Category : Cooking Recipe
Posted By : Chloe Scott
From the humid Mississippi delta to New Orleans, gumbo is serious business. The pot of salty shellfish with smoked pork sausage (andouille), and sometimes oysters, in a dark chocolate-brown sauce is piquant and comforting. In Louisiana, gumbo cook-offs are frequent. But can you cook it here? I knock on the doors of Brad McDonald of the Lockhart restaurant (lockhartlondon.com) near London’s Marble Arch. Not only has the American chef worked at Michelin-starred duo Noma and Per Se (in New York) but he grew up on the edge of the Mississippi delta. It helps explain why his American menu has been knocking spots off others here. To start me on my gumbo gambol, McDonald gives me the lowdown on ingredients. ‘It would typically have chicken, shellfish, maybe shrimp or crab,’ he says. ‘You wouldn’t see beef but you would andouille.’ He says the origins of the dish are confusing. Some theories say ‘gumbo’ derives from the West African word gombo (meaning okra, a key ingredient). Others say it originated with Native Americans – leant support by the fact that they introduced a thickening agent called filé powder (from the sassafras herb, or kombo) to the French, which found its way into bouillabaisse.
Certainly, okra (pictured below) seems compulsory – all the chefs I consult use it. Cook it wrong and it’s quite slimy but when chopped finely it thickens and enriches, so I’m keeping it. Filé powder also seems to be obligatory but okra on its own thickens enough for me. Every recipe today features the Holy Trinity of Louisiana cooking: onion, green pepper and celery. So it goes without saying that this is my base. But it’s the sausage that is the soul of it. As I can’t get andouille from Louisiana, I need substitutes. In my tests, I try chorizo, courtesy of Jamie Oliver’s recipe in Jamie’s America (Michael Joseph). I love chorizo but its salty, winey and paprika notes are too distinctly European, so I evict it for a subtler Polish option recommended by McDonald – although he makes his own. I also make a meaty cajun version from The American Cookbook (DK Publishing), which has other options including the classic catfish version. Some experts claim gumbo is a poor man’s food so you throw in what you have at hand but this corpulent Cajun variant with chicken stock, sausage and raw king prawns, shelled and deveined, seems positively opulent.
Alongside this, there are spices to consider. Blogger Creole Contessa has a recipe handed down through her family. She includes creole seasoning, normally garlic powder, onion powder, crushed red pepper and black pepper. Others mention thyme and Mediterranean herbs. I like thyme, although McDonald warns: ‘I’d add cayenne or Tabasco but no cumin or oregano, that would take you away from it to something else.’ The American Cookbook’s suggestion of ancho chilli powder makes me jittery. The ancho’s mild smoky flavour enlivens my Polish sausages but is it a bastardisation? I decide no, it’s just a cheeky deviation. However, there is no compromise on the roux. This is what gives gumbo its distinctive flavour and should be the colour of chocolate. The Creole Contessa, who has been making gumbo roux since she was ten – ‘Yes, I knew it was dangerous’ – suggests heating vegetable oil for five to eight minutes until very hot, then adding flour. The roux sheens a caramel brown. McDonald says: ‘My guys work it between milk chocolate and dark chocolate. Cook it to the colour level you like chocolate. A darker roux will have more bitterness.’
Chloe’s ultimate gumbo
Ingredients (serves 2-4)
200g smoked sausage, preferably Polish, chopped into rounds
♦ 150g-200g shellfish (prawns, crabs, mussels, clams)
♦ 150g chicken legs, thighs or breast (the latter can be sliced into 1in chunks)
♦ 1tsp dried shrimps, rehydrated
♦ 2tbsp quality lard or vegetable oil
♦ 2½tbsp flour
♦ 1 white onion, finely chopped
♦ 1 green pepper, finely chopped
♦ 1 celery stick, finely chopped
♦ 100g okra, chopped into 2cm chunks
♦ 2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
♦ 800ml chicken stock (you may need to add a little more)
♦ 1tsp ancho chilli powder
♦ ½tsp Tabasco
♦ ½tsp cayenne pepper
Garnish: 2-3 spring onions and/or freshly chopped parsley
Step 1: In a large casserole pot or sauté pan, get the lard sizzling on a medium heat. Stir in the chopped pork sausage rounds so they release their fat then remove them with a slotted spoon.
Step 2: Lower the heat. Pour in the flour and stir gently. Turn the heat down as low as possible and stir. Be patient, you want the roux to be quite loose at this point. Your aim is to gently brown it – this is what adds the distinctive flavour. Don’t take your eye off the pan for a second. After about 10min of whisking or stirring with a wooden spoon, it should turn a milk chocolate colour. Cook for up to 30min to a medium chocolate shade – not too dark or it will be bitter (unless you love the bitterness of very dark chocolate).
Step 3: Stir in the onion, pepper and celery. Cook for a few minutes, then mix in the garlic, cayenne, ancho chilli powder, Tabasco and okra. Add some more lard or vegetable oil if needed. Now, little by little, on low to medium heat, stir in the stock. Once it’s complete, add the chicken. Let it simmer in the stock for 25min or until cooked. When the chicken is cooked, being careful not to burn yourself, remove any skin or bones then stir the chicken meat back in. Add the shellfish and sausage and let it simmer for a few minutes until everything’s cooked. Taste and season with salt and pepper.
Step 4: Now it’s ready to eat – although many recommend leaving it in the fridge for 24 hours for the flavours to settle. Serve with basmati rice. Sprinkle each serving with spring onions and/or parsley.
Source : metro.co.uk/2014/04/01/how-to-cook-the-ultimate-gumbo-4684403