July 25, 2014

Gumbo Making Tips

I found this great site and it has all of those little tips I remember my grandmother Honey telling me as we cooked or hearing when I was little. Everything below is from their site, just put here so my girls can read it more easily.

1. Start with a dark roux. Endeavor to bring your roux to the color of milk chocolate. This is your most important step of all the gumbo cooking secrets. A dark roux is required to get that rich and classic taste authentic Louisiana gumbo is known for. A dainty light colored roux will produce a gumbo that lacks the rich and deep flavor that comes with a dark roux. The only exception to this rule is when making specific recipes like a New Orleans Creole seafood gumbo that specifies a lighter color roux or a recipe that uses okra for the thickening agent instead of flour.Your first law of gumbo physics is: A dark roux is required to achieve the maximum potential flavor from an authentic Louisiana gumbo. This gumbo cooking secret will render a delicious recipe every time.
Note: When adding the required water or stock to your roux, add slowly while stirring rather than putting the entire measure in at one time. I like to add about one cup at a time, stirring between cups, until I get all stock put in. If your stock is cold you can shock the roux and it will curdle and separate. Warming the stock can help prevent this too. My technique, which works well, is to add one ladle then stir. Add another ladle then stir. Do this until all stock is added.

2. Use stock instead of plain water.  A flavorful stock is easy to make and will always make a much better gumbo compared to using plain water. You can find seafood and chicken stock recipes on this site and they are recommended highly. If you don't have the time or inclination to make your own then use canned stock. But be careful of the salt content in commercial stocks and reduce the amount of salt specified in the recipe to avoid over doing it. This gumbo cooking secret is second only to a dark roux. I can't emphasize enough the importance of using home made stock. It is far and away the best approach and well worth the extra time. To really draw out maximum goodness cook your stock for 2-3 hours so flavors from the bones are fully extracted.

3. Use fresh ingredients.  Fresh is best period. Onions, celery and green pepper make up the TRINITY, and to get maximum flavor use fresh if possible. Seafood especially is best when fresh. If you can purchase fresh whole chicken or turkey use them in your gumbo for an exceptionally flavorful taste. Organically grown chicken, or yard birds available from local farmers makes an "OUT OF THIS WORLD" gumbo and is a little known gumbo cooking secret.
It is not always possible to get everything fresh but use what you can get particularly the vegetables. Some recipes on this site use frozen ingredients and are intended to be used for the fast and easy recipes and this is ok. If you cannot get fresh meat or seafood don't worry as you can still make a fantastic gumbo using frozen ingredients.

4. Use smoked meat in your gumbo.  No matter which type of gumbo you make, all will benefit from adding smoked meat to flavor. Whether it is seafood, chicken, turkey or vegetable, smoked meat will add flavor and authenticity. In Louisiana, andouille and tasso are are popular smoked meats used in gumbo. But any type of meat that has been cooked with heat and smoke will work. Try buying smoked chicken from your local barbecue restaurant without sauce and keep in your freezer for the next gumbo.I don't recommend using liquid smoke as it produces a fake taste most diners can identify.

5. Use the bones.  Chicken, turkey and fish bones add lots of flavor and should be used when you can. Most diners don't want to find a bone in their bowl of gumbo. Understood. But you can use bones in the stock and this produces lots of flavor. Straining the stock before using will remove even small fish bones. Putting whole pieces of chicken in your gumbo and allowing it to simmer for a couple of hours will extract lots of flavor. You can debone the chicken at the end of the cooking process and return the meat to your pot before serving.

6. Make it in advance. Like a good wine, gumbo gets better with age. It is ok and even recommended to make it ahead of time particularly if you are serving a group of people. This is one of the gumbo cooking secrets many New Orleans Chefs employ consistently. You can store it in the refrigerator for a couple of days or in your freezer for months. The flavors meld and become more intense with proper storage over time. Over the years I have found gumbo stored in my freezer for more than a year. They were as great as the day I made them. Even better.

7. Long and slow is best.  Gumbo cooked over low heat and uncovered for 2-3 hours is best. Although you can make a great gumbo in one hour or less, the flavors do not meld and intensify until the cooking time has reached at least 2 hours. It is not necessary to cook for longer than 3 hours as some recommend.
There are those who cook gumbo all day long and insist that makes the best. If you have the time go for it but be careful that your ingredients do not cook completely to pieces. I have found most diners enjoy the texture of firm but tender meat or seafood in their delicious and dark gumbo and that is why I caution against over cooking.

8. Use a heavy pot of sufficient size. A heavy cast iron pot properly seasoned will make your best gumbo. But any heavy pot is fine. I regularly use a big cast iron dutch oven when making a large volume of gumbo. Avoid light weight pots with thin bottoms. These do not conduct heat evenly, require frequent stirring and can burn the ingredients on the bottom. Use a pot large enough to allow for space at the top. I sometimes use a large stainless steel pot to simmer an extra large volume.

