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Kitchen Sink Gumbo: A Culinary Marathon

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It’s cold outside the leaves have turned and fallen to the ground. We’re waiting on the snow. These signs all point to one thing. Winter you ask. No, it’s gumbo season. If you know what this means, go ahead and take a moment to express your joy.  If you don’t know what this means then let me explain the importance of gumbo season. Our story starts long long ago in a far off land called Mississippi, where the local drink is sweet tea, fried chicken is a staple, pie is a food group and of course there is gumbo.

Gumbo has many roots, far to many to get into here but I will briefly mention it’s French, African, and Cajun lineage. My first memories of Gumbo are from the Gumbo man. He used to make the rounds on the legal circuit in Mississippi. He packaged the magic elixir himself. The first time I had it, I was an immediate addict. His seafood gumbo invoked images of stooped old women, in colorful rags, throwing spices around like magic dusts, into boiling cauldrons.

Eventually the Gumbo man got old and stopped making the rounds. And that’s when my Dad decided to make it himself. Now before we get into the nuts and bolts, I’ll tell you something about my dad. He was an incredibly patient man, meticulous even. He loved old things, classic things, things with character. I’d seen this man pick up the biggest piece of junk from our favorite junk shop, sand it down, and transform that piece of junk into a work of art. There are massive wardrobes, side tables, buffets, and all manner of antiques in my parents house, all refinished by my dad. I’m telling you this so that you can imagine the care that went into refining his Gumbo recipe over the years. It was something that we always did together; and by together I mean that he would direct me on the how to chop the vegetables and stir the roux while he sat on the couch. ‘Cooking from afar’, my mother called it. Once all my tasks as a sou chef were completed, the master attended to his craft. My dad made a strictly seafood gumbo: craw-fish, shrimp, oysters, maybe a little sausage. He made gallons of the stuff at both Thanksgiving and Christmas, which were his favorite holidays. He understood that food brought people together, brought life to the walls of the house, music, laughter: the noise that children bring.  For him, these were the best of times.

I make my own gumbo now, with every bit of meticulous dedication that my dad used to put into his own gumbo. I’m still refining my recipe, but I’m happy to share my work in progress, which I will admit was addictively tasty.  I don’t make seafood gumbo. Seafood is an important component of my gumbo and mainly includes craw-fish and shrimp, but I also use chicken andouille sausage, chicken giblets, and duck.  I like to describe my gumbo as kitchen sink gumbo. Everything goes in but the kitchen sink.

Everyone has their own way to doing gumbo. I have never seen two recipes that were the same. The basic recipe that I used can be found here. I’ll provide the list of ingredients that I used, but I’ll refrain from sharing the proportions since I made 4 gallons of the stuff (my family is crazy about gumbo). The ingredients I used are listed below, but again everyone has their own recipe.

gumbo ingrediants

Gumbo Ingrediants 2

I started out chopping up the vegetables: Onions, Celery, green peppers, and green onions – nothing special there. By the time the chopping was done I had filled every bowl in my apartment. I set the veggies aside moved onto tackling the roux. Now for anyone, who knows anything about gumbo, you know that the roux is the lifeblood of gumbo. The dish rises or falls on how good the roux is. Roux is a mixture of equal pats oil and flour; the richer the oil the richer the roux.  Since I only make gumbo twice a year (Thanksgiving and Christmas) I decided go all out.  In the past I made roux with a canola oil base. But this year I did some research and found that the richer the oil the richer the roux would turn out. So I came up with the amazing idea to make my roux out of duck fat. I’m not ashamed to say that the preparation of roux frightens me a bit. The darker the roux, the richer the flavor, but there’s a catch.  If you don’t cook it for long enough or at a high enough heat, the gumbo wont have the depth of flavor that you want. Alternatively if you cook it for too long you stand a high chance of burning the roux. If you burn the roux, even slightly, you have to start over. So needless to say, I’m always a bit nervous. I tend to err on the side of caution with roux and make a lighter one. True gumbo masters say that the roux should be the color of a copper penny. My own roux is never that dark.

The Roux

Once the roux is completed it’s a simple issue of adding the other ingredients and seasoning. Now that I’ve described how to do the roux, I’ll walk you through what I believe was an essential step to making an amazing rich and flavorful gumbo.

The Broth: Every gumbo recipe calls for the addition of broth. It’s easy to go to the store and pick up chicken broth or beef stock or whatever your poison is. I do it all the time and I did it here; but I also ended up making an incredibly tasty duck broth that I cannot recommend highly enough.  It was almost the easiest thing in the world. Cover the duck with water, add onion celery, 5 whole garlic cloves, old bay, and salt. Once the duck has finshed cooking you’re left with a rich, flavorful, brown broth.

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Once the roux has reached the desired level of darkness add the broth and the chicken stock. Caution: it will look like you have made a mistake because everything gets really thick. You didn’t: that’s what the roux is for. If it’s too thick, just add more broth. After the soup base is the desired consistency add the vegetables and the rest of the ingredients. What you’re left with is pure voodoo magic. Traditionally gumbo is served over rice. I’ve taken to eating mine with a truffle grilled cheese veggie sandwich, which has been divine. Be forewarned: people will try to take your gumbo. They’ll come up with excuses like: we’re friends, we’re family, you owe me money. I tend to be very protective of my gumbo.

Yes it is really that serious. This stuff, if done correctly, is like culinary gold. I’d take this over a lump of truffle any day of the week and some that haven’t been invented yet. It’s expensive to make and I only make it once a year, so I tend to parse it out sparingly.  For you vegetarians out there fear not: there is a non meat version that you can find the recipe to here. I tried a vegetarian version once, it didn’t turn out too well, but this recipe sounds delectable and I would be willing to make a second attempt.

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