Monday, February 15, 2010

Gumbo Glory

I know we're already on to the Olympics but I'm still riding high from the Saints' Super Bowl win. My parents and my 90 year-old grandmother (famous for her biscuits) flew in from New Orleans in time to catch the second half and eat some gumbo. I wanted to cook something special for them and something representative of New Orleans to show my team spirit. I'd like to claim that my gumbo was their lucky charm but I heard from many friends and family that they too made gumbo so perhaps it was power in numbers.

Usually a pot of gumbo is cause for celebration in of itself, but as the Saints marched on to victory there was extra celebrating to do. Except for my mom, who is a staunch Colts fan. She may not have been a part of Who Dat Nation but she did manage to join the rest of us for dinner. It was gumbo after all.

Gumbo is a very personal thing. Everybody's is different and everybody's is the best. It's not rocket science to make, but I would say it's not for the faint at heart. It requires courage and willingness to take a risk if you want your gumbo dark and rich with flavor. It can take all day, which is perhaps why it tends to call up a unique vibration of festivity.

There are two secrets, though, for making good gumbo. First, you gotta love to do it. You have to enjoy spending hours in the kitchen focused on the task at hand. I'm well known to multi-task while cooking, but that business is banned from the kitchen when you've got roux on the fire. Flat out there is just no rushing or shortcuts to gumbo-making. So turn on some good music, take a deep breath and embrace the process. The second secret is the roux itself. A good roux has to be taken to the edge of darkness, requiring constant whisking for 30 minutes or more. You lose 5 lbs from standing in front of the hot stove for that long (so wear minimal clothing, even in Winter — and even though it seems idiotic to stand in front of a scalding hot substance with much of your upper body exposed) and your arm feels like it's about to fall off. If you're an adrenalin junkie, then gumbo-making may just be your thing. You get a rush from bringing the roux to the brink of disaster — the horrifying, looming chance of scorching the roux, which I can tell you right now is impossible to remedy. You just have to wipe away the tears and start over.

While the roux and the holy trinity (chopped onion, green bell pepper and celery) are the cornerstones of gumbo, there are infinite variations on gumbo. Some with seafood, some with okra, some with tomatoes, etc. Find a recipe that calls to you and go for it. Cooked with love and patience, you can't go wrong.

And then invite some friends over to celebrate!

LuLu's Gumbo
By Lucy Ann Buffet (aka LuLu)

Note: Lulu's is one of my family's favorite restaurants in L.A. That's Lower Alabama not Los Angeles! If you happen to find yourself down in Gulf Shores, do visit.

2 large onions, coarsely chopped
2 green bell peppers, coarsely chopped
1 medium head of celery, coarsely chopped including leaves
3/4 cup vegetable oil or bacon grease
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 1/2 lbs frozen cut okra, thawed (or fresh and cut into 1/4-inch pieces)
1 28-oz can whole tomatoes, coarsely chopped in their juice
2 lbs medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 lb lump crab meat
1 whole rotisserie chicken, meat picked and shredded
1 lb andouille sausage, cut into 1/8-inch rounds
8 cups chicken stock
2-3 tsp salt
1 Tbsp black pepper
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
2 Tbsp dried thyme
4 bay leaves
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp dried basil
2 Tbsp creole seasoning
2-3 Tbsp pepper hot sauce (go for 3 if you like things really spicy)
2 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
2 cups green onions, finely chopped
1/2 cup fresh parsley, finely chopped
1/2 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice

Place chopped onions, bell pepper, celery and okra in separate bowls and set aside.
To make the roux, heat vegetable oil or bacon grease in a 10-quart heavy stockpot over medium-high heat. When oil is hot, gradually add flour, whisking continuously. Continue to whisk roux, adjusting heat as necessary to keep from burning. This may take 25-30 minutes or until the roux is a dark mahogany color.
Carefully add chopped onions to the roux and continue stirring with a large wooden spoon for 2 to 3 minutes. Onions will sizzle and steam when they hit the hot roux so caution is advised.
Add bell peppers and continue stirring for another 2 to 3 minutes; add celery continuing to stir constantly for another 2 to 3 minutes. The mixture should now resemble a pot of black beans.
Add tomatoes, chicken and sausage and stir well. Then slowly add the heated stock. You can just pop this in the microwave to bring the temperature up.
Add salt, black pepper, cayenne pepper, thyme, bay leaves, oregano, basil, creole seasoning, hot sauce and Worcestershire sauce. Stir well. Bring gumbo to a boil and continue boiling for 5 minutes. Reduce heat to maintain a low simmer, uncovered, for about 1 hour.
Add okra and bring back to a boil for 5 minutes. Reduce heat again to maintain a slow simmer, uncovered, for 30 minutes or until the okra has list its bright green color and is cooked down like the other vegetables. If gumbo gets too thick, add a little water. If too thin, continue to simmer uncovered.
Add the green onions, parsley, and lemon juice. Cover and cook 15 minutes. Add the shrimp and crabmeat and mix well. Cover and turn off heat. Let sit for another 15 minutes while seafood cooks. It will stay hot for a long time. Adjust seasonings and serve over cooked white rice.

No comments:

Post a Comment