This month’s Daring Kitchen challenge is Gumbo!
Gumbo is a stew from Louisiana that is often made up of meat or shellfish, and is thickened with a dark roux, okra and/or filé powder. I was already excited to try cooking a dark roux again (for the second time ever), but things got even more exciting when I realized I had to get a new seasoning – filé.
I’ve been wanting to make Gumbo ever since seeing that Throwdown show. I was going to try making Poppy Tooker’s recipe (as featured on the episode), but once the challenge was posted I opted to make the one suggested in the challenge.
I had never heard of filé powder before. Apparently, it’s a powder made from dried and ground sassafras. (blank stare) Nothing I read gave me a sense of what it was going to taste like. I’ve only ever heard the word sassafras before… I had no concept of what it was. I managed to find some at Lively Life in St. Lawrence market.
A quick taste revealed a mildly flavoured seasoning that tasted more like tea than a spice. It has an earthy quality that adds some depth to the dish – but it’s subtle when combined with the rich stew. It’s also used as a thickening agent.
The stew starts with a nice dark roux… another thickening agent, it also gives the dish a distinct flavour. At first, it seems like the rest of the ingredients have to compete with the flavour of the roux, but in the end they all combine to make a dark, complex flavour.
The seafood gumbo offers a combination of sweet seafood (shrimp, crab, oysters – I found the large shrimp to be the most satisfying of the three in this), spicy sausage, creamy rice, and the slight bite of green pepper. I think I would probably want more green pepper, adding half of it in later stages of the recipe so it stays crunchy. That’s just me, though.
I’ve saved the most exciting part for last… part of the challenge was to mix up a Creole spice blend!! This was probably the most boring part for other people, but I love making spice blends!!! This mix was highlighted by some allspice, paprika and onion and garlic. Another defining flavour is celery salt. This proposed a bit of an obstacle for me…
I have a particular way of preparing spice blends for my cupboard, incorporating three main rules:
- Use only whole spices (if possible) and grind them yourself.
- Remove any salt or hot spice from the blend, opting to add these into the finished dish. This gives you better control over the balance of salty and hot.
- Make small batches.
In the end, I broke rule #2 a little bit… I added some celery salt to the mix, but only enough to flavour it. The rest of the salt in the original recipe was omitted.
Our May hostess, Denise of There’s a Newf in My Soup!, challenged The Daring Cooks to make Gumbo! She provided us with all the recipes we’d need from creole spices, homemade stock and Louisiana white rice, to Drew’s Chicken & Smoked Sausage Gumbo and Seafood Gumbo from My New Orleans: The Cookbook, by John Besh.
Minimally adapted from My New Orleans: The Cookbook, by John Besh
- 2/3 cup canola oil
- 2/3 cup flour
- 1 large onions, diced
- 6 jumbo blue crabs, each cut into four pieces (if unavailable, omit, or substitute another type of crab – I substituted some snow crab)
- 1 pound spicy smoked sausage links, sliced ½ inch thick (optional, but encouraged if you eat sausage)
- 1 stalk celery, diced
- 1 green bell pepper (capsicum), seeded and diced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 2/3 cup sliced fresh okra, ½ -inch thick slices
- Leaves from sprig of fresh thyme
- 2 liters shrimp and crab stock (recipe below)
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 pound peeled and deveined medium Louisiana or wild shrimp
- 1/2 pound shucked oysters
- 1/2 pound lump crabmeat
- 2/3 cup minced green onions (scallions, or spring onions)
- Salt, to taste
- Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- Basic Creole Spices, to taste (recipe below)
- Worcestershire, to taste
- Tabasco, to taste
- 1 recipe cooked Basic Louisiana White Rice (recipe below)
- Prepare shrimp stock, if using (recipe below).
- Prepare homemade Basic Creole Spices, if using (recipe below).
- Make sure all of your vegetables are cut, diced, chopped, minced and ready to go before beginning the roux. You must stand at the stove and stir the roux continuously to prevent it from burning.
- In a large cast-iron or heavy-bottomed pan, heat the canola oil over high heat. Whisk the flour into the hot oil – it will start to sizzle. Reduce the heat to moderate, and continue whisking until the roux becomes deep brown in color, about 15 minutes.
- Add the onions. Switch to a wooden spoon and stir the onions into the roux. Reduce the heat to medium-low, and continue stirring until the roux becomes a glossy dark brown, about 10 minutes.
