Saturday, November 13, 2010

Gumbo, Baby!

The coolness creeping up on us masqueraded as Spring for me one day this past week. I was walking with my best friend along a route we'd covered many times over the years and our conversation was also scampering over old fields with new fodder.
Our trip included crossing a short bridge that always makes me feel closer to the sky. In the few seconds we were at the apex I looked up, as I always do, to see what particular flavor of blue sky I was being graced with when a sharp breeze came across the bay and for that quick interval of seconds I smelled Spring.
Spring is still months away despite my hope to skip past fall and winter to my favorite time as a Daughter of Demeter.
There are still green things to harvest and eat, canned things from summer and cured meats from the last cold time to bring together in my favorite cool weather meal, Gumbo.
Shrimp, crab, fishies and chicken have no place in gumbo for me as a Florida girl. I don't like chicken and think burying crab or shrimp in soup-y stew-y things is WRONG. More on that later.
For now, this is my way to accept Fall.

Basic Sausage Gumbo

1 large red onion, diced
1 pound country sausage, sliced in 1/8" pieces (use 1/2 this amount if you are watching bad fats and boost the flavor with Vigo Ham Soup Base to taste)
1 green pepper, diced
4-5 stalks celery, chopped
2 32-oz cans petite diced tomatoes
2 cloves diced garlic
1 32 ounce container chicken stock
1 16 oz bag frozen sliced okra OR 2 cups fresh sliced okra
2 tsp sea salt
tbl paprika
many grinds of pepper
pinch paprika
some crushed red pepper and a bit of Cavender's
pinch or so of rubbed sage

Here's the hard part. You need a good pot (meaning not light-weight or thin bottomed), 8 tbls of good oil (extra virgin olive or grape seed oil, something good flavored and good for you) and 8 tbl flour.
Add the oil to the pot, heat over medium until shimmering and add the flour. Stir steadily to combine oil and flour until the mix is a soft gold, about 15 minutes. This stuff is liquid napalm so be careful not to get any on you. I like to use a flat whisk that has a heat-proof coating on it.IF YOUR BURN THE ROUX, DUMP IT OUT AND START OVER. Burned roux stinks and smells burned so you'll know if you've crossed that line. Roux requires constant stirring, no walking away to pour fresh wine or answer the door unless you have prehensile toes and can call them to stirring duty. You can easily ruin your dinner with burned roux.
After getting your roux pretty, thick and bubbly, pour in the vegetables (except okra) and stir very quickly to coat in the roux. The vegetables and the roux will act like you have just provided hem with a mortal insult by glomming together to make you think they're going to burn. Just keep stirring quickly with a wooden or other favorite spoon and it'll be OK:)
Continue stirring for about a minute to start the onions releasing their fragrance and then stir in one can of the tomatoes and about 3/4 of the chicken broth. Add seasoning and the sausage. Keep the heat at medium/medium high. At this point you decide if you want more tomato or not. I usually do, but at least one can of mine is whirred into a crushed state with an immersion blender. You can just buy tomatoes that are crushed already, but my pantry never makes that elusive can availabe when I need it.
This will also be the point at which you start thinking about adding the rest of the stock or not. A gumbo can be the consistency of a stew or a soup or in-between depending on your decisions along the way and whether or not you like rice with your gumbo. You can still change your mind as you move along the spectrum of cooking this dish.
Put the sliced okra in now, check seasonings, cover and reduce heat to medium low. Let it bubble along for about twenty minutes (range tops vary so if your's runs hot, get the heat lower so you don't burn your masterpiece). Check the flavor to see if you need salt/pepper/paprika/etc and add whatever your tastebuds dictate. Now is the time to decide whether you need that last bit of stock or more tomatoes if you didn't add them earlier. Make your decision, bring to a quick boil if you add anything, reduce to a low simmer afterwards. Cover the pot and let it simmer along for at least thirty minutes, an hour if you have it.

Gumbo is one of those dishes that becomes yours, just like really good chilis. The flavors and vegetable amounts that you and your family like are what matters.

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