Its been a long time since we talked about gumbo, but when I woke up this morning, there was just a hint of fall in the air and fall to me means gumbo. One of the first signs of approaching fall is that the birds start to flock-up in late summer, then the hummingbirds show up and feast on Turks Cap and other flowers, cool mornings also get my hopes up, but the most definitive sign is that first strong north wind.
I have a large oak tree that shades my house, and when that first wind comes blowing out of the north, those ripe acorns that are just barely hanging on let go and come crashing down on my tin roof like hail. Then I know its gumbo time.
Gumbo is a magical recipe in many ways, not only is it delicious when properly prepared, but I truly believe in its restorative powers. It’s also not a meal to be prepared or served alone. It’s a meal to make for family and friends. It is something to be shared. It is one of the fundamental principles that guides my life: sustenance equals life, so when you share food, you share and celebrate life. No man or creature visits my house and goes away hungry. That’s just the way it is.
Gumbo is a magical recipe in many ways, not only is it delicious when properly prepared, but I truly believe in its restorative powers. It’s also not a meal to be prepared or served alone. It’s a meal to make for family and friends.
So, what does it take to make a good gumbo? The answer to that question is simple: time. There are no shortcuts in gumbo making, things are done when they are done, and if you try to hurry things up, then all will suffer.
One of the most essential steps in making a good gumbo is a good roux. Many people are intimidated by the very idea of making a roux. When I teach a gumbo class, I always tell those that attend the best way to learn how to make a roux is to burn one. Sounds silly, but it is true. A gumbo roux is right when it is moments away from burning. When you know where the burning point is, then you have a better idea when to take it off the stove.
I have chef friends who combine flour and oil, heat a cast-iron skillet and in ten minutes or less have a beautiful dark brown roux, but that’s not my style. My recipe takes a little longer, but I can usually get it right. Equal parts of flour and oil, a cast-iron skillet, fairly aggressive heat for the first five minutes or so, but then I start turning the heat down. When the roux starts to get really dark, I’ll remove the pan from the stove, stir a bit, then put it back on until I get the color I want.
What color should a proper gumbo roux be? Some say the color of the Mississippi River, some say nut brown, but to my eye, it’s more of a chocolate brown. But there are other signs as well. One is the nutty smell of a good roux. When you smell that smell, you know that you are about three-quarters of the way there. A proper roux should also have a silky texture and appear just a bit oily.
Just remember that when your roux is done, if it is left in that hot cast iron skillet, it will continue to cook. Put it in the gumbo right away.
Next time I’ll give you the rest of the recipe, but just in case you are wondering, no, I do not mix my holy Trinity and roux. Why? I do have a good reason, but you are going to have to wait till next time.