Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Life Began as a Roux

A Roux. Music to my ears. How can something so simple make what you are cooking so good? Technically a Roux is equal parts fat and flour. The fat can be butter, oil, animal fat or whatever. The classically trained will use butter and flour to thicken and flavor dishes. For today's purposes we are talking about a Cajun roux.

I was in the mood for some Gumbo and you have to start with a hearty roux. This was 1 cup of vegetable oil and 1 cup of all purpose flour. I stirred them over medium high heat for about 25 minutes until it turned the color of a dirty copper penny. Here's an interesting factoid, the darker the roux the less thickening power it has. In this case I am not looking for thickening, but want a deep, rich flavor for the background of the gumbo.

Now gumbo is probably the best example for embellishing. There are no rules, you just put in whatever you like. There are many different versions of gumbo, some using rabbit, squirrel, chicken, various seafoods and anything else you can think of. In this version I used some chicken thighs, about 6 dove breasts and some spicy andouille sausage.

Gumbo Ya-Ya

1 medium onion chopped
2 garlic cloves chopped
2 celery stalks chopped
1 large can diced tomatoes (I used 1 quart of tomatoes I canned last summer)
2 – 3 cups okra sliced in ½ inch rounds
2 chicken thighs, skin removed
1 chicken breast, skin removed (I left the bones in while this cooked then removed them before serving)
½ pound Andouille sausage sliced about ¼ inch thick
2 quarts of water
Crushed red pepper
2 Bay leaves
Salt and Pepper

Make a roux. In a large stockpot over medium high heat, mix 1 cup vegetable oil and 1 cup of flour. Using a whisk continue to stir until it is the color of a dirty copper penny, about 25 minutes. Be sure to stir constantly or it will burn, you may need to adjust the heat down a bit if it is bubbling too much.

When the roux is ready, add the onion, garlic and celery and cook until just soft, about 2 -3 minutes. Next add the tomatoes and the water. Bring this to a boil and add the meats. Season with salt and pepper and a good pinch of crushed red pepper. Add the bay leaves. Lower the heat so there is just a slight bubble to the mixture and let this cook for about 1 hour. After about an hour add the okra to the mixture and continue cooking until the meat falls off the bone and the gumbo has thickened. Remove the bones from the chicken and shred it into pieces. It will probably just fall apart on it’s own.

Serve with steamed white rice and File powder. Garnish with green onions. Make sure you have a good crusty bread for soppin’.

You can embellish your heart out here. This could be made with no meat, I would use a good vegetable stock instead of water. You can use shrimp and andouille sausage. If you use shrimp, add it in the last 20 minutes or so of cooking and I would also use half chicken or vegetable stock with the water. You can use any type of wild game. I threw in some dove breasts and they tasted just fine. The okra will thicken the gumbo, it can be omitted if it isn’t your favorite. Green peppers are a good addition too. The sky is the limit, just make sure you have a good roux as a base.

This is my version of Gumbo, there are a zillion different combinations, just use what makes you happy and enjoy.

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