There’s something quite romantic about a home cooked gumbo. Not Valentine’s Day romantic, but romantic in the sense that it conjures up images in your head of another place and time that you long for. It’s certainly not a dish that you come across very often in Sydney, but it was one of those dishes that I always wanted to make. With a week off down the coast and nothing on the schedule but cooking and eating, I had my perfect setting for making this dish.
I got this recipe from Ride or Fry by Dante Gonzales, but adapted it to what I was able to find around Jervis Bay. It’s a fantastic book that was given to me from my beautiful wife for Christmas and its filled with American classics with hints of Caribbean, Mexican and Asian influences. There are plenty of things I left off the list like poblano peppers and southern spices that I couldn’t find down the coast, so try to hunt everything down in advanced before deciding on making this.
You’ll want to start this at least 4-5 hours before you want to serve.
- 2 large green peppers
- 500g chicken breast, chopped
- 2 smoked sausages, chopped
- ½ cup of peanut oil
- ¾ cup of flour
- 2 onions
- 4 celery stalks
- 2 capsicums
- 4 cloves of garlic, minced
- 1 cup of cherry tomatoes
- 1 cup of okra, roasted and chopped
- 1 teaspoon of thyme, chopped
- ½ teaspoon of chilli flakes
- 2 bay leaves
- 400g of raw prawns (with heads and shells)
- 6-8 Alaskan crab legs
- 1 can of baby corn
- ½ cup of chopped parsley
- 1 onion, shopped
- 4 celery stalks, chopped
- 4 carrots, chopped
- 4 garlic cloves, crushed
- 2 bay leaves
- ½ cup of parsley
- 10 -12 cups of water
- 1 Chicken carcass
- Prawn heads and shells
- 1 Fish carcass
- Salt and pepper, to taste
*For the spices, add a pinch of each of cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, cumin, bay leaf powder, mustard seed, ground cloves, and fennel seed
Gumbo is all about the stock, so you’ve got to make it from scratch. And if you play your cards right, it won’t cost you anymore, you won’t have any waste, and your food will taste better in the end. Instead of just buying chicken breast, buy a whole chicken and use the carcass to make the stock. Instead of buying shelled prawns, get them whole and use the shells and heads in the stock as well. Most of the veggies that get thrown into the Gumbo can be used to make the base of the stock, so just make sure you have a few more on hand.
Back to making the gumbo stock. This can be done a day in advance and you can freeze leftovers, which always come in handy when you need stock down the track. Add some oil to the pan and throw in your garlic, onions, celery, carrots and let that sizzle for a few minutes. Add your prawn bits (shells and head), bay leaves, herbs and chicken carcass to the pot. You can throw in other parts of the chicken as well to later shred into chicken sandwiches, but you want to avoid adding in too much skin. If you have a fish carcass, throw it in now as well. Top up with enough water to cover everything and then leave it to simmer for the next few hours, skimming scum off the surface once in a while. When done, pour the stock into a large bowl through a fine sieve and keep aside.
Now that you have your stock, puree the green peppers with 2 cups of stock, and then add it back to the gumbo stock. Get a big pot (the biggest one you have) and heat up a tablespoon of oil on medium high and sauté your chicken and sausage pieces in batches until browned on all sides (about 5 -8 mins). Don’t worry if you get some meat sticking to the bottom of the pan – it’ll just add to the flavour. Transfer to a bowl and set aside.
In the same pot, pour in the rest of the oil and the flour as well, stirring constantly for 20 minutes until a roux forms. This will take about 20 minutes and you’ll know its ready when it turns thickish and is the colour of chocolate milk. This is the perfect time to break out the New Orleans jams and make the time float by.
Once you have your roux, throw in your onions, celery, capsicums and garlic, and cook on low heat for about 8-10 mins, stirring regularly.Now add your stock. Be sure to add it slowly and stir constantly to avoid any lumps.
Return the chicken and sausage to the pot along with cherry tomatoes, bay leaves, chilli flakes, thyme and spice mix. Cover the pot and simmer on low heat for 30 minutes. Take the lid off and cook for an additional 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Lastly, add the prawns, crab legs, corn, okra and parsley and continue to cook uncovered for 15 minutes. I had some extra calamari on hand so I threw this into the pot as well.
Your gumbo is now ready! Slop them into bowls making sure everyone gets a little of everything and serve with rice or French bread and maybe some mixed greens. Slurp that down with your grin.
One of the biggest reasons why I made this dish, was my love for southern soul music. In particular, New Orleans soul music. New Orleans is the home to so many great funk, jazz and soul artists including The Meters, Eddie Bo, Lee Dorsey, and countless numbers of jazz and big band players.
I’m focusing the mix of music more on the funk end of the spectrum as I think the raw gritty funk matches the gumbo just perfectly. Funk heads out there will notice that most of the tracks I’ve selected in the Spotify playlist have been cherry picked from the excellent New Orleans Funk compilations by the brilliant Soul Jazz label. They’ve recently put out volume 3 in the series and they’re all highly recommended.
Sink into the groove while you slurp that soup.