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Thursday, January 04, 2007

Waiting for Gumbot

Roughly 12 aeons ago, my friend A asked for my Gumbo recipe (which, of course, is Frank Brigtsen's recipe). M and I learned to make this gumbo on our honeymoon when we did a class at the New Orleans Cooking Experience. We've made it several times. It's time consuming but definitely worth it. I'm just typing in from the recipe that Frank gave us and giving the notes that I think will be helpful.

Yield: 12 bowl-sized portions (14.5 cups)
MTZQ Notes: This is a cajun gumbo (not surprising as Frank trained under Paul Prudhomme, who literally wrote the book[s] on cajun cuisine), which involves making the roux separately, then adding it to a boiling broth. Creole recipes cook the vegetables in the roux once it's fully browned. Both are nice, but I like the cajun way somewhat better for a gumbo, whereas the creole method lends itself better to less "soupy" things.

1 lb. Andouille sausage, sliced into half-rounds, 1/4" thick
MTZQ Note: I have used hot italian sausage in a pinch, but andouille is best, both for flavor and texture

2 TBSP Pomace olive oil
MTZQ Note: The key here is high heat tolerance. You don't want an extra virgin olive oil, because it will burn before your trinity has browned. You can also use reserved bacon grease or any other kind of animal fat.

4 c diced yellow onions, 1/2" pieces (divide into 3c and 1c portions)
3 c diced celery, 1/2" pieces (divide into 2c and 1c portions)
2 c diced bell pepper (any color is fine, but it's nicer if you have some variety), 1/2" pieces
2 Bay leaves
1 TBSP minced fresh garlic
4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp whole-leaf dried thyme
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
1/4 tsp ground white pepper
1/4 tsp ground cayenne pepper
3 TBSP gumbo filé powder
MTZQ: Note: The salt, dried spices, and filé powder can be tossed into the same dish, making a "spice kit." Resist the urge to up the spices because you like things more flavorful, at least the first time, this gumbo is nice and bold and really does require only these small amounts

12 c chicken stock
MTZQ Note: Frank says "or water" in the original recipe. Uh, no. You really do want to use chicken stock

1 chicken, cut into 8 pieces (3-4 lbs of bone-in chicken pieces)
MTZQ Note: I've always used legs and thighs, never tried this with breasts, which can be too unwieldy during frying, or wings, which seem like a lot of effort for little yield when it comes to removing the meat from the bones. Also, I just like dark meat better.

4 TBSP Chef Paul Prudhomme's Meat Magic seasoning
3 c all-purpose white flour
Enough vegetable or peanut oil for frying the chicken pieces


  1. Preheat oven to 350° F. Place the sliced andouille sausage on a shallow baking pan and bake until the edges have turned brown, 40-45 min.
    MTZQ Note: This might seem like an odd step, because frying the sausage in the gumbo pot would give you fat for sauteing the trinity. However, it's a step that makes a difference. The crisping of the edges of the sausage helps it retain some firmness in the gumbo, and you don't have to deal with too much grease/not enough grease. I'm a firm believer in baking.

  2. Heat the olive oil in a large pot over high heat. Add 3 c of onion, 2 c of celery, 1.5 c of bell pepper, and the bay leaves. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions begin to brown, 12-15 minutes.
    MTZQ Notes: First thing to realize is that this is the gumbo pot in which you're sauteeing. Eventually, the whole kit and caboodle will be in this pot, including 12 c of stock, so make sure it's big enough. The second thing about this phase is that it may go against every cooking instinct you have. When it says "high heat," crank that burner up. When it says stir "occasionally," it means occasionally. In the first 10 minutes, you might only stir these babies twice, and just a few more times in the last few minutes. It's not only ok for things to stick and brown, you want them to stick and brown. As Frank explained it "Brown is the color of flavor." Those bits that stick will be deglazed at later stages, and they'll add a lot of depth to the flavor. Also, we are talking brown on those onions. Not slightly golden, not toasty, but a nice, rich brown. Onions are hard to burn and they have a distinct and nasty smell when they are burning. If your onions look, to your panicked eyes, like they're burning, but they don't have that smell, they're not burning. Take a deep breath, salute the light in your onions, and resist the urge to stir.

  3. Add the remaining vegetables: 1 c of onion, 1 c of celery, and 1/2 c of bell pepper. Reduce heat to medium. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the second stage of onions turns clear, 2-3 minutes.
    MTZQ Note: If you were worried about all the veggies being limp and slimy, be contented. These vegetables are both for texture and a lighter, crisper flavor.

  4. Add the garlic and your spice kit, including filé powder. Reduce heat to low. Cook, stirring constantly, for 3-4 minutes.
    MTZQ Note: The important thing here is to battle the stringy nature of the filé powder. The low heat and constant stirring are key for that, the timing less so. Your filé may take more or less time before it plays nice and blends into the mixture, rather than coming away with the spoon in strings.

  5. Add the chicken stock and bring to a boil. Add the cooked andouille sausage. Reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 1 hour. Skim off any excess oil that rises to the surface and discard.
  6. While this is simmering, it's time to tackle the chicken. I'm rearranging a few of Frank's steps here, because this order works better for me.

    • Seasoning

      1. Seasoned flour: In a shallow baking pan, add 2 c of the flour and 4 tsp of the Meat Magic seasoning. Blend well.
      2. Season the chicken pieces on both sides with the remaining meat magic, then dredge these in the seasoned flour
        MTZQ Note: As a disciple of Frank, I must insist that you embrace the "wet hand, dry hand" rule here. Handle the initial seasoning of the chicken and initial deposit of the chicken pieces into the flour with one hand, flip them with this same hand, then use the other hand to do more thorough coating and to transfer the now dry chicken piece to the plate or whatever you have waiting. It makes this much less painful.

