The version of Diaspora Gumbo I made last night seemed to go over well, inasmuch as there was none to put away, and I had briefly feared a week of Fesser + cinetrix vs. giant pot of gumbo. We did not perform the ritual Justin suggested -- as a non-native, and only briefly a resident, I did not feel it my place -- but the questions and the answers are worth some reflection. With music and food, we celebrated the culture of New Orleans. I confess, I was secretly glad we did not have HBO, as I then would have felt obligated to screen Spike Lee's Katrina documentary. I want to see it, but based on the experience a friend had at the New Orleans debut, want to watch it at my own pace, and without a gaggle around.
Here's how the gumbo unfolded. A mixture of pieties and heresies, but I imagine that any single gumbo receipt is bound to be controversial.
Sunday, I made the stock, following Judy Rodgers' advice to remove the breasts from the chicken and reserve them for a separate use. Using the Cameron Smoker, and plenty of oak, I smoked the chicken breasts.
Monday night, I made the roux, dusted the chicken breasts with a little bit of Freuge's crawfish boil. (As we unpack and settle into the Winter Palace, spices emerge erratically -- in a perfect world, I would have made some sort of a rub from scratch, but the Freuge's was pretty good. (Roux is an exercise in stirring -- if you do not stir it, it burns, and is ruined, and you have to start over. There are not many other preparations that demand this kind of focus. Needless to say, make sure you have an adequate supply of beverage at hand. For a color guide, I use a paper bag. You want the roux to be about that dark. [If memory serves, "the paper bag test" also historically functioned as some kind of racial/social boundary in New Orleans, but I could have my details wrong.])
Tuesday, after rounding up the Zapps and the Abita, I started chopping. Here is where the controversy lies.
The traditional "cajun trinity"* is celery, green bell peppers and onions. I am not a huge fan of celery or green pepper cooked, so I kept amounts of those low, and added some red bell peppers to the mix. The final tally was 2-3 medium onions, 2 green and 2 red peppers, and two ribs of celery.
I'd stored the roux overnight covered in the fridge, and it was surprisingly hard, even after microwaving, so I added some butter to the bottom of the soup pan, and let the roux soften in that. I added about 8 cloves of garlic, crudely mixed. At this point I also parboiled the andouille sausage. (What I had was not real andouille sausage, but what Whole Foods calls andouille sausage. The flavor was quite good, but the texture was just like all the other sausage they make in house -- somewhat slack in the case, and uniform in texture, like a decent sweet Italian sausage. The parboiling was a (successful) effort to keep the sausage from falling apart in the soup. What I would consider real andouille is firmer and more heterogenous in texture. It was ok, but next time, I will DIY, or Fed -Ex.)
When the vegetables had softened up a bit -- I had to add a bit more butter to keep the roux-coated pieces from sticking -- I added some of the stock, which alleviated the sticking problem, and shredded the chicken breasts into the pot. If you make two chickens worth of stock, you should have plenty of stock, with some left over. I briefly grilled the andouille, and cut into small sections. I was only able to secure a nominal quantity of uncooked shrimp, but I peeled those and tossed them in as well. When the shrimp were cooked through, I served it forth. It is worth checking the seasoning before you start herding your guests with a ladle, but remember that you add stuff late in the process that adds considerable salt and spice, so do not oversalt early.
With the homemade stock, the roux, the sausage, chicken, and shrimp, this is a pretty hearty proposition, so I served relatively stingy portions, with considerable rice participation. Your mileage will certainly vary, based on
what you can get where you live when you make it. But for a series of relatively simple tasks over three evenings, most of which can be done around your regular meal prep, the rewards are considerable. You can bring a lot of folks together with a pot of gumbo.
Watch this space for more NOLA stuff coming soon. And I leave you with at question -- who dat?**
*AKA "creole trinity." "Cajun" and "Creole," words that originally denoted specific cultures, seem to be used more and more interchangably outside of New Orleans to refer to food somehow associated with New Orleans.