Gumbo & Biscuits Mess With Success

Jan 10, 2018

All I had to do was tell Nancy Leson I'd made a pot of gumbo, and right away she's saying her husband Mac's is better.  Even though...Even Though... she's never even tasted mine.  Come to think of it, I've never tasted Mac's, either. 

There's a gumbo throw down brewing but it'll probably have to wait til next year.  And of course it's really all just a matter of personal taste. I  doubt that in the history of the world any two people ever made gumbo in exactly the same way.

Besides, this Food for Thought is really about making changes to recipes.  And Nancy and Mac did make an interesting switch in their gumbo recipe.

"We've made gumbo in our house for 15 years and Mac always used a vegetable stock that he cooked shrimp shells in.  Then he added a ham hock.  These days we use a pure crab (shell) stock.  ...Instead of a ham hock I came up with the idea to use a smoked turkey leg.  They're inexpensive and they have a lot more meat on them.  And you really can't tell whether it's turkey or ham once it's cooked out"

Mac’s Gumbo

Serves 8

1 pound shell-on Gulf prawns

6 cups vegetable stock (or substitute 6 cups homemade Dungeness crab-shell stock)

1 large smoked ham hock or shank (or substitute 1 smoked turkey leg)

Vegetable oil (for frying)

1 pound andouille sausage links, sliced into ½-inch rounds

8 boneless skinless chicken thighs

1 large yellow onion, diced

1 large green bell pepper, diced

4 celery stalks, with leaves, diced

¾ cup all-purpose flour

½ cup vegetable oil mixed with ¼ cup peanut oil

1½ teaspoons ground cayenne pepper

1½ teaspoons sweet paprika

1 teaspoon kosher salt

¼ teaspoon ground white pepper

½ teaspoon ground black pepper

½ teaspoon dried thyme

½ teaspoon dried oregano

2 bay leaves, crumbled

2 garlic cloves, chopped

3 tablespoons file powder

For garnish

½ pound fresh Dungeness crabmeat

½ cup sliced green onions

4 cups cooked rice

1. To prepare the stock: Peel the shrimp and refrigerate, reserving the shells. Tie shells in cheesecloth. (Note: If using crab-shell stock, freeze the shrimp shells for another use and substitute the crab stock for the vegetable stock below.)

2. In a large stockpot, bring the vegetable broth, shrimp shells and ham hock (or smoked turkey leg) to a steady simmer. Cook for 15 minutes, cover and keep warm.

3. In a large pan coated with vegetable oil, lightly fry the andouille over medium-low heat until its fat begins to render. Remove andouille with a slotted spoon, leaving the oil in the pan.

4. Add enough vegetable oil to have about ¼-inch in the pan and increase heat slightly. Add the chicken and brown on both sides. (You may need to do this in batches.) Remove the chicken to a platter, draining all but 2 tablespoons of oil (leave the crusty chicken-bits in the pan). Add the yellow onion, green pepper and celery and sauté until the onions look transparent. Set aside. Slice the chicken into bite-size pieces.

5. To make the roux: In a 7-quart Dutch oven (or other large, heavy-bottomed pot) heat the vegetable/peanut oil until hot but not smoking. Add the flour a heaping tablespoon at a time, stirring continuously with a wooden spoon as the roux turns from blonde to light brown to dark brown. In order to achieve the right hue, you may have to turn up the heat. This process may take 15-30 minutes, depending on your stove, your cookware and your nerve. The roux will smell progressively toastier as it browns. Turn on your exhaust fan, keep stirring and keep your eyes on the prize: do not burn it!

6. Decrease heat to low, and quickly and carefully add the sauteed vegetables to the hot roux, one half at a time. Stir in the cayenne, paprika, salt, white and black pepper, thyme, oregano, bay leaves and garlic.

7. Remove the ham hock from the stock and reserve it, discard the shrimp shells (if using), then slowly, one ladle at a time, stir the warm stock into the vegetable mixture. Stir in the file. The gumbo may begin to look “stringy,” that’s OK. Add the andouille and the sliced chicken pieces to the pot, then dice and add the meat from the reserved ham hock. Cook over low heat for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. The gumbo may be refrigerated overnight, and actually benefits from it.

8. To serve: Add the reserved shrimp to the hot gumbo and cook until tender (about 5 minutes). Garnish each bowl with a big spoonful of crab meat, a sprinkling of green onions and a scoop of rice.

My introduction to gumbo was that cooked up by Bob and Fay at Lamar's Fine Foods, a greasy spoon I frequented outside the Keesler AFB gate in Biloxi.  Informed by theirs, my gumbo method differs substantially from Nancy's. 

Maybe someday if I ever remember to write down what I'm doing and how much of it I'm doing it with, I'll print it in one of these posts. 

Unlike Nancy, I like to add my file to the bowl, rather than the pot.
Credit Stein / KNKX

Nancy's Biscuit Tweak

Remember those fabulous biscuits from the Hello My Name is Tasty cookbook?  Nance and I were carrying on about them in a FfT a few weeks ago.   I stressed the importance of using a real biscuit cutter instead of a tuna can, which will inhibit the rise,. Nancy came up with a better yet idea.  "Cut 'em with a knife, Stein.  You use up everything, there's no extra pieces to re-roll, and they come out square for biscuit sandwiches."  

Nancy's square(ish) biscuit with bacon, egg and radicchio (!).
Credit Nancy Leson / KNKX

"Blues is like the roux in a gumbo.  People always ask me if jazz has blues in it. I say, if it sounds good it does."  ​ –Wynton Marsalis