bob... Thanks for sharing and making anything else I eat today suck! :tsk:

and now, my day, is complete

HeSmellsLikeSmoke 12-07-2012 02:46 PM

That looks like a great gumbo. What do you think is lost by omitting the okra?

I really enjoy reading your comments.

landarc 12-07-2012 03:03 PM

The lack of okra changes the flavor. It also changes the mouth feel a little. Not so much a loss, just different. Okra has a very distinct flavor and aroma, you can tell instantly it is not in there. It also makes the liquid smoother on the palate, not altogether bad. A person from an area where okra is traditional, might insist that this is a stew.

This gumbo lacks the strong bitter top note that is a part of both okra and green bell pepper. If you like that flavor, then you would need those two traditional elements. I find this is just another variation of a theme.

A couple of other comments, you will note I used a lot of chile powder, this gumbo has a kick, some would find it to be too much. But, as much as I like a little hot sauce, I believe a dish which integrates the heat is a better choice, plus, I like presenting a complete dish. The heat is not over-bearing, but, it is noticeable and has a clean integrated profile, not like dressing hot sauce on top. Guerry would still kill it with vinegar. I also omitted black pepper until serving. I prefer the pungency of black pepper be unmuted in a dish such as this. When you cook black pepper, it mutes the flavors, when serving with a stew or soup, I like to add the black pepper to the plated dish.

HeSmellsLikeSmoke 12-07-2012 03:08 PM

Okra seems to help thicken the broth much like corn starch in my experience. I suspect that might account for some of the mouth feel.

cpw 12-07-2012 03:35 PM

I'm a huge fan of the gumbo, but here's my problem, just as Landarc mentioned, the roux in a gumbo is not about thickening the stew, but more as a flavor component. So the question is, how do you make a flavorful roux, but also makes a thick stew? Do you throw in some corn starch? I find that the okra doesn't thicken it enough for my tastes.

Saiko 12-07-2012 04:03 PM

Awesome job there! I love me some basmati in my gumbo also, I use it for everything! I did a gumbo thread a loooong time ago here:

Yours looks spectatular! :eusa_clap

fingerlickin' 12-07-2012 04:05 PM

That looks great Bob. I've got some andouille in the freezer waiting for my next batch of gumbo. It's getting cold around here so you may have inspired me to cook that sooner than later. :thumb:

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