Time for a recipe!
I’ve really taken a shine to Creole/Cajun cuisine. Some people will resent the ‘slash’ between those terms, but there’s no denying the line between them can be pretty blurry. Since the spirit of this gumbo has to do with repurposing a waste product, let’s call it Cajun. I’ll just list the ingredients here, and get into the nitty gritty in a moment.
Yield: 6-8 servings
12 oz smoked sausage, sliced round
12 oz shrimp (peeled, deveined)
1 c diced green bell peppers
1 c diced celery
2 c diced onion
6 cloves minced garlic
1.5 c okra – sliced round
Dark roux – as needed (see notes below)
3 T paprika
1.5 t cayenne
1 t garlic powder
1 t onion powder
1 t celery powder
2 t ground black pepper
2 t salt
4-5 c cooked long grain rice
1 pt brown stock (often marketed as ‘beef’)
1 pt low gravity wort from a dark beer
1/4 c Worcestershire
What’s a roux? Roux is a foundation of classic French cuisine – it is a thickening agent cooked from equal parts fat and flour. Creole and Cajun cuisine’s roots in classic European cuisine makes the use of roux commonplace, but especially dark roux. As roux is made, the flour becomes cooked in the fat and it browns. All different shades of roux are used in various dishes. Because of the length of time needed to turn the roux so dark (and because you would have to stir it constantly on the stove) you will find it rather easy to mix the flour and fat in a cool pan and then slip it into a 350° F oven until it is very, very dark brown. It could easily be 45 minutes. Just make sure it stays below 350° so as not to burn the flour. Then you’ll have to start over. How much roux you make depends on how thick you want your gumbo. I like it rather thick, and considering roux thickens less as it gets darker, I like to make plenty. Keep in mind if the little roux you made isn’t enough, you’re kind of screwed, and excess roux will store well. So go ahead, mix 2 cups or more of flour with enough vegetable oil to form a clumping, squeezable, wet-sand mixture in an oven-safe pan and pop it in the oven, uncovered.
A word about stocks... Stocks are quite literally the first thing we learn in culinary school. I feel like there’s a public misconception that stocks are supposed to be very flavorful and complex. Quite the opposite. Stocks are basically fortified waters. They are simmered with bones and aromatics to create a large volume of liquid where flavors can be built upon and enhanced. Stocks can also be further processed and reduced into sauces like demi-glace. Stocks should not have strongly discernible flavors, salt, or fat. Look at the stocks available in your store, they contain some pretty questionable stuff (what the hell is ‘beef extract’?), which includes added fat and salt – most likely because people look for more substance in their stock. I’ve found the best one available in many supermarkets is ‘Kitchen Basics’ unsalted stocks. ‘Better than Bullion’ is also nice (it stores well), but rather salty. Look for good-quality homemade stocks at farmer’s markets.
As a brewer, consider what wort really is – it’s much like a stock. Water is (very lightly) simmered in cracked malt and aromatics (if you’re mash hopping), much like shrimp shells and parsley stems. To take the analogy one step further, finished, cleared beer is much like consomme. Of course the goals and quality characteristics of good wort and stock differ, but it’s a rather elementary process. Alternatively if you don’t have wort on hand, steep some dark specialty malts in double the amount of stock as called for in the recipe. Steep in a very light simmer (around 165° F) for about 20 minutes in cheesecloth or a grain sack of some sort so they can be removed. Funny enough, this is called making ‘tea.’
Beat that meat! The meat is really just a suggestion, you’re welcome to use whatever meat you have, or none at all, if that’s your thing. Keep in mind the dark flavors of the roux, stock, and wort are often paired with ‘darker’ meats like beef, but gumbo is no stranger to experimentation. Interestingly enough, all that toasted flour in the roux lends a ‘fried chicken’ flavor to the dish.
- You should already have the roux in the oven, the vegetables diced medium (okra sliced into rings), and the meat ready. Now’s also not a bad time to combine everything in the simmering liquid and get it hot.
- Hopefully you have something like a 5 qt cast iron dutch oven. If not, use whatever 4 or 5 qt pot you have available. Coat the meat with the seasoning blend and brown in the pot with a little bit of oil if necessary. After thoroughly seared, remove from the pot.
- Add the vegetables, except the okra and garlic. (A lot of recipes I’ve seen call for frying the okra separately. Just be careful not to burn it. However I’ve added frozen okra later on to the simmer and it’s turned out great.) Cook the vegetables until they start to brown.
- At this point you may have some fond on the surface of the pot. Fond is the goodness that is stuck to the pan after cooking. Add some of the simmering liquid to the hot fond to liberate it from the pot surface – stir constantly while it bubbles, then add the rest of the simmering liquid – this is deglazing. Remember, I said I like my gumbo on the thicker, stew side. If you want something soupier, and less dense, you could add more liquid.
- Add the reserved meat (and any liquid that came off of it). Bring to a boil.
- Cover and simmer until everything is tender, maybe 45 minutes. Some recipes call for an hour. Adjust the time depending on the texture you would like – I like it a little toothy. Hopefully this times out well with the roux so it’s out of the oven and has a chance to cool a little. Because you’re simmering for an extended time you can use dried herbs to enhance the flavor. Marjoram, thyme, parsley, etc. Otherwise, a fresh herb bouquet also works.
- Now’s a good time to start on that rice.
- After it is done simmering, uncover and add cooled roux to the pot. The liquid is hot and the roux should be cooler so that it mixes without clumping – those roux dots are no good. Add a little at a time and stir in completely until you have the desired thickness. The okra is also a thickener (most people are turned off by its sliminess), but it needs help from the roux.
- Adjust any seasonings and serve. Molded rice in the middle of a wide bowl makes for a nice presentation. Sprinkle lightly with spicy hop dust. I’ve been thinking about garnishing with Worcestershire gelee, but that’s for another time. Serve with Tobasco and Worcestershire.
Look out for more recipes featuring brewing ‘waste,’ as well as finished beer.