In honor of Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday) next week, prepare to load up on gumbo.
This stewlike dish includes any combination of meats, poultry or seafood. It is usually thickened with a roux, a mixture of fat and flour cooked until it turns a deep, dark brown.
Other thickeners that are sometimes used are okra or file (pronounced FEE-lay) powder, which is made from the dried leaves of the sassafras tree.
Gumbo is a Cajun dish, which gets its name from the rural foods prepared by the French-Canadians who migrated from Acadia to the marshlands of Louisiana. Some of the people there couldn’t pronounce "Acadian" and corrupted the word into "Cajun."
Caj un food combines French and Southern cuisines. It’s a robust, country-style food that uses a dark roux and plenty of animal (usually pork) fat.
Creole food, on the other hand, has a strong influence from Spanish, Mexican and black cuisines, reflecting the people who settled in New Orleans. It emphasizes butter and cream.
Common Creole dishes are jambalaya, a rice dish with a variety of meats, seafood and sausage; and etouffee, a thick, creamy sauce that may contain shellfish like crawfish and is served over other foods.
Yield: 10 to 12 servings
1 1 /2 cups melted butter 1 1 /2 cups all-purpose flour 2 cups chopped onions, cut into 3 /8-inch pieces 1 cup chopped celery, cut into 3 /8-inch pieces 1 pound Andouille sausage, cut into 1 /2-inch pieces 1 /2 pound smoked ham, cut into 1 /2-inch pieces 1 tablespoon paprika 3 tablespoons Emeril’s Bayou Blast or creole seasoning 2 teaspoons gumbo file (see Cook’s Note) 1 teaspoon ground ancho pepper (optional for extra heat) 10 cups cold chicken stock or broth 2 tablespoons brown sugar 2 bay leaves 1 /2 pound shrimp, cleaned and peeled with tails removed Salt and pepper to taste
Cook’s note: Gumbo file is available in the spice section of most larger supermarkets.
1. Combine melted butter and flour in a large heavy pot, stirring constantly over medium heat. Cook until the roux is a dark, chocolate brown color (about 20 to 25 minutes).
2. Add chopped onions, green peppers, celery, Andouille sausage and smoked ham. Cook, stirring continuously, until the vegetables are very soft (about 8 to 10 minutes).
3. Add paprika, the Emeril’s Bayou Blast or creole seasoning and the gumbo file. For a spicier dish, add ancho pepper. Cook for 1 to 2 minutes.
4. Add cold chicken stock or broth. Stir until the roux mixture and broth are well combined.
5. Add bay leaves and brown sugar, bringing the mixture to a boil. Reduce heat to medium low and cook uncovered, stirring occasionally, for 1 to 1 1 /2 hours.
6. Add shrimp about 15 to 20 minutes before serving (size of the shrimp determines cooking time; longer for larger shrimp). Add salt and pepper to taste.
Source: Adapted from a Red Lobster recipe for shrimp gumbo