Searching for Gumbo in the Eighties

I was in college in the 80’s when I learned to cook. My mother wasn’t the kind of mom who wanted your help in the kitchen. It would ruin her efficiency and make things messier. She was an excellent cook, though. When I went away to college and ate on campus my first reaction was to call back home for recipes that I could make in my dorm room. My room was a two-bedroom suite with a full-size kitchen so that made things easier.

In the 80’s cooking shows were pretty much only available on PBS, at least the only ones I was aware of. I’m sure there were others but those I remember were various incarnations of Julia (The only time to eat diet food is while you’re waiting for the steak to cookChild shows, The Frugal Gourmet, and Louisiana Cooking with Justin Wilson. I enjoyed them all and learned from them. There are still several recipes in my rotation of regular meals that came out of The Frugal Gourmet cookbooks.

It was Justin Wilson who made me want to eat Cajun food. Gumbo became a goal for me, one that I have followed for years now. I cooked several different versions of backwoods, or chicken and sausage gumbo, from various different cookbooks; The Frugal Gourmet, Chef Paul Prudhomme, The Little Gumbo Book (a tiny gem containing 27 gumbo recipes compiled by Gwen McKee), to name a few. Over the years a recipe came together that finally tasted and felt right to me and my family. I’m sure some will say it’s not  REAL gumbo, or that I have done something heretical, but that’s okay. The Little Gumbo Book proves to me that a gumbo recipe is kind of like an opinion in that everyone has one and … that’s as far as I’ll go with that analogy.

Oh, and when we make gumbo we make a large pot because we plan on eating it for days, so get out your stockpot.

We usually use pre-cooked chicken when making gumbo. If I’m thinking far enough ahead I will smoke a bird on the grill, debone it, and add that meat to pot. Or maybe roast it in the oven. Today I hadn’t thought ahead, so I stewed the bird and used the broth and the meat for the gumbo.

The two most important things about gumbo are the roux and the Holy Trinity (onion, bell pepper, and celery). A roux is a mixture of flour and oil, cooked gently over medium heat. 2 rouxWhen making gumbo you want to cook that roux until it reaches a coppery color, or maybe the color of peanut butter. I start with a cup of oil and a cup of flour. This takes a while and you need to keep stirring it at all times. Watch it carefully as well, because a perfect roux can go from copper to burned in seconds. 3 rouxWhen it is the proper color, toss in the trinity and sauté until the vegetables are limp, adding the garlic towards the end. The vegetables will stop the roux from browning further. Yeah, there are some carrots in there, too. I’m not apologizing.5 saute

When the vegetables are done transfer the roux to the big pot and add the stock and crushed tomatoes, stirring constantly over a medium-high heat until the stock thickens. At this point, you can add the seasonings, cover the pot, and let it simmer for about an hour.6 simmer

Cut up and pan fry the sausage while the stock is simmering. Set the meat aside then deglaze the pan with water, stock, of beer, and scrape all the delicious fond
left on the bottom of the skillet, then add that to the stock. Once the hour is up, add the chicken and sausage and let it simmer for another 20-30 minutes. Serve over the cooked rice with crusty bread, maybe a nice Sourdough French or Ciabatta.4 gumbo

Oh, and this is better if you can make it today but serve it tomorrow.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup oil
  • 1 cup flour
  • 2 large onions
  • 2 large green bell peppers
  • 4 stalks celery
  • 8 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 4 quarts chicken broth
  • 28 ounce can of crushed tomatoes
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 1 tablespoon thyme
  • 1 tablespoon basil
  • 2 teaspoon oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon allspice
  • some freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1/4 cup Worcestershire Sauce
  • 2-3 teaspoons of Tabasco or hot sauce of your choice
  • Salt to taste
  • Cooked Rice

Number of Servings: A lot.

Variations:

  1. Leave out the tomatoes and add an extra quart of broth. You can definitely go more traditional and add some okra. Slice it up and sauté with the other vegetables. It will help thicken and smooth the broth.
  2. If you are celiac and need gluten-free recipes I have found that the roux can be made by using white or brown rice flour instead of regular flour, and the flavor is virtually the same. I use a 1 to 1 substitution. It doesn’t thicken the broth as well so adding a little corn starch or arrowroot powder in a slurry towards the end helps.
  3. You will notice in the picture some potatoes and carrots in the bowl as well. If we are making gumbo as a one-dish meal or trying to stretch it to feed lots of people, we sometimes add them to the pot in the last thirty minutes of cooking. It might be a heinous blasphemy to some, but we don’t care.
  4. Try different types of sausage and different meats. We’ve used roasted turkey, sometimes added ham, and on occasion fresh shrimp in the last few minutes before serving. In the original recipe this is built from, the chicken was fried in the oil that was going to be used to make the roux, then the bone-in pieces were simmered till done in the stock. I’ve done it and it was delicious.
  5. There will be quite a lot of oil on top from the roux. Use a spoon or a fat separator to remove the excess oil.

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About owlcreekbreadworks

Husband, father of three, baker of real bread and excellent bagels! Currently reinventing myself...

2 responses to “Searching for Gumbo in the Eighties”

  1. getalonghome says :

    I’ve never made a gumbo. Never even eaten gumbo. I’m guessing “gumbo” in a can isn’t gumbo. 😀 I’m going to try this as soon as I’m able, just because I can’t resist the challenge of getting the roux right. How many do you think I’ll ruin before we have gumbo? Also, do you still deliver? I miss the awesome bagels. All the other stuff, too, but mostly the bagels.

    • owlcreekbreadworks says :

      Gumbo in a can is definitely not gumbo, and the roux is key. You’ll be fine!
      Yes, we still deliver. Hollar at us when you need something.

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