Roux the Day

chicken and andouille sausage from bibberche.com

I loved the rhythm, the melody, and soul-wrenching whine of the fiddle in Jambalaya long before I had a clue who Hank Williams was. I tried in vain to get a grasp of the lyrics, but the only thing I could understand, after rewinding the tape deck on our family Grundig again and again, were the lines “son of a gun we’ll have big fun…”. And jambalaya. Except that I had no idea what a jambalaya could be. At thirteen, I was obsessed with deciphering the lyrics of many foreign songs, failing miserably most of the time. But as an incorrigible romantic, I really wanted the song to be about love, unrequited if possible, to coincide with my melodramatic view of the world at the time.

My crystal ball did not inform me that twenty years later I would marry a Southerner who loves Hank Williams and thinks Willie Nelson is a minor deity. He considers the food south of the Mason-Dixon line true American. If he had a choice, he would make a big detour to avoid for eternity his home state of Georgia, which is not on his mind, but he cannot get detangled from the strong emotional ties that hold him bound to Brunswick stew (whatever that is), stewed okra, and anything deep-fried. He lived all over the south from Georgia to Texas, but his tongue is true to Louisiana and Cajun cooking.

I had solved the mystery of Jambalaya long before I met Husband, while I worked at Key Largo Restaurant in Walled Lake, Michigan. As I was getting acquainted with the menu, which was a combination of Louisiana, Florida, and the Caribbean cuisines, it dawned on me that Hank was singing about food. And I liked him and his song even more.

We served crayfish ettouffe, jerk chicken, conch chowder, Key lime pie, coconut shrimp, jambalaya, and gumbo. I was slowly adapting to new tastes, eager to discover unfamiliar ingredients and cherishing the challenges of the palate. And whenever Shawn Riley, our regular one-man-band, would start unpacking his equipment on the deck overlooking the lake and pretending to be somewhere tropical, I would ask him to sing Jambalaya at some point during the night.

Husband moved into my Ohio apartment dragging in a great collection of well-used books, an old, battered, but heavy cooking pan, and a lot of clothes that I disposed of on the sly, little by little. One of the first things he searched for at Cleveland’s West Side Market was filé powder. Once he secured it, he scurried home, stopping to purchase fish, shrimp, and sausage. He had been promising to make a pot of gumbo from the second or third e-mail we exchanged, and I was intrigued by his enthusiasm.

I stood dutifully by his side while he made it, and it was a long, time-consuming dish. Hank was crooning in the background, and Husband was pulling out every quote, fact, and anecdote from his Southern hat. He was not satisfied with being only the cook. He had to be the entertainer, too, and he fancies himself a comedian. The only thing he did not do was break into the Louisiana shuffle, for which I was eternally grateful, as Husband is completely devoid of any sense of rhythm.

After hours of chopping, and stirring, and simmering, he scooped a small pile of rice into each of our bowls, and ladled a hefty amount of wonderfully spiced, flavorful, dark stew on top of it. I wanted more rice, but Husband assured me that in gumbo, rice is considered almost a garnish, its neutral taste perfectly complementing the spiciness of gumbo. From that day on, the big pot and a huge wooden spoon with a leather attachment were his to keep.

When Daring Cooks announced that we are supposed to prepare gumbo for May Challenge, I was thrilled. For years I have been listening to Husband drone on about the importance of stirring roux for at leas forty minutes, the necessity of “holy trinity” to be chopped in equally small pieces, and the superiority of andouille sausage. But this time the big pot and wooden spoon belonged to me. He was at work when I was researching innumerable recipes on Internet, figuring out in the end that his method was a good one.

I had all the ingredients lined up on the kitchen counter, eager to cross into the unfamiliar territory by myself. I reverently stirred the roux until it was the color of chocolate, loose and shiny, its aroma moving away from lard and flour and ascending to another level. I cooked the chicken leg quarters with a carrot or two, a stalk of celery, and a wedge of onion for about one hour, trying to extract all the goodness those bones hide within before pulling the meat off. I wanted the flavorful broth to bring an additional layer of flavor to the stew.

gumbo ingredients from bibberche.com

I cut the aromatics evenly into small cubes, replacing the green pepper with red, preferring the sweet undertones to bitter, and added them to the roux to sweat and get soft and glossy. Spices and herbs went in next, stirred around for a minute, just before I added the stock and the chicken, already pulled off the bone. The stew simmered and bubbled until all the layers reached perfect harmony.