- Add the blue crabs and smoked sausage and stir for a minute before adding the celery, bell peppers, garlic, and okra. Increase the heat to moderate and cook, stirring, for about 3 minutes.
- Add the thyme, shellfish stock, and bay leaves. Bring the gumbo to a boil, stirring occasionally.
- Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, uncovered, for 45 minutes. Stir occasionally, skimming off the fat from the surface of the gumbo every so often.
- Add the shrimp, oysters, crabmeat and green onions to the pot and cook for 15 minutes. Make sure everything is ready to serve before adding the shellfish to the gumbo. DO NOT OVERCOOK your shellfish.
- Season with salt and pepper, Creole Spices, Worcestershire, and Tabasco.
- Serve in bowls over rice.
Basic Louisiana White Rice
Adapted from My New Orleans: The Cookbook, by John Besh
About 4 cups
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, or butter
- 1 small onion, minced
- 1 1/2 cups long-grain white rice
- 3 cups stock (such as the Basic Shrimp Stock we used for the Gumbo)
- 1 bay leaf
- 1-2 pinches salt
- Put the oil, or butter and the onions into a medium saucepan and sweat the onions over moderate heat until they are translucent, about 5 minutes.
- Pour the rice into the pan and stir for 2 minutes.
- Add the chicken stock and bring to a boil.
- Add the bay leaf and salt.
- Cover the pan with a lid, reduce the heat to low, and cook for 18 minutes.
- Remove the pan from the heat, fluff the rice with a fork, and serve.
Basic Shrimp and Crab stock
Adapted from My New Orleans: The Cookbook, by John Besh and Real Cajun, by Donald Link
I substituted about half of the shrimp shells with crab shells for this stock, and added some additional paprika for colour and flavour.
About 3 quarts
- 1/4 cup (120 ml) canola oil
- shells from 2 pounds large shrimp
- shells from 2 pounds crab legs
- 1 tablespoon Basic Creole Spices (recipe below)
- 1 tablespoon sweet paprika
- 1 large onion coarsely chopped
- 2 stalks celery, coarsely chopped
- 2 carrots, peeled and coarsely chopped
- 6 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
- 6 bay leaves
- 2 sprigs fresh thyme
- 1 sprig fresh rosemary
- 2 teaspoons (10 ml) (5 gm) black peppercorns
- 2 cups (480 ml) dry white wine (optional)
- 3 1/2 liters water
- Heat the canola oil in a large stockpot over moderate heat. When the oil begins to smoke slightly, add all of the shells, Creole spices and paprika. Stir continuously, for 2 minutes, until the shells crisp up and turn pink.
- Add the onion, celery, carrot, garlic, rosemary, thyme, bay leaves, and peppercorns. Cook, stirring, for 5 minutes.
- Add the white wine (skip this step if not using wine) and bring to a boil. Allow the wine to reduce for an additional 5 minutes.
- Add the water and return to a boil. Reduce heat to low, and simmer, uncovered, skimming off any foam or oil that rises to the surface, for 45 minutes to 1 hour.
- Strain through a fine sieve into a large bowl. Discard all the solids. Allow the stock to cool, cover and refrigerate, then skim off the fat. Use immediately, or freeze for later use.
Basic Creole Spices
Adapted on the recipe From My New Orleans: The Cookbook, by John Besh.
I’ve modified this recipe to remove most of the salt, and all of the heat. Why? Because I prefer to add those things to individual dishes so that I can regulate the saltiness and spiciness. I don’t feel that this detracts from the flavour profile in the jarred blend, and for me it makes it usable in more dishes.
I also reduced the recipe quite a bit, because I prefer small batches.
If you can, get the whole spices and grind them yourself. They store longer, and will be more flavourful.
- 1 teaspoon sweet paprika
- 1 teaspoon celery salt
- 1 teaspoon black peppercorns
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon dried onion flakes
- 4-6 whole allspice berries (or 1/2 teaspoon ground )
- coarse sea salt (to taste) (to add to the specific dish, not to the jarred spice blend)
- cayenne pepper (to taste) (to add to the specific dish, not to the jarred spice blend)
- Grind all whole ingredients, then mix together with pre-ground ingredients. Store in a tightly-lidded container for up to 6 months.
- Don’t forget to add the sea salt and cayenne pepper to appropriate dishes.