Akiva was a friend I met via an ancient social-media site, FriendFeed (long since acquired by Facebook). He was troubled but passionate, and unfortunately passed away a few years ago. However, he and I learned that we grew up near to each other in Southeast Texas, and when I acquired his gumbo recipe (via another dear friend I met on FriendFeed), I realized that it was very similar to the recipe my mother used.
Note that gumbo, unless you’re preparing it in the sterile confines of a restaurant, is subject to innovation and creativity. If you don’t have chicken, then use pork. If you want to add tomatoes, feel free (though that’s blasphemous for some). About the only things that don’t change are the roux, the mirepoix or “holy trinity” (onions, celery, and bell pepper), and the okra. (There’s long been an unsubstantiated legend that the word gumbo itself is derived from an African word for okra.)
Anyway, here’s Akiva’s unedited gumbo recipe.
THEE HOLY TRINITY
- Bell peppers (The I usually go with three different colors just for festivity)
- Onion (white or sweet yellow depending on your mood)
- 2 pounds shrimp (I like going with 1 pound large, 1 pound medium for variety)
- 1 pound andouille (or any spicy sausage)
- 1.5+ pounds chicken thighs (bone-in tastes better but I’m lazy so I go with cutlets)
- Bay leaves
- Garlic (as many cloves as you can stand)
- Cajun seasonings
- Smoked paprika
- Kosher salt
- Pepper (or, my preference, grains of paradise because I’m fancy-schmancy)
- Vegetable oil
- Low sodium chicken stock/broth (I prefer something called Better Than Bullion)
- Green onion
- Red wine vinegar
- Dark porter or stout
- Saltine crackers
- Chop the trinity and combine them. Basically, you want generally an equal amount of each. I like to go a little heavy on the bell pepper.
- Chop up the green onion.
- Chop the sausage. I like to cut them lengthwise and then slice them into half-moons.
- In a pan at medium-high heat, put in some oil and sauté the sausage until it starts to brown up and get nice and solid. Take them off and, if the sausage came pre-cooked, put them in paper towels to soak off any excess oil.
- In the same pan, put in your chicken. You might have to add a little more oil. Lay the pieces down with a sprinkle of kosher salt, pepper/grains of paradise (coarsely ground; you want big chunks), and MORE Crystal’s than you think you can stand (trust me on this; you want it like a sauce on top). Let them cook for 5-10 minutes then flip them over and do the same thing again. You’re just trying to get them about half-way done here. You don’t want them fully cooked but you want them cooked enough so you can shred them later.
- Deglaze with the red wine vinegar and let it reduce. Once that’s done, pour that out into a glass for later.
- Keep the heat low, throw the trinity in there, and just let it sweat a bit in the remaining juices. Give it a bit of salt to draw out the flavor, a little more finely ground pepper/grains of paradise, and as much cayenne as you can stand.
- While that’s sweating, and if your chicken is cool enough, grab a pair of forks and start shredding it. Do as much as you can until the vegetables are done.
- Take the vegetables off and put them to the side.
- Now it’s roux time: grab a big-assed pot. Grab a fine strainer. Grab a long-assed wooden spoon. Grab one cup flour and one cup vegetable oil. Put the oil in the pot on medium-high heat. Let it get hot (when you flick a little water in there, it should crackle and pop). Put the flour in the sifter and gradually sift the flour into the oil, stirring constantly. Keep doing this until all of the flour is gently combined into the oil. Do not look away. Do not stop stirring. Do not become distracted. Expect to spend 20-40 minutes. Keep stirring as the flour gets darker. It’s okay if you see some darker specks but if you see anything black, you’ve failed and must start again. If you feel like the roux is getting away from you, reduce the heat to medium for a bit and then back up to medium-high. Never stop stirring. I prefer a dark roux so I go toward a dark caramel but a lot of people prefer chocolate. The darker the roux, the more the flavor but the less of a thickener it is but I’m fine with that because I use okra as a thickener. Here, I go dark for flavor. Ultimately it’s up to you. If you don’t use okra, don’t go dark (or be prepared to use arrowroot or corn starch to thicken).
- Once you reach your level of darkness (go AT LEAST until it looks like chocolate milk), lower the heat to medium and add the beer. I go with 16 ounces but hey, go wild if you want. BE CAREFUL. You are adding a water-based liquid to an extremely hot oil-based liquid. It responds violently. Stir it up.
- Add about 48 ounces of stock. Stir it up. Keep another 16 ounces to the side.
- Add the red wine vinegar reduction.
- Add 2-3 bay leaves.
- Lower the heat down to medium-low and throw in the chicken. Cover.
- Peel the shrimp.
- Throw in the shrimp.
- Dice as much garlic as you can stand.
- Stir it up. Once the shrimp starts to turn just slightly pink, throw in the trinity, garlic, sausage, and okra.
- Remember the last 16 ounces of stock? Add as much as you think necessary based on how much stuff you have in there. Basically, it matters how dense you like your gumbo. It will thicken significantly overnight.
- Now it’s seasoning time. It’s up to you. Put in as much as you like of whatever. I chiffonade the basil. I strip the thyme. I strip and dice the rosemary. I dice the parsley. I go light on the parsley but I go heavy on the filé. I use the sage as a counterbalance to everything else. The cajun seasoning can be something like Tony Cechere or Emeril’s Essence (I’ve grown fond of the latter). I used to make my own but I’m lazy now. Put enough in until it tastes right/is hot enough/is salty enough. Put in as much cayenne as you can stand. The heat will be counter-balanced by the rice and saltines. Let it simmer, covered, on medium-low.
- Put on your rice, yo.
- Check the gumbo from time-to-time. Add more stock as necessary.
- Right before you serve it, throw in the green onion and stir.
- DING TIME TO EAT
When it comes to the rice:gumbo ratio, traditionally it’s a scoop of rice with a poopload of gumbo. I go the opposite way: a ton of rice with some gumbo on top. Then I put on more filé and a dastardly helping of Crystal’s then slightly crush precisely five crackers on top of that (years of research here). So my recipe essentially is built for this ass-backward serving style.
This recipe is based on my father’s. I grew up on it. I’ve been refining it for years but have never, ever typed it out before.
Please let me know if you end up cooking this and let me know how you like it! Or if you have any questions.