This was a dish simple and complex at the same time. I spooned a small pile of rice in each bowl and ladled the gumbo on top, eagerly awaiting Husband’s reaction. When I saw a smile on his face, I knew that I managed to cross the intimidating Mason-Dixon culinary line, and join the multitudes of Beulahs and Ednas who wielded the power in Old Dixie.

Husband and I might fight over the proprietorship of the gumbo pot, but I know that despite our competitive personalities, we will enjoy a delicious bowl of Southern goodness every time we move away from the stove, proudly carrying the steaming pot to the table. And you can bet that Hank’s version of Jambalaya will be playing in the background.

I hope you will take a trip South with me, stirring the roux and chopping the vegetables for “holy trinity”. I provided the lyrics to that crazy song just in case you decide to hum along and not think about definitions and sense.

Goodbye Joe, me gotta go, me oh my oh
Me gotta go pole the pirogue down the bayou
My Yvonne, the sweetest one, me oh my oh
Son of a gun, we’ll have big fun on the bayou

Jambalaya, a-crawfish pie and-a file gumbo
‘Cause tonight I’m gonna see my ma cher amio
Pick guitar, fill fruit jar and be gay-oh
Son of a gun, we’ll have big fun on the bayou.

The Thibodeaux and the Fontainneaux, the place is buzzin’
Kinfolk come to see Yvonne by the dozen
Dress in style, go hog wild, me oh my oh
Son of a gun, we’ll have big fun on the bayou.

Jambalaya, a-crawfish pie and-a file gumbo
‘Cause tonight I’m gonna see my ma cher amio
Pick guitar, fill fruit jar and be gay-oh
Son of a gun, we’ll have big fun on the bayou.
Son of a gun, we’ll have big fun on the bayou.
Son of a gun, we’ll have big fun on the bayou.

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.

gumbo roux from bibberche.com

HUSBAND’S MEAN GUMBO

Ingredients:

  • 1 chicken, cut up in 8 pieces
  • 1 carrot
  • 1 celery stalk
  • ¼ large yellow onion
  • ½ cup lard (or butter)
  • ½ cup all purpose flour
  • I large onion, diced
  • 1 green pepper (red, yellow, or orange can be substituted), diced
  • 2 stalks celery, diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 tsp coarse salt
  • 1 tsp cayenne pepper (less or more, depending on taste)
  • ½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 3 basil leaves
  • 1 tsp file powder
  • ¾ lb andouille sausage, cur in circles

Directions:

Put the chicken and vegetables in a stock pot, cover with water, and bring to a boil on high heat. Immediately lower the heat to medium-low and simmer for 45 minutes, until meat is done. Let it cool, strain, take the meat off the bones, and reserve the broth.

In the meantime, heat the heavy skillet to medium and add lard. As soon as it melts, add flour and lower the heat to medium-low. Stir until incorporated. Keep on stirring frequently for 40 minutes, until the roux turns the color of chocolate. As it cooks, the roux will become looser.

Add vegetables and stir for 5 minutes, until softened and transparent. Add the spices and herbs and mix for a couple of minutes to release the flavors. Add the broth, chicken, and sausage, and simmer for another 30 minutes. In the end mix in file powder.

Taste for seasonings and adjust to taste. Serve with plain white rice.

18 Responses to Roux the Day

  1. Wow Lana – you have a truly authentic looking gumbo there that I am sure your hubby is proud of! So lucky to have had someone who knows their roux to help you out :) I am not a huge fan of authentic gumbo but if there’s one I might try, it will be this “mean” gumbo! (PS: don’t let him look at what I made – he will cringe!)

  2. WOW you are very very daring to make gumbo for your husband well done that it worked out so well in the end and good to hear that you both are gumbo fans perfect execution of the challenge.

    Cheers from Audax in Sydney Australia.

