Sunday, March 10, 2013

A Little Southern Love

Eep! It's been a while since I have posted. I have been cooking, but the culinary experiments aren't making it to the blog. I really need to start writing things down as I go.  Fat Tuesday came and went, and to celebrate I made Gumbo!  One of the things I miss most about living near the Gulf of Mexico is the delicious seafood-fish, crab, you name it.  The seafood in the Northwest is amazing, don't get me wrong, but there's something about the warm water that produces a different taste.

I love gumbo. It's hearty, spicy, and you can throw it together with whatever you have on hand. You don't need much; just some good stock, veggies and protein. The only thing you can't skimp on is a good roux.

Let's start with thickeners.
My main go-to is roux, which is equal parts fat and flour. It's cooked to varying colors which give it, and your dish, different tastes. The longer you cook it, the darker it is and the better (smokier/nuttier) the flavor. For gumbo, I like to cook my roux until it is a rich medium to dark medium golden color. I try to have some blonde (light) roux in the fridge to help speed up cooking sauces and soups. Some recipes will have you add your ingredients to the roux and then add the stock, and then the protein in stages. This is entirely up to you. Just remember to thoroughly cook your roux to avoid the flour taste. File' is also a traditional thickener I like to have on hand, since darker roux tends to not thicken as well as a lighter roux-you can add this at the end, or to individual bowls. Lastly, okra is used as a thickener, as it breaks down, it releases it's ooey-gooey goodness, and acts as a thickener. There's probably real science behind this, but I prefer to just keep my understanding at this: it is delicious and thickens up what I want to eat. I don't always use okra since here in the Northwest, it's not always readily available and when it is available it can be pricey.

What else makes this dish so good?  The Holy Trinity of cooking-onions, celery and bell pepper, diced up rough. This meal is rustic, so remember that when you're prepping your ingredients. Sure you can make everything uniform, but when you're hungry and chilly and just want a hot steaming bowl of yummy, anything that gets you there quicker is good.

Lets jump to the ingredients
1 lb chicken, chopped into bite sized pieces
1 lb sausage-I like andouille, chopped into bite sized pieces
1 lb medium shrimp, cleaned and deveined. I like to remove the tail, too.
Crab meat-Optional, if using get the real stuff!
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 green bell pepper, diced
1 large onion, diced
5-6 stalks celery, diced (your bell pepper and celery amounts should match, but be slightly less than your onion amount)
6-8 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 lb okra sliced into small bite sized pieces (optional)
1 tin or 2 cups diced tomatoes
2 Tbspn Olive Oil, butter or bacon fat
4-6 cups Chicken or fish stock, whichever you have on hand
yummy white wine to deglaze the pot-about 1/2 cup
1/4 tsp salt or more to taste
1/2 tsp pepper or more to taste
1/2 tsp cayenne or more/less to taste
1/4 tsp thyme (use 1/8 tsp if using ground. If using leaves, rub it in your hands before throwing in, or chop if using fresh)
1-2 bay leaves
2 hearty splashes of Worcester sauce
Cooked rice for the gumbo to go on-I have also used cous cous and quinoa.
Hot sauce

3 ounces fat-I use bacon fat, since I generally have that on hand
3 ounces flour.
There's a great tutorial located here that walks you through how to do it step by step. The run down is pretty easy- melt your fat over low heat, slowly add your flour while whisking to avoid clumps. Cook until you get the color you want. The idea is to keep it moving, it will eventually clump up, and you can smoosh it and flip it and smoosh it again as you go. Once it is a very light golden color, you're done, or you can keep cooking it for more flavor.

The how:
In a heavy bottomed pot or dutch oven, heat up 2 Tbspn of olive oil , bacon fat or butter (your choice), until shimmering (use medium heat), add your chicken in small batches and brown, replacing with the next batch until all browned. You don't need to cook it through. Add your sausage and sear as well and remove.
You should have delicious brown nibbly bits on the bottom of the pan, to which you will add your wine. Scrape all of that delicious stuff off of the bottom, and add your onions, and cook about 1-2 minutes or until they start to soften up a bit. Add the Worcestershire sauce, and your seasonings and stir, adding in the stock, your chicken and sausage. Go ahead and cover the pot and cook the stock/meat/veggie combination for approximately 10-15 minutes, until the flavors start to come together.  While you're cooking this up, now is a good time to start your roux-when the roux is done, cover and leave to be added later.

After 10-15 minutes, taste for seasonings, adding anything that you would like more of. At this time, you should add the tomatoes and okra (if using). You will also add your roux at this time. To do this, grab your roux and place in a small dish. Take 1/4 cup of the cooking liquid from your gumbo and add this slowly to the roux, and stir until it is the consistency of a thick paste. Add this mixture and any of the left over cooking mixture to the pot. Why this extra step? You ensure your roux fully dissolves and no one ends up with a taste of plain roux instead of a delicious shrimp.

Now, check the level of the fluid.  Everything should be covered, but not "swimming" in the liquid.  If you need, add more liquid to cover the ingredients, and put the lid back on. If there is too much liquid, put the lid back on but not all the way on, to let steam out.  Cook for another 10 minutes or until the okra is starting to break down and your gumbo starts to thicken up-you know you're close when you can coat a spoon with the delicious broth.

Lastly, add your shrimp and cook for 5 minutes, or until the shrimp are cooked through.  In a deep bowl, add your cooked rice and top with gumbo and enjoy with some tobasco, or your favorite hot sauce!

Depending on how big of a serving you eat, this should serve 4-6.

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