On November 7th, it suddenly got a lot colder in Connecticut. I was driving home from an evening meeting in Hartford, when suddenly all four of my tires deflated 10 lbs due to the cold. That night, the furnace clicked on for the first time (I have my thermostat set at 60F). So I finally took the air conditioners out of the windows (I wasn't still using them...just lazy).
Time for hearty soups and stews! This Cajun Seafood Gumbo was inspired by two things: Walt's, the local market/butcher in Old Saybrook, has a smokehouse out back where they smoke sausages, including Andouille; and my brother Peter, who lives in Julian east of San Diego, just came back from a trip to the Cajun country west of New Orleans. Armed with Walt's Andouille sausage, Peter's advice and the Internet, I set out to make a Cajun Seafood Gumbo.
This involves eight distinct steps: shelling and deveining 2 lbs of shrimp; making a shrimp stock with the shells and vegetables and herbs; slowly making a dark roux with a cup of bacon fat and a cup of flour; making a Cajun spice mix; adding the stock, the spices, some diced tomatoes and some more vegetables and herbs to the roux and simmering for 30 minutes; making white rice; adding the shrimp, a 1/2 lb of oysters, a 1/2 lb of picked crab meat and 1 lb of sliced and browned Andouille sausage to the broth and simmering for 10 minutes; and then pouring the gumbo into a soup bowl and topping it with a scoop of the rice, some file powder (ground sassafras) and some snipped chives.
Shelling and Deveining the Shrimp
This is actually the hardest part of the process in effort and time. Below is 2 lbs of shrimp shelled and deveined. The shrimp on the left is ready to be added to the gumbo. The shells on the right are ready to serve as the foundation for a shrimp stock.
Making the Shrimp Stock
The recipe for this is from a site called Genius Kitchen at this link:
You cook the shrimp shells in a tsp of olive oil for 10 min till they get really pink. Then you add a chopped, unpeeled red onion, 3 smashed unpeeled garlic cloves, a chopped stalk of celery, a chopped carrot, a sprig of parsley, a sprig pf thyme, a sprig of oregano, a couple chives, a couple bay leaves and "1/4 cup of left over tomato sauce" (I love that part of the recipe, as that's exactly what I had in the fridge). Cook that for 10 min to intensify the flavors. At this point, the recipe calls for adding six cups of water, but as I had a quart box of fish stock in the cupboard, I added that plus 2 cups of water. You bring that to a boil, simmer it for 30 min, then strain it into a bowl, pushing out all the juices from the scraps. Unfortunately, I forgot to take any pictures of this step.
Making the Roux
This is the other time consuming part of the recipe. For this and the gumbo, I am working from a recipe in The Tasting Table, which you can find at this link:
The recipe calls for 1 cup of canola oil and 1 cup of flour for the roux, but I used bacon fat for most of the oil. I only add about 3/4 of a cup on hand, so I topped it off with sunflower oil, which I prefer to canola. I had browned the Andouille sausage in the Dutch oven I used to make the roux and the gumbo, so there was a little bit of rendered fat from the sausage in the bottom of the pot along with some nice brown bits of fond. You cook the roux slowly over low to moderate heat, constantly stirring with a whisk to keep it from burning, It takes a good 55 min to get to a dark brown roux. The recipe helpfully suggests cracking open a beer to help pass the time. I followed that advice, and also played part of my Bonfire Playlist on the UE. Pictured below is the roux about 30 min in with a second glass of American IPA from my local 30 Mile Brewing:
You know how it is when you're browning onions, and they stay at a yellow/golden color for a long time before they suddenly brown? That's how it is with roux. You have this light brown roux for what seems like forever, then it suddenly turns a rich mahogany brown. Voila:
Making the Cajun Spice Mix
For this, I worked from a recipe that is a hot link off The Tasty Table recipe, that calls for 2½ tsp sweet paprika, 2 tsp kosher salt, 2 tsp granulated garlic, 1 tsp coarse black pepper, 1 tsp cayenne pepper, 1 tsp dried oregano, 1 tsp dried thyme and 1½ tsp onion powder, This makes 1/4 cup. You only need 1 T of it for the gumbo.
Adding the Shrimp Stock, Spices and Veggies to the Roux
You then add the shrimp stock slowly to the roux, and once it's incorporated, add a 14.5 oz can of diced tomatoes, 1 T of the Cajun spices, 2 tsp dried basil, 1 tsp onion powder, ½ tsp cayenne pepper, 4 diced celery stalks, 2 bay leaves, 2 diced medium bell peppers, 1 diced large onion, and, wait for it...20 garlic cloves, roughly chopped. You gotta love a recipe that uses 20 garlic cloves:
The recipe calls for adding 10 cups of shrimp stock, but the 2 lbs of shrimp I bought for the gumbo only produced 6 cups. What to do? Since the recipe called for draining the diced tomatoes, I just put the whole can in, juice and all. That got me close to 8 cups of added liquid. At this point, the recipe calls for bringing the broth to a simmer and cooking it for 1 hour uncovered (it actually doesn't specify covered or uncovered, but I assume the idea was to reduce the 10 cups a bit). So I cooked it covered and ended up with a soup of the right thickness.
Making the Rice
While the broth was simmering, I made some white rice, using the Valldejuli recipe from Puerto Rican Cookery that I have been using for 40 years. In my view, Puerto Ricans make the best rice in the world. You need to use a medium grain rice. I use Goya. The proportions are 2 cups of rice to 3 cups of water. You bring the water, 4 T olive oil and 2 tsp of kosher salt to a boil. While this is happening, you put the rice in a strainer and rinse thoroughly with running cold water. Drain well and add to the boiling water. Boil it till the water disappears from view down little holes in the rice, like this:
Then you turn it once with a fork from bottom to top, cover, cook on low heat for 10 min, turn again once from bottom to top, cover, and cook on low heat for another 10 min.
Adding the Seafood and Sausage to the Broth
Once the broth has cooked for an hour, you add 2 lbs of shrimp, 1/2 lb of shucked oysters, 1/2 lb picked crabmeat and 1 lb of browned Andouille sausage. Here are those ingredients ready to be added to the broth:
Then you bring the gumbo to a simmer and cook for 10 min. Here is the finished gumbo:
Plating the Gumbo
You then put some of the gumbo in a soup bowl, top it with a scoop of the rice and garnish it with some file powder and a few snips of chives, like this:
This was outstandingly good, more than worth all of the time and effort. And I have the feeling that it will only get better as the leftovers sit marrying in the fridge awaiting future meals.