Tuesday, December 6, 2011


Gumbo is perhaps the most celebrated (and delicious) dish of Cajun/Creole cuisine. Combining elements of French, African, Spanish, German, and Native American cooking, nothing else captures the essence of South Louisiana like this famous dish.

The thing to remember about gumbo is that it is, at heart, a rustic, economical dish. Like other dishes created by early lower class Cajun settlers, the cooks of early South Louisiana managed to make a delicious meal out of the cheapest of ingredients.

In that spirit, a contemporary favorite of South Louisiana is to make a turkey/sausage gumbo out of Thanksgiving leftovers. For this dish, I did just that. 

First, we make the stock. I began with two turkey carcasses (one was fried, the other roasted), a carrot (adds a nice touch of sweetness), some leeks and celery that were getting old in my fridge, a head and a half of garlic, an onion, and a shallot. Note that this is not "standard" for your stock; you can play around with it. The point is that I just used what I had; it's better than throwing the stuff away.

Throw the carcasses in the pot, roughly chop everything else, and throw it on top of the carcasses. Throw in a few bay leaves, salt, and pepper.

Next, you want to cover with cold water. Don't use hot; all the impurities in the stock will dissolve in the hot water. By using cool water and slowly bringing the stock to a simmer, all the impurities will rise to the top, making it easy for you to scoop them off.

Simmer for a few hours. You want to get as much of that great flavor from those carcasses as you can. All the other flavors will slowly blend in, creating a nice rich stock.

Strain the stock, toss all the solids away and put the stock back in a pot (you can leave it aside for now).

Next, we're going to use the Cajun Trinity. If you have read my jambalaya post, you know what the Cajun Trinity is: onions, bell peppers, and celery. In addition to the Trinity, I added a couple of jalapenos and garlic cloves.

Dice those up and put them all in one container. Set aside for now, but keep it within reach.

Next, we move on to the most important part of the gumbo: the roux. Making a good roux is not particularly difficult, but you need to make sure not to mess up either. If you burn your roux, you cannot use it. It will ruin your gumbo. Do not think that you can cover it up or get away with it; you will ruin your gumbo if you use a burnt roux.

The good thing is that it is easy not to burn your roux if you are patient. If you are they type of person to whom patience does not come naturally, there is an easy solution:

Now the first thing we do is heat up some oil in a pot. The best oil for this is peanut oil, as it has a high smoke point (the temperature at which the oil will begin to break down and not taste good). Oils with a low smoke point (such as butter or olive oil) will ruin much faster, so I do not recommend those. Canola oil and vegetable oil are also fine for making a roux.

So anyone, I heated up about 1.5 cups of peanut oil in my pot

Next, you add equal parts flour to the hot oil. 

As soon as you add the flour, your roux is going to be pasty, white, and thick. What we're going to do is cook the roux over medium high heat over the course of about 20-30 minutes and watch as the roux slowly transforms into a chalky mixture into something that has tons of flavor and will set the tone for your entire gumbo. As they say, "it's all in the roux."

I prefer to use a cast iron pot with a slotted wooden spatula, but you can use pretty much anything you want. Some people use a whisk, some a long wooden spoon. Whatever gets the job done. They key, though, is NEVER STOP STIRRING. If you stop stirring, you will burn your roux. You need to stand over your roux and stir constantly until you are ready to throw in your vegetables. Watch out, though, because roux is HOT HOT HOT. And not only is it hot, but it sticks to your skin and gives you a nasty burn. They don't call it "Cajun Napalm" for nothing.

So what we do is constantly stir this stuff until it turns the color of a Hershey bar. We don't want it to turn black, because then it's burnt. Then, we throw in the vegetables, which stops the cooking immediately (which is necessary). In other words, we bring this thing right to the edge of the point of no return, and then we stop the cooking by throwing in the vegetables.

Stir, stir, stir...

Keep stirring....

 Starting to change colors now...

Now that's starting to look good...

Almost there...

And BAM! Throw in that Cajun Trinity. This moment is perhaps my favorite moment in all of cooking. It's about the best smell you've ever smelled, and the intense sizzle of the vegetables is music to my ears.

While that's cooking, let's prepare the sausage. I usually use a link or two of smoked sausage and a link or two of andouille (a type of Cajun sausage). Don't worry too much if you cannot find andouille; it's a nice addition, but I realize it's not available everywhere (but definitely use it if you can get it).

For this, I used two links of andouille and one link of smoked deer sausage.

Chop it up. I like them to be about half an inch thick.

Now, your vegetables should be almost done cooking in the roux. You want them to be close to translucent.

Now, remember that stock we made? Heat it up. We are going to add the hot roux/veggies to the stock, and if there is a big temperature difference between the two, the roux will separate, which is a big pain.

So, once your stock is hot, use a big spoon to scoop in the roux/veggies mixture.

Next, add the sausage, and cook this in low for a while. A couple of hours should be good.

Mmmm, looking great.

Getting hungry? This will make your whole house smell wonderful.

Once this has been going for a while, it's time to make your rice. Making rice is really easy, yet people seem to find ever new and creative ways to screw it up. All you need to know is this: 1 part rice/1.5 part water. Bring to boil, then simmer for 15 minutes.

I also like to add a few bay leaves and a little butter.

When it's done, it should look just like this.

Next, I threw in all my leftover turkey meat. I didn't want the meat in the gumbo the whole time, since it was already cooked and would dry out. Just let that cook down for a few minutes.

 Now your gumbo is ready. Just take a look at that. Oh my.

To serve: put some rice in a bowl and ladle your gumbo over it. This gumbo was so good I did not add a single spice or drop of hot sauce to it. The flavor was simply outstanding.

If you have some, I really recommend chopping putting some diced green onions on top; it really adds a nice *something* to your dish, but I did not have any this time.

Finally, enjoy!