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Gumbo: It's
All In The Roux

By John Havel

The inspiration for this recipe came this past summer when I wanted to make an authentic gumbo. Among other things, I needed some fresh okra and some good andouille sausage - both not very easy to find in Upstate New York. In the grocery store I spotted what looked like okra only to find out it was baby zucchini. The only andouille they had was made from chicken, but right near it was some fresh Italian sausage ... I started thinking.

Many of you (especially in the South) will say "This isn't gumbo". However, gumbo is the result of the melting of cultures in Louisianan history during the 18th century; the dish itself is based on the French soup bouillebasse. I feel that taking liberty to substitute certain ingredients still puts it in the gumbo realm.

But you can't make gumbo without a roux. Roux is most often made with butter as the fat base, but when making a dark roux it's best to use vegetable oil as it does not burn at high temperatures like butter will. In this case we make a "peanut butter" roux which adds a distinct nutty flavor to the dish along with being a thickening agent. Also, using part olive oil makes it healthier.

Even among the traditional gumbo chefs there are differences. Creole gumbos generally use a lighter (but still medium-brown) roux and may include tomatoes, while Cajun gumbos are made with a darker roux and never contain tomatoes.

After the roux is cooked, some recipes say to set it aside and saute the vegetables in another pan, while others just have you use he same pan. I prefer to saute in the same pan as the roux, both for the extra flavor and to have one less pot to wash.

The blend of onion, celery and carrots called mirepoix is the essential aromatic base for soups and stews of all sorts. In New Orleans, the "holy trinity" as it's called consists of onion, celery, and green bell pepper. Many Cajun and Creole dishes begin with this.

The addition of scallops (instead of shrimp) tests the idea that there are no hard and fast rules for making gumbo beyond the basic roux and your imagination. There are probably as many distinctive recipes for gumbo as there are cooks in Louisiana. Here's one more.

Nor'easter Gumbo
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1/3 cup olive oil
2/3 cup flour
1 1/2 cups chopped onion
1 cup chopped celery
1 cup chopped green pepper
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 pound hot Italian sausage links, cut crosswise in 1" pieces
1 pound boneless chicken thighs, cut in 1" chunks
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
1 (26 oz.) can crushed tomatoes
3 cups chicken stock
1 tablespoon salt
1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper, to taste
2 teaspoons dried basil
1 pound zucchini, cut in 3/4" chunks
1 pound bay scallops
1/2 cup chopped Italian parsley
cooked white rice

Before you start the roux, chop the onions, celery, green peppers, and garlic. Set aside. Cut sausage in chunks and set aside. Rub the chicken with the smoked paprika and season with salt and pepper to taste. Cut chicken in chunks and set aside.

In a large (preferably cast iron) Dutch oven, combine both oils and flour. Whisk until thoroughly mixed. Over low heat, cook roux until the color of peanut butter; about 12-15 minutes. Whisk every 20 seconds so it does not burn.

Turn heat to medium and add the onions, celery, and green peppers to the roux. Stir well and often and cook for about 6 minutes. Stir in sausage and garlic and cook until the sausage is browned; about 4 minutes. Stir in chicken chunks.

Turn heat to medium-high and add tomatoes, chicken stock, salt, cayenne pepper, and basil. Bring to a light boil, reduce heat, and simmer for 45 minutes. Add zucchini and simmer for 30 minutes.

Return gumbo to a light boil and add scallops. Cook for 5 minutes and turn off heat. Stir in Italian parsley and serve over white rice.

Music By John Havel

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