Archive for the ‘Ethnic Dishes’ Category

The Best Gumbo Ever

May 12, 2009

I’ve had stuff in my freezer for months waiting to go into my next big pot of badass gumbo, and finally I decided to clean out the freezer and do it—leftover turkey from Thanksgiving, turkey stock (I thought), shrimp, sausage, and a couple of squirrels from Terry my neighbor (the same one who gave me the trout in an earlier posting).

The squirrels were the wild card here—new for me—but sheesh, they more or less have parts like a chicken, right, except for arms where wings would be? And except for the fact that they kind of look vaguely fetus-like…

I started out with what now has become a normal gumbo beginning—first you make a roux.
(Traditionally gumbo could be thickened with roux, or okra, or filé powder, but not all three. Today, roux-based gumbos are common, with okra thrown in, and filé as a kind of condiment seasoning at the end.)

A gumbo roux is dark, and it’s easy to burn, so I keep the fire low. I used 10 tablespoons each of olive oil and flour. It takes two hours for me to produce a good roux on low heat, but at least I don’t ruin it. Here’s the roux at the beginning

and the end of the two hours.

Then into the roux went 4 cups of chopped onion, bell pepper, and celery, and that cooked for 10 minutes.

Then in went what I thought was frozen turkey stock—except that it wasn’t. It was another roux + vegetables gumbo base that I had frozen for a quick start next time. So now I had a gumbo base cooking that was as thick as paste. I had to thin it out with lots more canned stock and chopped tomatoes (and a bottle of beer), which gave me a lot of liquid to work with. This was going to be a big pot o’ gumbo, really big.

All I could do is try to fill the void with whatever I had—in this case, two pounds of smoked sausage, two pounds of shrimp, two squirrels, 8 cups of chopped turkey. In case it wasn’t enough, I took out the fryer I had and began to thaw that.

The shrimp I boiled for 5 minutes, cut each in half horizontally (to allow more shrimp pieces to permeate the soup), and boiled the shrimp water down to concentrate the flavor before putting it in the gumbo.

A classic formula for gumbo has a trio of meats: a red meat, a fowl, and a fish or shellfish. The squirrel was an odd West Virginia touch—Creole meets Mountaineer.

I had no experience with squirrel, so I tried first just cooking the whole squirrels in the gumbo liquid for 30 minutes and then trying to cut them up. I wasn’t very efficient, so I put all the mutilated parts into a strainer and continued to cook the squirrel in the gumbo. Twenty minutes later, they were still tough, so I took the parts out and braised them in a separate pot with some wine. The meat is very lean, but not at all gamey.

The whole process took most of Mother’s Day, but since my recently deceased mother was a great cook, she would have been right there with me. And she was. OK, except that mother only made seafood gumbo, with shrimp, crabs, and oysters, and she might have winced at the squirrel carcasses.

I like serving gumbo with the rice on top for color contrast, garnished with chopped parsley and green onions. And in this case, a bit of braised squirrel in the bowl.

Happy mother’s day, mother. Except for the sausage, turkey, and squirrel, my gumbo is your gumbo.



April 19, 2009

Thursday, April 16

I get on food jags. On the ides of April (technically, the 13th) I bought a pack of low fat, low carb sandwich wraps and whole wheat pita, which gave me an excuse to play with those breads for a while.

A basic ham and Swiss cheese wrap was first—with cuke slices, red bell pepper strips, Southwestern sweet-hot mustard, and a sprinkle of chili powder. Que alegría.

Next was one with more Swiss, herb-coated chicken breast slices, asparagus spears, and some homemade Creole remoulade sauce (made with homemade blender mayo, of course).

I was on a roll. I was on a wrap and roll.

Then a Greek, gyro-style one, but porkless. Instead, some leftover lamb from Easter rolled into a cone-shaped pocketless pita, ‘me ola’ (with everything): tomato (wretched winter ones for now), thinly sliced onion, and homemade tzatziki sauce (made with homemade yogurt). Bon Appetit. Or as they say in Greek, Kali orexi.

Or rather, bon wrappetit.