9. Tweak and polish during the cooking process.  Gumbo is like snowflakes. No two are exactly alike. And gumbo is flexible. That means that during the cooking process you can tweak to improve the flavor or correct mistakes. If it is too thick add a little water. If it is too thin add roux. You can make a second batch of roux on the side to add to the pot if you need to thicken. I have done this many times with great success. If you find your gumbo lacks flavor, you can add more meat. Just make sure you continue to cook long enough to ensure the added meat is done. You can add salt or spice also during the cooking process to satisfy your tastes. So tweak along the way for perfect gumbo. It is one of the easiest gumbo cooking secrets to master.

10. Brown meaty ingredients like chicken, turkey and sausage first.  This is an extra step that will add another layer of flavor. Browning these ingredients first in a little oil will produce a crispy browned crust on the meat and imparts extra flavor and some color. This adds time of course but is worth the effort if you want to get the best gumbo possible. It's best to do the browning step in the heavy pot you will use for the gumbo so the particles stuck to the bottom will be used.

Roux Making Instructions
Roux (pronounced "roo") is simply white wheat flour browned in oil or animal fat. These roux making instructions will show you how to easily prepare it.
Roux serves as the base for most gumbo recipes where a rich, deep and hearty flavor and texture is desired. Experienced gumbo cooks will use it as the main thickener and will endeavor to make it as dark as possible.
The perfect color will be dark red brown or something close to milk chocolate or darker. Of course there are risks to getting it very dark. If it is burned the gumbo is ruined. Guaranteed. That can be an expensive and embarrassing mistake particularly if you are planning a dinner party. The secret to getting it right is to take your time and stir constantly.
These roux making instructions will ensure you avoid mistakes. For a traditional version always use white enriched bleached flour. The oil should be a vegetable oil like Crisco or corn oil (except when using butter in a light colored version). I have tried olive oil and I don't like the results. Olive oil will result in a gumbo with the flour separated in the liquid and will never produce the smooth velvety liquid required in a correct gumbo.
I use butter on a limited basis and only for the lighter colored versions as it can burn easily. Some recipes will use butter to saute okra.
Animal fats like lard or bacon grease will work fine and make for great results. Don't use peanut oil as I have found it separates from the roux early in the cooking process and tends to make globs.

Except for a select few recipes using butter, I will use vegetable oil or corn oil for my roux. It is inexpensive, consistent and makes your gumbo smooth, creamy and easy to handle. Corn oil is best.
All of the recipes found in this site will have the recommended oil to flour ratio. A rule of thumb is 1 cup of flour to 3/4 cup oil. This works great whether you are cooking for 10 or 100. More browned flour will yield a thicker and richer finished product. If your preference leans to the thinner consistency use less flour.
I have served a lot of gumbo to guests over the years and the richer ones are always preferred. Use the amount of flour and oil I recommend and you will be satisfied with the results.

Be prepared to take your time...... Allow one hour from start to finish. The more experienced you become the faster you will get but please don't rush this until you have made several batches. Remember to avoid burning you must stir constantly. If you stop stirring the flour will burn. Never walk away from your roux. No exceptions. Constant stirring yields success.
I like to use a wire whisk for stirring instead of a spoon

Always have your onions, celery and green pepper chopped and covered in a dish before you start. The concept here is to put them into the roux the moment it is the right color to avoid over cooking. When the vegetables are added the roux mixture cools preventing the flour from cooking further. This yields the best results.

Tony Chacheres Seasoning Is All You Need To Spice Up Your Gumbo
We have used Tony Chacheres Seasoning as long as I can remember. It is a foolproof seasoning to use in your gumbo and I recommend you always have it in your pantry.
Whether it's seafood gumbo, chicken gumbo or greens gumbo, this extraordinary blend of flavorful spices will make your creations taste great. The recipes on this site will use this great seasoning because it is an easy, fast and delicious way to add salt and spice up your gumbo.
Don't worry about making things too hot. Just follow the amounts listed in the recipes and your gumbo will be perfectly seasoned. I always have a container on the dining table for my family and guests who like to add a little more salt or spice. It can be added to the bowl at the table and allows your diner to season to taste in a jiffy. 
And it's not just for gumbo either. Use it for any recipe or to enhance the flavor of meats, seafood, poultry, eggs, and salads. When we serve potato salad as a side with gumbo there is always a little Tony's used to spice it up.
Tony Chacheres Original Creole Seasoning is a classic Cajun blend, but there is a lot more to Louisiana spices and seasonings that just that. You can find a wide selection of brands and blends that are the perfect companions to all of your New Orleans and Louisiana Cajun dishes.
All of these are essentials to cooking Cajun especially your favorite gumbo and they have been a Louisiana tradition for decades. Use them for professional results every time you cook jambalaya, gumbo, meat dishes, shrimp or crabs or any dish for that matter. For you gumbo lovers who don't live in the South, this seasoning may be difficult to find. Don't worry as it is available online and can be shipped to your home. At our home we always have one container on the table, one in the spice cabinet and one in the pantry for backup. It goes fast once you get to using it so always keep one container in reserve.

No comments: