Monday, March 5, 2012

Shrimp Gumbo

I'm not a huge fan of squishy okra, so when I was younger, my picky nose turned up at even the thought of gumbo. And it used to be an actual fact that I *didn't* eat things that were served over rice. Don't ask why; I can't explain it. But somewhere along the line, the heavenly smell of gumbo and the sight of those beautiful shrimp nestled in among all the spicy goodness lured me in, and I've been hooked ever since. It's taken me a few years to get up the nerve to attempt to make this at home, though. I'll admit it; I'm a chicken. The thought of spending all that time making roux ... well I mean, seriously, it's just not something my scattered brain could fathom.

I'm glad my taste buds finally nagged my brain enough to try it, because it was GREAT!!!! And not all that difficult to make. It is an exercise in patience, though, that's for sure!

Shrimp Gumbo:
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 green bell pepper, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
3 ribs celery, chopped
3 medium garlic cloves, finely minced
1 lb. andouille (pronounced ahn-DOO-wee) sausage (I found it in the deli case next to the kielbasa)
8 cups chicken broth
10 oz. can tomato puree
3 bay leaves
12 oz. frozen cut okra
1/2 tsp. paprika
1/4 to 1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp. fresh cracked black pepper
1 lb. medium shrimp, peeled and deveined (frozen is ok)

Before you get this gumbo stewing, you will need to get your roux done. This is a task to complete when you have a LARGE chunk of time with literally nothing else to do. Go potty beforehand (seriously ... you will NOT leave the stove), grab yourself a tall, icy glass of tea, and bring the phone to the kitchen, because you are going to be standing and stirring for about 45 minutes. Get a nice, flat-bottomed skillet and combine your oil and flour with a whisk. It will be very soupy, and a very light (blonde) color. Turn your burner on a medium-low to medium heat (I had my stove set on '5' the whole time), and start whisking as the heat comes up. Do. NOT. Stop. I'm serious--it WILL burn if you do, and burned flour ranks right up there with burnt popcorn in terms of stink. Besides, do you really want to stir for 25 minutes, then quit for two and have to start all over again because you just *had* to get away? Nope. Stay put, and stir. And stir, and stir, and stir, and stir. It **will** take a full 45 minutes, maybe more, for your roux (which will stay soupy) to reach this beautiful chocolate-brown color. When it does, take it off of the heat (don't just turn the burner off and leave it there) and keep stirring for another 2-3 minutes as the bottom of the pan cools down enough to ensure that it isn't going to burn from residual heat.

While the roux is cooling further, chop up your sausage and put it in a big stock pot on medium heat to begin rendering. Low and slow is the name of the game here. You are trying to pull the fat out of the meat, not brown it. The sausage will shrink up a bit, and the fat will pool at the bottom of the pot. When it ever-so-slightly starts to stick to the bottom, use a slotted spoon and remove the sausage. Leave the fat; just drain off the sausage.

Now you'll sloooooowly cook up your trinity (that's N'awlins vernacular for celery, onion, and green pepper) and your garlic in the reserved pork fat. Hey, I never even eluded to this being healthy, so get over it. You are not ADDING any oil or fat to the pan, just using what's already there. Cook the veggies till they're translucent. Do NOT brown them. You don't want a crispy gumbo. The color you are seeing in this picture is from the fat.

Once the veggies are nice and soft, you can add your roux back in (you will have to whisk it a minute to get it fluid again; it gets kind of peanut-buttery as it cools) and then the sausage, chicken stock, tomato puree, okra, bay leaves, and spices. No shrimp yet! Simmer on medium-low for about 2-3 hours. Yes, HOURS. Stir it often. Right before you need to serve it, bring it up to a good, strong simmer (just shy of a rolling boil) and add your shrimp. Cook for about 3-4 minutes, and then serve over rice.

I simply *had to* have a nice, hearty slice of bread to go along with this gumbo. I was going to make some cheese-garlic biscuits, but I found a recipe at almost the last minute that I just simply had to try. It's a very easy, very basic quick Beer Bread recipe, but I added about a third of a cup of sharp cheddar cheese to the dough and then sprinkled garlic powder on top before I baked it. Heathen Bread was born ... and was an instant hit! 

**The cayenne pepper is adjustable to your tastes, but be careful--a little goes a LONG way. Personally, just a hair shy of 1//2 tsp. was perfect for our family. My loves-hot-foods hubby was happy, and my 7-year-old could tolerate it with a refill of milk and an extra slice of bread. My advice, if you don't know how much spice you can handle, is to start with 1/4 tsp. and taste it about an hour before you intend to serve it; that will have given it enough time for the spice to develop and you can add more if it's not potent enough for you. Enjoy!

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