It's said that South Louisiana has four seasons: oyster, crawfish, crab and shrimp. We also measure the passing of a year by what stars in our gumbo and if it swims, struts or just grows in the dirt. During the holidays, we fill our pots with chickens, ducks, pigs and game along with a darker and thicker stewing liquid to get us through the cooler nights.
Most gumbo advice is about not burning the roux and what shade to cook it to. While the roux is important, a great gumbo is all about the stock. If you play your cards right you can turn what’s left of that holiday bird into a big pot of gumbo that is ready just as the leftovers run out. Plan ahead - like most things in life, this takes a bit of time.
Day One - The Stock Click for the Homemade Stock Recipe
Could you simply use canned or boxed stock from the grocery store? Maybe. You could have boiled up some hot dogs for Christmas dinner too! Your leftover turkey bones will serve a noble purpose no matter if the bird was smoked, fried, or roasted. If you went with a goose, duck or so many cornish hens toss those bones in instead.
Had a rib roast? Want gumbo outside of a major holiday? Were you a guest at someone else’s dinner and couldn’t smuggle the bird bones out in your jacket? Then substitute a couple of chicken carcases that you’ve saved in the freezer. (Nothing freezer burned please, the taste will carry over)
For all the talk about the importance of stock you can put whatever you like into it. When making a holiday dinner, save the bits of vegetables that usually go into trash: onion skins and roots, celery tops and bottoms, carrot peels and tops. Check your crisper drawer for all the sad wilted veggies that are past their prime.
If you have a large enough pressure cooker (I use one made for canning) you can cook it in a bit under an hour. Otherwise a stockpot on the stove will take between 6 and 8 hours to extract the gelatin from the bones. Clarity isn’t particularly important as the final dish will be quite opaque. An overnight rest in the refrigerator makes easy task of skimming the fat off the top and leafing behind the bits on the bottom.
Day Two - The Cooking: Click for the Boudreaux Gumbo Recipe
Most of the gumbos served in south Louisiana tend to be of the chicken and sausage variety. Smoked a chicken yesterday while you had all that free time making your stock? Super! Have a duck in the freezer? Thaw it out! Leftover turkey meat? I assume you ran out of sandwich fixings. Tired of cooking and want to use a rotisserie chicken? That will work, just get two as they tend to be small and shorten the cooking time. If you’re buying a bird for this, look for a big stewing chicken as their meat is better suited for the long cooking time.
Roux seems to be synonymous with gumbo because that’s where most of the focus is. Amounts and color always seem to be arbitrary; is “the color of chocolate” 75% or 95% cacco? I prefer mine fairly thick but not stew-like. To reach that consistency I make a roux with about 1.5 cups of flour and an equal amount of liquid fat for every gallon of stock. If you happen to have that much rendered chicken or duck fat on hand, your gumbo will be that much better! Mine always seems to end up on potatoes so I stick with a neutral oil like canola.
“Gumbo without file or okra is just soup” - everyone I know. A well made stock will also give your bowl body and roux thickens gumbo to an extent but the darker the roux, the less thickening power it has. Purists will require the extra viscosity provided by either okra, gumbos namesake, or filé, dried and ground sassafras leaves (but never both). Okra traditionally finds its way into summery seafood gumbos (being a summer vegetable) but I like it in meat gumbos all the same. If you can’t stand okra and can’t find filé don’t worry about it too much and just forget that you read this paragraph.
Day Three - The Eating
One of the greatest mysteries in life is why gumbo tastes better the next day. Many say it give the “flavors time to dance.” Personally, I think it’s because it gives any excess grease time to rise to the surface.
When ready to serve, make a pot of rice while reheating the gumbo. I always had trouble getting my rice “just right”. Between the brand and type of rice, the water ratio, the pot, the burner, the phase of the moon… It seemed to rely too much on luck to get rice that was tender and slightly sticky without being mushy. That is, until I watched my Grandmother make it (cliché, I know).
Any amount of rice, covered with plenty of water and some salt brought to an uncovered boil for 15 to 20 minutes, until tender. Then drained into a colander and covered to steam from the residual heat for 15 minutes. No ratios and perfect every time.
Besides the rice, traditional sides include french bread, potato salad and the ubiquitous, more vinegary than spicy, hot sauce.
©2016 Oliver Boudreaux. All rights reserved. Used with permission