Saturday, May 14, 2011

May Daring Cooks' Challenge - Gumbo

As I have mentioned, I anxiously await the announcement each month as to what the Daring Kitchen will challenge us to do next. This month had all of us Daring Cooks on the edges of our seats as we waited for the news. Our hostess promised us that the post was coming, that it was just taking a while to upload. Which had us all even more excited. And when the post finally went up, we knew that it had been worth the wait.

Our May hostess, Denise, of There's a Newf in My Soup!, challenged the Daring Cooks to make Gumbo! She provided us with all the recipes we'd need, from creole spices, homemade stock, and Louisiana white rice, to Drew's Chicken & Smoked Sausage Gumbo and Seafood Gumbo from My New Orleans: The Cookbook, by John Besh.

I have never had gumbo, nor do I know all that much about Creole cuisine, but we love our own version of jambalaya in this house, and I can honestly say that I have wanted to try my hand at more Creole cooking for a while. How perfect! I chose to follow the recipe for chicken and sausage gumbo as presented by Denise, because it looked like a delicious introduction into traditional gumbos.

While there are many different recipes for gumbo, varying from all varieties of meat to vegetarian and everywhere in between, there are a couple of things that are necessary in order to call the dish a "real" gumbo. The two vital components are the roux and the "Holy Trinity" of vegetables.

I'll talk about the vegetables first, since they were the first thing I tackled for this challenge. The "Holy Trinity" of vegetables in Creole cooking are onions, green peppers and celery. Very similar to mirepoix (onions, carrots and celery), but with a decidedly Creole twist. The vegetables are diced, and need to be ready to go once the cooking gets underway, so I knew that I would need time, and that I would have to tackle the chopping first. So I knew I would be making the gumbo on a weekend, when Daddy could wrangle the kiddos for a while, since chopping tons of veggies and keeping a close eye on two kids are two activities not fun to try to accomplish simultaneously. The recipe also called for a chopped tomato and some minced garlic cloves, so lets just say that my knife skills got a bit of practice on this one.

Holy Trinity and other vegetables prepared, it was time to tackle vital component number two.

The roux. A roux is a cooked mixture of flour and some variety of fat (oil, rendered fat, butter...) that is traditionally used as a thickening agent. In gumbo, the roux is more than a thickener, it is part of what gives the gumbo its flavor. I have made rouxs before, using equal parts butter and flour, when making cream sauces or cheese sauces, but the roux for the gumbo was very different. The butter-based rouxs are always white, and cook very quickly. For gumbo, the darker the roux, the deeper the flavor. And to attain a dark roux, well, that takes time. And a lot of whisking. And definitely does not use butter. I used canola oil, and then worked at my roux for about half an hour. Yes, half an hour of constant, vigilant attention and whisking. Which you would think would be annoying, but was actually quite fascinating. The roux slowly cooked from white to caramel to chocolate brown.

My camera, with the lighting in the kitchen, didn't accurately capture the final color of the roux in the pot, but it definitely reached the color of a chocolate bar, which is when I knew it was time to get down to the nitty gritty of the gumbo.

First, the onions were added to the roux. Oh. My. Goodness. The smell as soon as the onions hit the pot was amazing. And the roux continued to darken as the onions cooked. Next into the pot went the chicken pieces, which were seasoned with Creole seasoning. While I am not usually a fan of posting pictures of uncooked meat, I thought this picture gave a much better idea as to just how dark the roux got. I only wish it could accurately depict how wonderful it smelled at this point, too.

Anyway, following the recipe that Denise provided, I then added, each in its turn, the sausage, remaining vegetables, chicken stock and spices (well, bay leaves, really), cooking and stirring each addition as it went in. Then it was time to let the gumbo simmer, and do just a bit more chopping.

Yes, more chopping. And this one was even more interesting. One more vegetable traditionally used in gumbo, and, interestingly enough, also used as a thickener, is okra. I have never had okra before, but have always wanted to try it. I was a little nervous, as people generally either love okra or hate it. I have never heard a middle ground on it. And those that hate it, well, they make it sound a little scary. The word I saw most commonly was "slimy." And slicing the okra, I kinda knew what they meant - it definitely had a sticky/slimy aspect to it as I sliced it up, but I loved the star shapes it made, so didn't worry too much.

After the gumbo had simmered for about 45 minutes, I added the okra and Worcestershire sauce, then allowed the whole thing to simmer once again until it was dinner time.

When Daddy brought the kids back into the house, both he and little miss immediately remarked about how good the house smelled, and they rushed to wash up for dinner.

And I have to say, it absolutely did not disappoint. I had actually worried as to whether or not little miss would like the gumbo, so had separately cooked some chicken so that she would have some dinner if she didn't like it. I needn't have gone to the trouble. She ate it up, telling me how delicious it was with each bite. And Daddy and I each went back for seconds. It was that good. I still can't say that I could tell you what okra tastes like, having only had it as part of this recipe, but I can tell you that it was not slimy at all, and it still looked really cool, with its star shapes still in tact.

The recipe made a huge pot full of the delicious gumbo, so we put some in the freezer to have at a later date, and then proceeded to devour the leftovers over the next several days.

Denise, thank you so much for this awesome challenge. I can't wait to try many different versions of gumbo, all thanks to this first experience. You really set a high standard for hosting, and I really appreciate your enthusiasm and encouragement throughout this month!

To check out some of the other mouth watering gumbos cooked up this month, check them out here.


  1. Shelley, I was as excited as you were, but this was not my first time eating Gumbo, however, it was the first time making it from scratch, and I loved it, so I totally understand your excitement. You did an amazing job, your gumbo looks mouthwatering!

  2. Shelley, you're so right - the smell of that gumbo was intoxicating! Your gumbo looks so good - wish we could stop by and help you devour the rest of those leftovers!

  3. I think your little miss is lucky that you are an adventurous cook! It's great for kids to try new foods at an early age... even if they don't take to it the first time :) Great job!

  4. I loved it when you said little miss loved it..
    Your gumbo looks delicious..I went back for seconds too..gumbo is really a combination of comfort food and aromatherapy lol..
    You did a spectacular job on this challenge..

  5. Wonderful to hear all the family loved it so much. Yes I agree with you about the lovely perfumes while making the recipe. Gorgeous work on this challenge superbly done.

    Cheers from Audax in Sydney Australia.

  6. Yummy, looks delicious Shelley! Great job!

  7. Shelly, your gumbo looks wonderful, and I love the photo of the darkening roux. Mine darkened up within 15 minutes or less, but probably because I used the beef fat and drippings with half of the oil. It was so cute reading how little Miss loved it! She's got a great palate because her Mom is a phenomenal cook :)

  8. Err..I meant ShellEy lol I always do that because I have a friend who spells it that way! So sorry!

  9. Flish, as always, you make me hungry. :) Isn't okra fun? I love that stuff.

  10. Lovely job! Your gumbo looks fantastic!

  11. Shelley - your gumbo looks absolutely wonderful. Little Miss is such a great eater - wonderful!
    I really want to try this so I'll heed your advice and keep it for a weekend when I have plenty of time - can't wait!


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