Date made: December 3, 2012
In the previous post, “Shrimp and Sausage Gumbo: Research,” I looked at multiple gumbo recipes that contained at least shrimp, if not shrimp and sausage. My sources were the following:
- Paul Prudhomme,Louisiana Kitchen
- Emeril Lagasse, Every Day’s a Party
- Nicole Denée Fontenot, Cooking With Caju
- John Besh, My New Orleans
Initially, I was going to try to follow a recipe exactly, try to make it “authentic.” But what is authentic, anyway? How would following the recipes of any of these cooks be more or less authentic? I suppose you could eliminate Emeril Lagasse, as he’s not traditionally from there. Prudhomme certainly is, a descendent of exiled Acadians, growing up in the Bayou area of Louisiana, Opelousas. But then are his recipes Gulf Coast or are they Deep South, since Opelousas is more inland? What actually shaped his cooking, and for this particular inquiry, his shrimp/seafood gumbo recipe?
Nicole Denée Fontenot has written an extraordinary book, interviewing multiple Cajun women, who have traditionally had the responsibility of homesteading, cooking, gardening. The recipes have been told to her, and are each credited to their author. Here’s where the idea of authenticity comes up again. Some of these recipes are modernized, using canned soups and canned tomato sauce. These are purchases I don’t make, and are recipes I try to stay away from. And what kind of authenticity am I craving? What they eat there now? What they’ve eaten historically? And how far back historically?
I’m not about to go crawdadding in the Bayou (I live in New York City). And I can’t deny the fact that I’m cooking in a 21st century kitchen, (well, 20th century kitchen – I don’t know the last time this apartment was renovated) over a gas stove. My shrimp came from the grocery store and lay over ice. I don’t personally know fishermen, and can’t afford to break the budget on flown-in Gulf shrimp. And wouldn’t they taste different up here anyway?
So perhaps what I’m striving for, in this project, is to review techniques, similarities in enough recipes for something similar, a traditional dish from the area, things that can be translated for a modern audience. Techniques that continue to make a traditional dish great.
On that note, I reviewed the seafood gumbo recipes in the books I mentioned above. If there’s one definitive that can be said about any gumbo, it’s that everyone has his/her own recipe. But I found a few thing common to some shrimp gumbo recipes:
1) If a roux color is mentioned, it’s at least dark-brown, and can range to black. I have always made a peanut butter colored roux, on low heat, using butter, though I’m usually making chicken and sausage gumbo. Prudhomme says in Louisiana Kitchen that Cajuns traditionally use darker roux for lighter meats and seafood, and lighter roux for dark meats.
2) Roux is made with flour and oil, not butter. As I said above, I’ve learned to make it with butter, and relish the nuttiness that the butter and flour mixture imparts to chicken and sausage gumbo. Making the roux over low temperature helps me with the color changes. Both Prudhomme and Besh start the roux over very high heat; Besh drops the heat when he adds the Trinity in. The chefs are inconsistent when it comes to how to add the roux: some add the liquid to the roux, some drop the roux into liquid. I’ve always added liquid to roux, as it’s less messy and one less pot to wash. In Cooking with Cajun Women, there’s no indication on the color of roux, and I have to assume it’s either pre-made (you can buy “gumbo roux” from http://www.cajungrocer.com/food/prepared-mixes/roux.html, though I’ve never used any of these before) or that the women assumed that it was common knowledge, what color the roux should be.
3) They all use a variety of seafood, the most common being shrimp, oysters, and crabmeat. I didn’t use crabmeat, though I used sausage. The diversity of seafood would likely make the broth more rounded.
4) Stock: The guys’ recipes used a basic seafood stock for the liquid, made from a range of seafood, including shrimp shells, fish heads and bones. The women’s recipes just used water, which they seasoned with aromatics. I used a shrimp stock that I previously made. It’s quite “shrimpy;” even though that could be considered a good thing, I would rather save the shrimp shells for a diverse seafood stock in the future.
