See-food Gumbo

In Recipies on July 20, 2011 at 12:04 pm

Yes, I know.

I recently published a recipe for gumbo.  This is not a repeat post.  My last gumbo recipe was a fast and easy version using a boxed meal as a starter.  Today, we start from scratch.

Okay, this is not a weekday-after-work-and-the-kids-are-a-screamin’ quickie meal.  This one lends itself better to weekend cooking.  Although the gumbo needs only cook for about an hour, the prep-work takes a bit of time.

I like to have all of my ingredients prepped if they are added at the same time or within minutes of each other.  So, I chop and dice everything and toss it into one big bowl, or into several small ones if the ingredients are added separately.

Back to the gumbo!

Gumbo is a true peasant food and a characteristic of true peasant foods is that they can be prepared using DNA (“Darned Near Anything” or “See” food).  In the case of gumbo, virtually any meat can be used…and virtually any meat has been used by folks around the Gulf Coast where the dish “grew up” in America.  Folks around the bayous use everything from alligator, snake, frog, shrimp, squirrel, ‘possum’, and whatever fish can be hooked, noodled, or netted.  Despite the variety of meats used in gumbos, most Yankees tend to believe there is only “shrimp gumbo”.

Not so!

Shrimp is not allowed to cross the threshold of Casa de Phyne Dyner.  Consequently, I am grateful that gumbo can be made with virtually any meat…or be made entirely meatless.  A vegetarian friend in Texas (go figure!) introduced me to a very fine bowl of “tofu gumbo”.

Cajun and creole foods are one of the “holy trinity” of favorite restaurant foods Americans order when dining out.  Rounding out the trinity are Italian and Mexican cuisines.  I find this interesting.  Many of the frequently ordered dishes from these cuisines are easily prepared at home.  Why wait to have great gumbo dining out when you can make great gumbo at home?  ‘Tis a puzzlement!’

Let’s get started!

A good roux is essential to making good gumbo, as well as many other dishes of the Gulf region.

Roux is simply flour, fried in fat (oil, butter, grease) in a 1:1 ratio.  Heat the fat in a deep skillet or Dutch oven over high heat.  Slowly stir in the flour and fry it until it reaches the “right” color for the dish you are making.  Dark brown, almost chocolate, has an intensely nutty flavor that compliments stronger meats and vegetables.  Or, a light golden roux may be used for delicate dishes (not all Gulf Coast food is bold-flavored).  I make several cups of it every time I bake bread.  It stores well in the fridge, and stores almost indefinitely in the freezer.  Just break it down into one-cup portions when it cools.  I store mine in freezer bags.

For our “See-food” Gumbo you will need:

1/2 C flour

1/2 C vegetable oil

2 C finely chopped onion

1 1/2 C diced celery

2 C sliced okra

1 C finely chopped green pepper

1/2 C finely chopped red pepper

4 bay leaves

1 TBS anchovie paste

4 large cloves garlic, minced or pressed

1 tsp dry thyme (or 2-3 tsp fresh)

1 TBS Worchestershire sauce

2 skinless chicken breasts (and/or 8oz smoked sausage)

8-16oz (white) fish fillets or loins (cod, tilapia, etc.)

4 tsp file powder (ground sassafras)

2 TBS dry parsley

6 C water

salt and pepper

For heat add one of the following:  1/4 – 1/2 tsp cayenne, 1-2 minced jalapenos, 2-3 minced banana peppers.  Make it as fiery (or mild) as you like!  If you like “HOT”, mince the peppers with their seeds.  Heat is very subjective, so start “mild” and work up to “hot as Hell” while the gumbo cooks.  You can always add more heat.  But, once added, it is in there for good!

NOTE:  Or, use any meat you like!  That is why gumbo is truly Phyne Dyning!

Heat the water to boiling.  Add the whole chicken breasts and return to a boil…then reduce to simmer.  Cook for 20-30 minutes.  Remove the chicken and set aside to cool, RESERVING the cooking water.

Make the roux by frying the flour in the vegetable oil until it is a deep brown (6-8 minutes).  Some cooks do not care if it burns a bit…some do.  Just do not allow it to turn to charcoal!  When the roux is dark brown, stir in the onion, peppers, garlic, bay leaves, thyme, and celery.  Fry in the roux over medium heat until the vegetables soften (about 8 minutes).  While the veggies are cooking, cut the chicken breasts into small cubes.  Stir into the vegetable-roux.  Add four cups of the chicken cooking water to the vegetables-roux.  Stir in the anchovie paste, dry parsley, file powder, Worchestershire sauce, and okra.  Also, add in the cayenne or other “hot stuff”.  (NOTE:  I use dehydrated slices of whole jalapenos!).   Cut the fish into bite-size pieces and drop into the gumbo.  Bring to a boil, stirring frequently.  After 5 minutes reduce to a simmer and cook, uncovered, for 30 minutes and stir frequently.  Check for seasoning and add salt and pepper as needed just as the gumbo finishes.  Recheck the seasoning and adjust just before service.

Some cooks add uncooked white rice to their gumbo.  I do not.  I serve my gumbo, spooned over a bed of cooked white rice.

Texans tend to eat their gumbo with plenty of cold beer or iced (sweet) tea.  I learned to eat mine, like a Cajun, with glasses of room temperature (cheap!) red wine.  This is a meal that can stand alone, or serve it with pickled vegetables or other condiments.


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