After my first post on my favorite recipe Gumbo (posted on 6/3) I thought it would be helpful to provide a step by step instruction to guide you along the process. The steps required can be tricky and there are certain tips and tricks not gone over in the video of Isaac Touppes cooking that I linked with my original post that I feel should be itterated. The most daunting task in the process is suprisingly one of the first, this being the roux which we will get to shortly.
Step one: PREP EVERYTHING
Preparation is one of the most important steps you should do not only in making this dish but in making any dish. It makes the difference not only in taste but also the quality of the dish overall and the plating of the dish. Firstly what you need to do is to lay out all your ingredients in front of you and have them nearby so that when you begin to cook you do not have to go into the pantry, cabinets or refrigerator to get anything.
This is how people make mistakes in cooking. Leaving the food on the stove or oven too long while you are distracted looking for another ingredient is a good way to burn your food. So what you need to do first in gumbo-prep is chop all your veggies, the onion, bell pepper, garlic, jalapeno and celery.
Then prepare your meats for cooking. Take the chicken out of the fridge and season both sides with salt and pepper. Seasoning early helps to draw out unnecessary moisture and keeps less on your plate to deal with later (yes that was a cooking pun and I’m very proud of it.) Then chop up your sausage into whatever kind of shape or preperation youd like. I made medallions but you can take the sausage out of the casing and crumble it in for smaller bites. Make sure your sausage is a smoked sausage they have more flavor and you dont have to cook them before hand. You can find a comprehensive list of all the ingredients in my last gumbo post.
Now to prep for the roux. What you will need to prepare is the fat and flour in equal parts. The fat being a high smoke point oil, or an oil which does not burn easily on high heat. These will typically be your canola oils, grape seed oils or vegetable oils. I dont reccomend using peanut oil or olive oil because the peanut oil has a strong flavor to it and will come off sweet in the dish and olive oil will dye your roux a green ting and will burn easily. Take two measuring cups and measure out equal amound of each (oil and flour) between a half a cup to one cup typically depending on how many people your serving. DISCLAIMER! DO NOT USE BUTTER FOR A ROUX! Butter burns extremly easy in a roux only use butter if the recipe specifically calls for it, this will typically be in desserts or bechamels possibly.
Step two: THE ROUX
Making a roux can seem simple but it can be extremely tricky. This will be the most challenging portion of the cooking you will do today. What you are going to need is a large pot, I would not recommend using plain cast iron because it conducts heat too good and will get too hot too fast. use instead a porcelain, metal or even porcelain coated cast iron pot. A Dutch over would be a great alternative to a pot as well.
What you are going to do is bring the pot onto the heat (be that flame or other) and bring it to a medium heat. If you have never made a roux before go with medium low. If you have and you are confident with how to do this and feel a little daring bring this to a meduim high, the teampterature should reflex your cooking experience.
Pour the oil into the pot and wait for it go get hot, then pour in the flour and immediatly stir to forma slurry. This is the beginning of your roux. The picture above will show you the different colors/stages your roux will go through. You will begin with a white roux, nothing is technically cooked yet. Then the more you stir and the longer you go the roux will change from a blond roux to a dark roux. You want the color of this roux to essentially be the color of a melted Hershey chocolate bar.
DISCLAIMER!!! DO NOT LET THE ROUX COOK WITHOUT STIRRING! IT WILL BURN!
The reason you stir it constantly is to make sure none of the flour sticks to the bottom of the pot and burns. It does not matter if you have a non-stick it will stick and burn.
DISCLAIMER!!! DO NOT TOUCH OR TASTE THE ROUX! YOU WILL BURN!
In the south a popular name for a roux is Cajun Napalm. When you make a roux and turn it from a blonde to a dark roux it gets incredibly hot! Please do not touch it you will get burned no matter how low your heat is. It is seriously really hot.
If you end up burning the roux its okay just start over. It happens to the best of us. A popular phrase that Issac Touppes is known for saying is, “If you aint never burned a roux, then you never made one.” I have burned a roux once, the mistake I made was letting someone else watch the roux while I went to the bathroom. When I came back it was pitch black. Burning a roux is no big deal because you have not wasted any expensive ingredients. Its fine dont get discouraged.
Step three: COOK THE VEGGIES
Once your roux is cooked to the proper color (Hershey chocolate brown) place all of your vegetables in the pot with the roux, except the garlic. DO NOT JUST DUMP THEM IN! Gently place them in the pot, if you were to dump them all in carelessly them your roux would splash up and most likely burn you. Be careful. Once they are all in the pot season them with salt to help release the moisture. Cook these vegetables down for roughly 5-7 minutes or until your onions begin to turn translucent. Once this happens then you may put your garlic in. The reason we didnt put the garlic in with the veggies and also why we only seasoned with salt and not pepper is because the garlic and pepper would have burned too quickly. Once you put the garlic in stir in order to incorperate the flavor and to not burn the garlic, cook that for 1-2 minutes.