5) Aromatics: The guys – Prudhomme, Lagasse, and Besh – use the Trinity (2 parts onion, 1 part celery, 1 part green bell pepper). The women in Cooking with Cajun Women do not, instead relying on onions and onion tops, sometimes parsley. In the latter, nothing is actually sautéed – the broth is flavored with aromatics, such as onion, onion tops, and parsley. I’m curious to know what the simplified flavor would be like, if this is more broth-like, with just a little bit of weight (from the roux). For my gumbo this time, I did the Trinity, and my broth had plenty of time to develop.
6) Spices: In the recipes I reviewed, the spices range from just salt, black pepper, and red pepper to all of those and more, including oregano, thyme, garlic powder, white pepper. I didn’t add quite as many spices as Prudhomme would, but when I tasted the broth and it tasted too “shrimpy,” I added a bay leaf, ½ teaspoon of oregano, and ¼ teaspoon of garlic powder.
As it’s winter here in NYC, I eliminated reviewing recipes that included tomatoes and okra, clearly options for a summertime gumbo. Gumbo filé (ground sassafras) seems to be an option for gumbos that either don’t use a roux or okra as thickener (though there are fierce arguments for any of these in combination). Below is my process and ingredients in entirety – this is what I did, but it’s not a recipe tested over repeated occasions. Consider this an entry on recipe development instead.
11 ounces onion
5 ½ ounces celery
5 ½ ounces green bell pepper
½ cup olive oil (I didn’t have canola or I would have used that)
11 ½ ounces Pat La Freida Italian hot sausage (in place of andouille or kielbasa)
½ cup flour
7 ½ cups shrimp stock
½ teaspoon oregano
1 bay leaf
¼ teaspoon garlic powder
2 pounds shrimp
8 ½ ounces oysters in their liquor
Heat oil over high heat in Dutch oven. Add flour and stir. WATCH! Roux turned dark sooner than I expected. Added Trinity (onion, celery, bell pepper) when the roux’s scent changed, turned nuttier, and a darker brown. Turned heat down to medium low. Salted Trinity with a four-fingered pinch of salt. Kept stirring. Added sausage when Trinity softened.
When sausage lost pinkness, and started to brown, added shrimp stock. Brought to a boil over high heat, then lowered to bare simmer. Let simmer for 45 minutes. Added oyster liquor, oregano, bay leaf, garlic powder.
In the meantime, peeled and deveined shrimp, leaving heads and tails intact. It may have been unnecessary to leave the heads and tails on, flavor-wise; though sucking the heads is awfully satisfying, if messy. My diners, though, didn’t take that same pleasure, and tried to eliminate all shells before eating the gumbo, throwing them into bowls I provided. It was an experiment, I guess, to see if they actually would suck the heads. Midwestern boys – for future notice – don’t relish in the messiness of shrimp heads and tails in their soups and stews.
Added shrimp, oysters, and green onions, poaching for about 9 minutes. I think the shrimp was overdone at this point, although Curt thought it was good.
Flavor overall was good. It’s not the same as the chicken/sausage gumbo that I love and crave. I think some of that comes
from the shrimp stock I made, which wasn’t perfect, and was too concentrated in shrimp flavor. When I tasted the broth after 45 minutes of simmering, I was hit in the back of my mouth with a tart shrimpy flavor. I asked Curt to taste it. He didn’t think anything was wrong with it. “Should I add water?” “No, I don’t think so.” “Maybe I’ll add some spices,” I said, thinking that I could balance out the flavor. I chose the sweet over spicy, the oregano and bay leaf, and then a small hit of garlic powder. After about 10 minutes, I tasted again, and thought yes, this was better. And I knew we’d be serving over rice, so that would tame the flavor down a bit.
Overall, I was happy with it. I enjoyed doing the research and teasing out the commonalities of shrimp gumbo recipes, as well as picking and choosing the differences. What I’ve laid out above is not a definitive version of shrimp and sausage gumbo (if that could ever exist), not even my definitive version. But it’s about the process, the research, the looking into the past and coming up with my own, working with what I’ve got. That’s what gumbo, in the end, is all about.