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  1. Life & Culture

How to make a killer pot of gumbo for Mardi Gras

Roux intimidates some cooks, but it really isn’t that hard, and it’s crucial for a great pot of gumbo.
Chicken, sausage and shrimp gumbo. By Sharon Kennedy Wynne, Times staff
Chicken, sausage and shrimp gumbo. By Sharon Kennedy Wynne, Times staff [ SHARON KENNEDY WYNNE | Times ]
Published Feb. 9
Updated Feb. 10

As Fat Tuesday approaches, it’s time to embrace the classic Cajun bowl of gumbo. But first, you need to master the roux.

The building block of the delicious, thick bowl of flavorful vegetables and meats over rice is the roux that holds it all together. It sounds fancy but it’s really just a combination of technique and time.

Once you make the roux you can improvise with whatever ingredients you have on hand, from chicken thighs to scallops to crab or spicy sausage. Use the foods you like to make the gumbo you like. I never make mine without at least three proteins (sausage, chicken and shrimp), and the school principal has told me it’s now the most requested soup at my kid’s annual Teacher Appreciation Luncheon.

I’m not from Louisiana. I grew up on Irish stew and mac and cheese that came in a blue box. But after more than a decade of testing, I’ve got gumbo down. I’ve learned that the longer it bubbles and simmers, the better, but wait until it’s time to eat before adding any seafood.

A tip on roux I’ve recently embraced: It can be made in the oven, which doesn’t require you to stand over the stove stirring. The pluses of the stand-and-stir method are that it’s downright therapeutic.

But for a working mom like myself, who normally wouldn’t have much time on a weeknight, I plan to make the roux the night before by putting a cast-iron skillet on my stovetop to melt the butter and bacon fat and stir in the flour. Once it’s all together, I put the skillet in my toaster oven (if yours isn’t as large as mine, use your regular oven) at 350 degrees. Set a 15-minute timer and stir, then every 10 to 15 minutes check it and stir until it’s the color of peanut butter. It will take at least an hour, maybe two, depending on how dark you like your roux.

I’m sure I’ll hear from purists on my gumbo recipe because it doesn’t include okra or file powder. I also think you should use any kind of sausage you like, because gumbo is like jazz. Use what you got, and make it sing.

Gumbo

1 pound andouille sausage cut into ½-inch-thick slices (or any sausage you like, such as kielbasa)

5 tablespoons butter, bacon drippings or vegetable oil

5 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 cup coarsely chopped onions

1 cup chopped celery

1 chopped green bell pepper

1 teaspoon parsley leaves

1 teaspoon thyme

1 teaspoon oregano

1 teaspoon basil

1 teaspoon paprika

1 bay leaf

Salt and pepper to taste

Dash of cayenne pepper to taste

2 or 3 cloves garlic, minced

4 cups chicken broth

1 pound peeled and cleaned shrimp

1 pound chicken thighs or breasts, cubed

3 cups cooked white rice

Hot sauce or Cajun salt such as Tony Chachere’s (optional)

Cook sausage over high heat in a Dutch oven for about 5 minutes, stirring often. Remove the sausage with a slotted spoon and leave the drippings behind for the roux. Mix equal parts fat and flour to make the roux and keep stirring until it is a dark nutty color.

Once the roux is the color of peanut butter, add the onion, celery, bell pepper, sausage and chicken, if it’s uncooked (you can save time by using cooked chicken), and saute for a few minutes. Add the spices and garlic and keep stirring. When the veggies are wilted, add the broth and cooked chicken, if using, and stir until it’s nice and thick. Let the mixture simmer for at least 15 minutes — but the longer the better.

Wait until you are ready to serve to add the seafood. Sprinkle the shrimp with Cajun salt, if using, and add it. Simmer until the shrimp is cooked, about 4 minutes.

Serve over cooked rice.

Source: Sharon Kennedy Wynne

Oven-Baked Roux

4 ounces canola oil

4 ounces all-purpose flour

Heat oven to 350 degrees.

Whisk canola oil and flour in a Dutch oven or cast-iron skillet and heat on stovetop until fat and flour combine.

Bake, uncovered, until the color reaches the requisite dark brown, about 1 or 2 hours. Stir every 15 minutes.

Source: Alton Brown