Being from Texas I have grown up eating really good Tex Mex, which I talk ALOT about on this blog. However, being from the Gulf coast region of Texas, I have also had my share of really good seafood. Some of my favorite memories are the summers spent at our beach house at Caplan beach on the Boliver peninsula. There was a place called Milt's seafood and my mom used to buy huge buckets of raw oysters. My sisters and I would PLOW through those buckets to find the elusive pearls. We had plenty of shrimp boils, soft shell crabs and barbequed crabs.
Yet we also have a teeny tiny cajun influence. My mother is the only sibling out of 4 NOT born in New Orleans. My grandfather went to Tulane and my grandmother to Sophie Newcomb. Sometime in the 40's they moved to Texas, Port Arthur to be exact, and that is where my mom made her debut into the world. I certainly can't claim to be a cajun, but there are strong cajun influences in Port Arthur. One of my mom's friends, also from Port Arthur, owned a very popular restaurant in Houston called the Rajin' Cajun, so we always had our fill of some pretty amazing cajun food. Countless boiled crawfish, poboys, etouffes and of course, gumbo.
For some reason, gumbo has always seemed really intimidating to me. I waited tables while in college at a high-end cajun restaurant called Denis' in Houston. Denis' gumbo recipe was a tightly guarded secret and he wouldn't tolerate roaming eyes in the kitchen. He just used to mumble something about a good roux being the secret and lifeblood of a good gumbo and then would cuss and yell at you to get out of there. I was satisfied to just eat it and enjoy it. I didn't need to know how to make it, and quite frankly felt sorry for the cooks who got there at the crack of dawn to make it.
Well, a decade down the road, curiosity and cravings got the better of me. We had a lot of left over turkey and I had deboned it and boiled the carcass and had a great stock to use for SOMETHING. Lately, I have really been craving gumbo. I started snooping around the internet, not quite committed to making it, just wanting to assess what exactly goes into this mythical roux making process. IF I was going to attempt to make it, I needed to be prepared. Honestly, I am not sure what all the fuss is about. It seems the hardest thing about making the roux is the constant stirring and something called 'cajun napalm'. I was more concerned about the stirring than the napalm, which in hindsight was a very naive thing.
So, I recruited my Christopher to be a stand in stirrer if my stirring arm were to give out unexpectedly. He got a stern lecture on the importance of jumping in IMMEDIETELY if I called out for him, and with that precaution in place, we got started on the roux.
The bones of a roux is basically a cup of flour and a cup of oil. Using a heavy bottomed pot, preferably cast iron according to the cajuns, dump both ingredients in and start stirring over medium high heat.
Keep stirring. It was amusing for about the first 15 minutes. Keep stirring. The goal is for the roux to turn from light to dark. So, again, keep stirring:
This is about the shade of brown-ness where my stirring arm gave out. Luckily, Christopher had been trained well, and jumped in and kept stirring:
This is also the stage where the cajun napalm warning came in handy. This stuff POPS and SPLATTERS and when it lands on your skin it burns like hell. It kept popping me. I am not exaggerating when I tell you that by the end of the roux making process I had at least one blister on my face and several on my arms! You need to be TOUGH to make gumbo. No sissy's allowed. And after about 33 and a half minutes we had gotten ourselves to this shade of roux:
I'm not sure if it should have been darker or not, but after my time investment and 3rd degree napalm burns, I wasn't taking any chances of ruining it. So to this glorious roux, I proceeded to add what is known as the 'Holy trinity'. Which is onions, celery and green bell pepper. I added some carrots as well, which I am sure would have caused any good cajun to have heart palpitations, but hey, I'm not a cajun, I'm a Texan and we are rebels by nature. You just add them directly to the roux and keep stirring for another 3 or 4 or 5 minutes, or really as long as you dare.
I felt like I was playing a game of chicken with the roux and at any moment the volitile brew would turn on me, so I started slowly adding my turkey broth before the roux could go rouge on me. I also added the turkey, some smoked sausage and okra. I then let it simmer for about an hour.
Meanwhile, I made some cornbread and cooked some rice. And then, the moment of truth, time to taste it. To say I was stunned would have been an understatment. I couldn't believe what I was tasting! It tasted like GUMBO!! Not only that, it tasted like GOOD gumbo!! I made gumbo!! I am still a bit in shock over it and am glad I have these photos that document it to prove that it really did happen:
It was truly a culinary triumph for me and one that I feel very proud of! So, if there is a lesson to be learned here, it's to just go ahead and TRY to make that recipe that you have been scared of for a long time! You just might surprise yourself and make something so delicious you will wonder why you didn't try it sooner! Gumbo. Demystified.