Step four: ADD THE STOCK
Pour in your chicken stock slowly at first. Initially add roughly 1-2 cups of stock and stir the ingrediants in the pot for a minute or two. Then once you add the rest of the stock do so slowly as well whilst stirring. If you were to dump all of the stock at once your gumbo would become lumpy and unappealing. This is because your flour from the roux would congele with the stock to make these lumps. You stir the stock in slowly to emulsify the flour into the stock to make one cohesive base to your soup.
Step five: SEAR YOUR MEAT
This step is going to be different for many of you who decide to go with alternative meats rather than chicken. I will first go over the steps for a chicken gumbo then will talk about alternative meats afterwards.
For those who are cooking with chicken breast or some other cut of chicken. Do not be alarmed at what I am about to tell you. Don’t worry about cooking the chicken all the way through right now. If you want to its fine no big deal it wont change anything. If you don’t care right now like I do also no big deal. You will not get salmonella later because the chicken will continue to cook in the gumbo later. Right now all we want to do is sear the outside of the chicken to get it crispy and to develope flavor.
Season the chicken on both sides with salt and pepper if you haven’t already (it should be raw right now). Place a sautée pan over medium high heat and get the pan hot. Place in the high smoke point oil of choice and wait for the pan and oil to get hot. You should not flood the pan with oil but just enough to be able to roll the oil around the pan to get the oil covering it.
Place your chicken in the pan, laying the chicken away from you so not to splash any oil on you. If the chicken doesn’t sizzle in the pan when you lay it in, don’t put the chicken in. Once you have the chicken in the pan let it sit there until it sears on one side. The picture above is what your looking for when you flip over the chicken. You can even get it darker than this and I even recommend it. It adds more flavor and texture to your gumbo. Your not really timing the cook on this chicken right now its not important your looking for the crispiness and browing of the chicken.
If you are not using chicken then you should be cooking your meats according to FDA standards. Ground pork is a good alternative to chicken. Just cook it and break it up int eh pan like the chicken and cook out any excess water and remove the fat afterwards. If your cooking with seafood liek shrimp or crawfish you dont need to cook it like the chiken just throw it in the gumbo and skip this step.
Step six: PUT YOUR MEATS IN THE GUMBO
This is pretty self explanatory. Place your sausage and meat of choice in the gumbo and stir it around to make sure nothing is burning on the bottom. Throughout this process your going to be stiring the gumbo and if cooking with chicken breaking apart the chicken with a stirring spoon.
Step seven: PLACE IN SEASONINGS AND HERBS
At this point all of the hard work is done and all that is left to do is add the seasonings, herbs and to let it stew. Add in your bay leaves (5), fresh or dried thyme flowers (1 tbsp), creole seasoning to taste, salt and pepper. A couple things to note in this step. If your using fresh thyme, do not just chop the thyme up with the sprigs attached. Those do not cook down and will taste and feel like sticks when you eat them. Take the flowers off the branches and put those in only. With the creole seasoning typically they already come with salt in them so season accordingly to taste.
Step eight: REDUCE HEAT AND STEW
Now we are in the endgame. All of the hard work is done and all that’s left to do is babysit the gumbo. You want to reduce the heat down to where the gumbo is barely bubbling. Ever stove is a little bit different so on mine (which is a gas stove) even when I was all the way on low the gumbo was still bubbling a lot. Its all dependent on your individual stove. Find that point where the gumbo is bubbling and let it simmer on that temperature, covered with a lid partially for a minimum of 3 hours. This is to ensure that the roux fully cooks out and that the sausage and other meat infuse their flavor into the gumbo. I reccomend begining this entire process in the morning and letting it stew all day to be served at dinner time. The longer it stews the better it gets. Throughout the rest of the process of it stewing and fully cooking out the roux continually sitr it every 5-30 minutes to ensure that nothing gets stuck on the bottom and burns.
Step nine: SERVE OVER RICE
Once your three or however long after hours are up serve the gumbo over white rice with chopped scallions on top. White rice in this dish is traditional in cajun cooking and it helps to sop up all the delicious juices in the gumbo. And the callions provide an extra onion crunch which helps cut through thr richeness of the gumbo. I hope you all enjoy this dish it is one of my all time favorites to cook and I hope it will be yours too.