Our May hostess, Denise of There’s a Newf in My Soup!, challenged The Daring Cooks to make Gumbo! She provided us with all the recipes we’d need from creole spices, homemade stock and Louisiana white rice, to Drew’s Chicken & Smoked Sausage Gumbo and Seafood Gumbo from My New Orleans: The Cookbook, by John Besh.
My first thought when discovering this month’s Daring Cooks’ challenge was: “Oh, good, I finally get to find out what gumbo is!” Because, despite a family vacation in Louisiana when I was a child, and despite being (obviously) very much into food of all cultures, I have never been sure what gumbo is. I have vivid memories of eating jambalaya, fritters, and stewed alligator in New Orleans, but no gumbo. For the longest time, I thought it was a vegetable – then I realized no, I was thinking of okra (which actually is used in gumbo). Then, while watching The Princess and the Frog on a flight to somewhere, I realized, after this scene, that gumbo was some sort of stew. But what made it different from other stews, and how it was supposed to taste, I still had no idea.
Well, now I do – and I love it!
At first, I thought I might not learn much from this challenge, apart from the composition of gumbo, because it is, basically, a stew, and I’ve made a lot of stews over the years. But I was wrong. For one thing, I learned that I had everything in my pantry to make Creole spices – and I learned that they smell and taste amazing. It was the first time in a while I’d used celery salt (even though it’s a staple appetizer seasoning in Belgium, sprinkled over cubed cheese), and I remembered how much I love its aroma.
I also learned how to make a true, proper roux. A roux is a combination of flour and fat cooked together, but you can cook it to various degrees. I’ve frequently made white roux with butter, as a base for béchamel sauce, but this recipe required a dark roux, cooked longer. I used duck fat, on a hunch, and was very glad I did. After fifteen minutes of constant stirring, the mixture had turned a lovely, chocolate brown, and a wonderful fragrance was rising from it, so amazing that I could hardly believe it had been created from only flour and fat. Of course, adding onions kicked it up a notch further, and by the time the spice-seasoned chicken was tossed into the mix, I could hardly wait to eat this meal.
When it was finally time to serve it, it did not disappoint: the flavours were out of this world, almost too salty, but still getting away with all that celery salt. My only quibble is that I overcooked the okra (a newcomer in my kitchen), and that I didn’t use the right kind of sausage: I looked and looked for smoked sausage that would slice neatly and hold its shape in the pot, but I had to settle for spicy Italian sausage, which would have better served in the form of meatballs. Also, I couldn’t find file powder, but since I have no idea what it tastes like, I didn’t miss it.
I made Louisiana rice, using the recipe provided. Made with butter and chicken stock, I thought it was overkill with this dish, which was already not only salty, but also very rich (despite the fact that I had skimmed about two whole cups of fat from the top of the stew). Plain steamed white rice would have been a better choice for me.