THE COMPOSITION OF GUMBO: A SHORT TUTORIAL AND RECIPE
There are certain dishes that can truly exemplify and define the cultural heritage of a region. Every aspect of the dish is telling to the roots of its origin. One such dish is the creole favorite, gumbo. Gumbo is a rich stew native to Louisiana. It is arguably the flagship dish of creole cuisine, and it’s name and history carve out a genuine American story.
So now, let’s breakdown the composition of a pot of gumbo.
Gumbo is a thickened stew, and there are three common thickeners used. Each thickener has it’s own cultural origin.
Gumbo filé is made from dried and ground Sassafras leaves and stems. The Choctaw were the first known to use this technique in cooking, and it gives the gumbo an earthy, unique flavor. Filé is used mostly when okra isn’t in season.
Okra also works as a thickener, due to the mucilaginous nature of the plant’s fruit. Okra is extremely fibrous and has a gooey liquid byproduct when cut, cooked, or pickled. Okra is native to Africa, and it was most likely brought over on ships in the early 18th century.
Roux is the most commonly known thickening technique, and it’s a very widely used French method. Roux is comprised of fat and flour, roughly in a ratio of 2:3. The fat and flour are mixed together and cooked over a medium heat until the desired color and flavor is developed. In most applications, such as bechamel or country gravy, the roux is cooked until the flour has been properly cooked. For gumbo, it is ideal to slowly cook the roux until a deep chocolate color is obtained. This will give the gumbo a deep nutty flavor and color that cannot be otherwise duplicated.
The stock used in a gumbo is extremely important. It should reflect the protein being used in the stew, such as chicken, pork, or shrimp. It is okay to use a bit of a mixture as well. If you are making a chicken and shrimp gumbo, it would be good to use a rich homemade chicken stock as well as a shrimp stock made from the shells of the shrimp being added to the gumbo. Pork stock would be acceptable as well, especially if using a smoked sausage link, such as andouille.
THE HOLY TRINITY
It’s nomenclature may be due to the heavy Catholicism of the region, but this creole version of the French mirepoix (carrot, celery, onion) replaces the carrot with bell pepper. Lots of herbs and aromatics can be added to enhance the flavor, especially bay leaf, thyme, garlic, parsley and tarragon.
Gumbo can contain several different proteins at once. The most important thing to keep in mind is that when adding seafood to a gumbo, it is imperative to add it towards the end of cooking, as to not overcook it. Poultry and sausage can cook for quite some time in a gumbo and hold up texturally. Seafood just ends up a bit rubbery when it is overcooked.
The finished stew is generally served with a garnish of rice and fresh herbs. Hot sauce doesn’t hurt. This recipe we are going to execute today utilizes some crumbled jowl bacon and chicken crackiln’ mixed with fresh chopped herbs to deliver a delicious bright punctuation to one of the finest American dishes in history. We are also going to serve this particular gumbo over rice grits. When you make this for your guests you are going to blow their minds.
FOR THE GUMBO
1/2 lb jowl bacon
1 lb bone-in chicken thighs, skin removed and reserved
2 T butter
1 T lard
1 C flour
1 medium onion, diced fine
1 red bell pepper, diced fine
1 green bell pepper, diced fine
3 ribs of celery, diced fine
3 fresh bay leaves
5 sprigs of thyme
3 cloves minced garlic
1/2 lb andouille, sliced
1 1/4 qt chicken or ork stock
8 okra pods, sliced
1 bunch flat leaf parsley, chopped fine
salt, pepper and hot sauce to taste
- In a large, heavy bottomed stock pot render the jowl bacon. Once the bacon is crisp and the fat is rendered, remove the strips from the pan and reserve on a paper towel lined plate.
- Add the chicken skin and render, turning fairly often so that it doesn’t burn. Once the chicken skin is crisp and golden brown, reserve alongside the jowl bacon. Both will be needed later.
- Add the butter and the lard and let cook for a couple of minutes, then add the flour. Stir the flour and fat together until they are well incorporated and smooth.
- Cook the roux over medium low heat until it resembles the color of a chocolate bar. This process can take quite some time, and it is imperative to stir rather often so that the roux doesn’t burn. This is the most laborious process of making gumbo. It is possible to achieve the same end result by mixing the fat and flour together and baking in a 350 degree oven, but I enjoy the investment of consistent stirring.
- Once the roux has reached the desired color and consistency, add the trinity. This will halt the cooking of the roux and will begin the thickening process immediately. Sweat the trinity in the roux for several minutes, until the breakdown of the vegetables is blatant.
- Add the herbs and garlic and cook for a bit longer, until the herbs become aromatic.
- Slowly and steadily add the stock. Make sure that the mixture maintains an homogenous texture and no lumps develop.
- Once the stock is incorporated, add the chicken thighs and cook until the internal temperature reaches about 160.
- Add the sliced sausage and cook for about five minutes.
- Remove the chicken thighs from the stew and pull the meat from the bone.
- Add the shredded poultry and sliced okra back to the stew and simmer until the mixture reaches the desired thickness.
- Chop the jowl bacon, chicken skin, and parsley separately and then mix the three together for garnish.
FOR THE RICE GRITS
1 C rice, ground in a blender or food processor
2 C milk
2 C heavy cream
2 T butter
4 T cream cheese
salt and pepper to taste
- Grind the rice in a blender or food processor until it resembles the texture of grits.
- Bring the milk, cream and butter to a simmer.
- Add the ground rice and cook until tender, about 15 minutes.
- Finish with cream cheese and seasoning.
- Serve the gumbo over a large spoonful of rice grits, garnished with the chopped bacon, crackilins, and herbs.