    • I do believe it's time for you to fry.

      1. Heat your skillet with about 1/2" of vegetable or peanut oil to about 350° F.
        MTZQ Note: Ultimately you want to fry in whatever you are most comfortable with. For me that is either my cast-iron skillet or one of my deep nonstick skillets. You could theoretically do this in an electric fry pan with a temperature control, but I don't own one. Don't try this in any kind of personal (or professional, I guess, deep fryer, though).

      2. Place chicken pieces in the hot oil for browning. Fit as many in as you can, but don't crowd. Be aware that putting cold chicken in will lower the temperature of your oil, so you'll want to monitor this.
        MTZQ Note: I use a clip-on thermometer to monitor the oil temperature, but it's awkward and no mistake. Some rules of thumb that can help. Poppy Tooker advises that one can tell that oil is just about ready for frying when a strike-anywhere wooden match that has been tossed into the pot ignites and immediately goes out. I generally use the flour test: when a pinch of pure flour sizzles and pops when dropped in, the oil is ready. In terms of maintaining the temp, it should be bubbling and popping pretty vigorously throughout.

      3. It should take about 5 minutes to brown each side, for a total of about 10 min. per piece of chicken.
        MTZQ Notes: You are not trying to cook the chicken to the point that it is edible here. This phase has two goals: The first is to brown the chicken skin so that it adds plenty of flavor to the broth when the chicken is added to it; the second is to add flavor to the oil, which is then used to make the roux. To that end, you do do not want to submerge the pieces entirely (yes, that is one half of one inch above). You want to brown one side (about 5 min), flip the piece, then brown the other. If you submerge or nearly submerge the pieces, the "face up" side is getting bogged down with rapidly cooling oil. That makes for greasy, heavy chicken.

      4. As the chicken is browned, remove it to a plate covered with paper towels to drain.

  7. After the broth has simmered for 1 hour sans chicken, add the browned chicken to the still-simmering broth and continue to simmer, stirring occasionally, until the chicken is fully cooked and tender, 35-40 min.
  8. Remove chicken from the gumbo and place it in a shallow pan to cool. When the chicken is cool enough to handle, take the meat off the bones and set aside. Discard the chicken bones and skin.
    MTZQ Note: If you haven't started making the roux while the chicken was cooking in the gumbo, you can certainly take care of this step while the chicken is cooling. It's no biggie if the chicken cools all the way down. Also, I use the chicken bones and skin to make chicken broth. You'll probably want to add a few wings or something to it, just because these have already been boiled a bit in the gumbo itself, but there's still plenty of flavor.

  9. Making the roux.

    • Take a deep breath. Banish fear from your mind.
    • Once your frying oil is cool, slowly and carefully pour it into a heatproof glass measuring cup.
      MTZQ Note: You don't want any of the browned flour bits in your oil. To keep these out, I place a paper towel in a colander or mesh sieve and pour the oil through it and into the measuring cup.

    • You will need 3/4 cup + 2 TBSP of oil.
      MTZQ Note: Frank's roux calls for 3/4 plus 2 TBSPs of oil. I watched Poppy do a much more casual roux with equal success. I am enough of a roux n00b that I stick to Frank's very precise proportions, and I'm happy to report that on New Year's Day, I made a beautiful dark roux in under 10 minutes.

    • Heat a cast-iron skillet over high heat and add the oil. When the oil is hot, gradually add 1 c of flour, whisking or stirring constantly, until the roux becomes the color of peanut butter. Reduce heat to medium and continue cooking, whisking constantly, until the roux is deep reddish brown (chocolate brown). Remove from heat and set aside to cool for 15 min.

      • MTZQ Notes on timing:

        • There is a point, just when the roux begins to turn the color of peanut butter, that it starts to smoke and becomes very grainy. At this point, pull it off the heat entirely and whisk like something is after you until the smoke dies down and it gets all smooth again. Trust me, it will happen. At that point, you can return it to medium heat.
        • My first few rouxeseses took a long time to make, mostly because I feared the heat, panicked, added more flour, and did other silly things. If your roux takes 45 minutes, but it's lovely and hasn't burned, consider it a success. It takes practice to build your confidence.

      • MTZQ Notes on equipment:

        • I usually use my cast-iron skillet, but my most successful roux to date was in a nonstick skillet. I don't think the nonstickyness was key. I think the success is attributable to confidence and practice, but it's worth noting that you can make a perfectly lovely roux in a nonstick pan.
        • I recommend stirring with a wooden spoon rather than a whisk to minimize the chances of cajun napalm damage to your person. Vigilant scraping of bottom and sides throughout is key. You want to cook the flour, you don't want to burn it. However, as with onions, go with the smell. Burned flour smells foul. If your roux doesn't reek, it's not burned.

      • MTZQ Notes on eyeballing and roux repair:

        • This roux should be really dark brown and have a distinct reddish tinge to it. It should be a shiny paste, but when stirred, there should not be standing oil.
        • If you have violated the first rule of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and panicked somewhere along the way, the roux is probably salvageable, so long as it isn't burned. If you do have standing oil when you stir, let the roux settle until there's a layer of oil on the top. You can then carefully pour off the oil, leaving your lovely roux behind.

  10. Bring the gumbo broth to a boil. Carefully pour off any excess oil that may have risen to the top of the roux and discard. Slowly and carefully add the roux to the boiling broth, a little bit at a time, stirring constantly. Reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 25-30 min. Skim off any excess oil that rises to the surface and discard. Add the chicken meat, increase heat to medium, and cook, stirring gently, until the chicken is heated through until the chicken is heated through.
  11. Serve over cooked rice.

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