  3. This looks delicious Lana! I love a good jumbo, specially during the winter months. yum!

  4. This was a great challenge. I had never made gumbo before. Yours turned out very nicely and great story.

  5. This sounds like a great gumbo! Thanks for posting!

  6. This reminds me of my trip to New Orleans ages ago! Delicious.

  7. Hi Lana, I don’t think I have ever had a real jambalaya & that looks so rich & nourishing, plus I just love saying the word…jambalaya, it just rolls with the rhythm of the south :) A perfect soulful bowlful right about now as the days are shorter and winter is just around the corner.

  8. Wow, Lana, this gumbo looks amazing – so rich, filling and very heart-warming dish. Just the kind of dish to spend hours over and enjoy now that the autumn is drawing to a close here and the days are definitely getting cooler and shorter. I have never tasted gumbo, and don’t think I’ve ever had a proper jambalaya either, but I look forward to giving this a try. Thanks for sharing it :-)
    Sue xo

  9. Adriana says:

    Oh my! Your gumbo looks fantastic, Lana. I cherish Southern cooking from my time in New Orleans; there is so much tradition going into that pot and I appreciate your husband’s keenness on maintaining those little details intact (although I have found a way to cut down the roux making time down to twenty five minutes).

  10. SMITH BITES says:

    i remember singing Hank many years ago and wondering what in the heck was ‘file gumbo’ as i’d never heard of such a thing . . . and i’m not quite sure if i’ve actually ever eaten gumbo because my tummy doesn’t do spice very well even though my tastebuds do. this looks fabulous Lana and i’m quite sure husband is proud . . . maybe even taking credit for teaching ‘wife’ to make a proper gumbo . . . now if you can just get that Louisiana Shuffle down . . .

  11. Valentina says:

    Lana, I love your writing. You are a wonderful story teller. And there’s nothing like seeing roux go from light and creamy to that beautiful chocolate color! Love it! Hope you enjoyed Neptune’s Net! How fun to eat fried fish and hang out with the bikers! ;-)

  12. Maureen says:

    Your post brought back memories of my years in Tennessee and eating and eating and eating in New Orleans. Now I’ll have to make a pot of this for my Aussie friends. Thanks for the food nudge!

  13. Do you just love New Awlins’ cuisine? It’s just so hearty, stick-to-your-ribs, damn tasty. And nothing beats it for football food. Nothing.

    PS- Congratulations! You won the copy of The Lazy Gourmet on my site.

  14. Cher says:

    Lovely! The color is just perfect – and I can almost envision a bucket of crawfish sitting on the porch waiting to be turned into an etouffe to be served up alongside….

  15. sippitysup says:

    I have been in New Orleans state of mind too. GREG

  16. I love that song! Makes me want to dance right now!
    Great job on the Gumbo… excellent demo for getting the correct color of the roux.

  17. Lana says:

    @Mardi, my husband insists on authenticity, although I am sure that every family has its own twist on gumbo:)

    @Audax, thanks for checking out my gumbo:)

    @Nelly, I love southern and Creole dishes, and I don’t care if it is the right season:)

    @Sarah, thanks for your kind words:) We loved our gumbo!

    @Chunklet, thanks, it was well worth all the effort!

    @Olga, I have never been to New Orleans, and cannot wait to go! Thanks for stopping by!

    @Mairi, southern dishes are perfect for dark, winter nights. You have to chop and dice and make the roux perfect, but it’s a cinch afterwards:)

    @Sue, you have to try some of the Creole and Southern dishes. they are very flavorful and perfect for the weather you are having (they are perfect for any weather in my book, though:)

    @Adriana, I tend to laugh off the seriousness about the time it takes to make a perfect roux:) I am really eager to learn a shortcut:)

    @Debra, I am so lucky that my tummy and my taste buds are in complete harmony:) I love spicy foods:) I am looking forward to trying this in New Orleans. Wanna go?

    @Valentina, Neptune’s Net is one of our most favorite spots (not that we have many – still discovering the culinary California:) Too bad it takes forever to get there from OC:(

    @Maureen, you are too funny! I love to food nudge:) Love your avatar, BTW!

    @Susan, I need to get myself to New Orleans ASAP! And I might not come back:) So thrilled about the book!

    @Cher, Etouffe is another southern gem I adore! Cheers to kindred spirits!

    @Greg, new Orleans is ALWAYS a state of mind:)

    @Sandy, thanks:) Only another food blogger would understand the necessity to drag the skillet to the patio at every stage just to record the proper coloring:)

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