Dining Car Menu Item - Gumbo
By popular demand, I am putting my seafood gumbo recipe in writing. It is important to note that ingredient quantities are not exact in a good Cajun entrée. You just grab what you've got and throw it in a pot, adjusting until it is just right! This is especially true with a gumbo.
There are many types and styles of gumbo. My favorite is a shrimp and crab gumbo with okra. When I was very young we ate often at a place in New Orleans called Wise Cafeteria. I always ordered the gumbo there because it was damned good...and it tasted very much like my grandmother's gumbo. The recipe below is my interpretation of that flavor.
Now living in Fort Worth, Texas I do not have access to the great variety of fresh seafood that I had at my disposal in New Orleans...but we do have Costco! On my last trip there they had the most amazing looking shrimp and a few aisles over were 16 oz tubs of lump Blue Crab meat. Normally I do not buy these things as my wife and kids (Texans) do not like seafood, but I decided it was time to make a pot of gumbo!
I came home with the above pictured ingredients and was ready to get started.
The first thing I did was prepare the seafood. I lined a pitcher with a gallon ZipLock freezer bag (raw shrimp odor can linger in a plastic containr for a LONG time) and poured in an entire bottle of light beer. Then I put in a couple of teaspoons...ish of Old Bay dry seasoning. This is powerful stuff! I also threw in a heaping spoon of chopped garlic and stirred it up. The shrimp came de-veined with the shells split so it was easy to de-shell them. These shrimp were large so I cut them each into about four pieces and tossed them in the beer marinade. Once all of the shrimp were in the beer I dumped the whole tub of crab in the bag as well. Satisfied that all of the seafood was submerged I sealed the ZipLock bag and put the pticher in the refrigerator.
Next came vegetable prep. Of course we start with the Cajun Holy Trinity which is chopped celery, onion and bell pepper. Since moving to Texas I have become a huge fan of the Poblano pepper! Whenever I can I include a Poblano when I make the Trinity. This time I saw fit to chop the following: 1 green bell pepper, 1 red bell pepper, 1 Poblano pepper, 2 sweet yellow onions, and about a third of a bunch of celery. These all go into a mixing bowl. I poured a cup or two (nope I did not measure that either) of a red wine over the chopped vegetables and then put in some dry spices - Thyme, Oregano, Basil, and Parsley flakes. Then went in a couple of heaping spoons of Garlic. Freshly ground salt and pepper as well as some Tony Chachere's Cajun seasoning and some smoked Paprika went in next and then the whole bowl was thoroughly mixed. I like to add the dry herbs at this point because they have time to absorb the ambient moisture and re-hydrate before cooking. This intensifies their flavors. I am sure I had another beer in my hand and some of that went into the chopped vegetables as well. Yeah, I am pretty sure. Certain. The bowl of veggies gets set aside for a bit.
Now it is time to cook and make some magic in the kitchen! I used a large pot and coated the bottom and sides with oil. This will cook for a long time and things tend to want to stick and burn. I like my pot to be as resistant to sticking as possible. With the pot prepared it is time to make the roux.
Often intimidating, the roux is very important and not that difficult. We will incorporate roughly equal quanitites of oil/fat and flour. I threw in about 3/4 of a stick of butter, a cup and a half of oil, and some chicken fat on hand from a container with a rotisserie chicken that happened to be in the refrigerator. On medium-low heat this was quickly melted together and stirred with a whisk. Into this warm liquid I slowly added about two cups of flour, adding it in small batches and whisking it thoroughly.
The next half-hour is very mundane--continuously stirring this mixture and and watching it become a "Roux". The color gradually changes from a light tan to a very dark brown over a period of about 30 minutes. It becomes very aromatic and needs to be kept in relatively constant motion by stirring with a whisk to avoid burning. Once the roux looks like a thick chocolate, it is time to get busy!
It is time to introduce the chopped vegetables. Most recipes advise putting the raw vegetables directly in the roux and sweating them out in the pot. I prefer to sauté the trinity mixture in a separate pan at a higher temperature than the pan with the roux will allow. Doing so in this manner allows for greater flavor to be achieved from the ingredients. So this is what I did and then mixed the sautéed vegetables into the roux. I poured some wine and some beer in the pan that it cooked the trinity in to de-glaze the pan, using heat and a whisk. Of course this mixture was then poured into the gumbo pot with the roux and the trinity mixture. With a gumbo if you get your hands on some flavor, you throw it in the pot!
Now that that roux and the trinity are in the pot, about six cups of water and two large Bay Leaves are added and stirred in. I want to make sure this dish knows it is Cajun so a hit of Tabasco hot sauce as well as Louisiana brand hot sauce go in at this time. By a hit I mean you shake the hell out of each bottle for about 10 seconds! And some more Tony Chachere's goes in also.
I bought two 12 oz bags of frozen cut okra. This goes in the pot now and I bring it to a quick boil. Oh yeah, that smells amazing! The okra helps to thicken the gumbo. Once it boils, back to simmering we go.
I like a little tomato in my gumbo, but I do not like to see tomato in my gumbo. After the above mixture has been simmering for about 30 minutes I open a can of crushed fire roasted organic tomatoes and pour the contents directly into a blender. Then I add about four ladles of the contents of the simmering gumbo to the blender, I am biased towards getting the okra in the blender and am careful not to put the bay leaves in the blender. This tomato/gumbo mixture is liquefied in the blender on high and then poured into the gumbo pot.
I bought some Andouille and some Boudin sausage for this batch. The Andouille is a very grainy sausage. I remove the outer casing from this sausage, chop it up, and add it to the gumbo. Andouille dissolves quickly into the liquid. Once served you will never know there is Andouille in the gumbo.
The Boudin is a more traditional Cajun sausage, keeping its properties throughout the cooking process. I slice it up and add it to the gumbo next.
Now is time for the seafood. Out of the refrigerator comes the shrimp and crab mixture. The whole thing including all of the beer/Old Bay marinade go in the pot. It is a LOT of seafood! One more time, the gumbo is brought to a boil and then back to a low heat to simmer, stirring regularly, for a few hours...anywhere from two to six hours is just fine. Look at the clock and you will know how much time you have to simmer this pot of gumbo.
Now that is a pot of gumbo! I chop up a bunch of green onion. Half of it goes in the pot and half of it stays out to garnish the served up dishes. I also add some Zatarain's filé powder during the final simmering process. We now have "Filé Gumbo".
During the simmering process samples are tasted to make sure the final flavor is headed in the right direction. Salt, Pepper, Paprika, and hot sauce are added as needed to tweak the taste. I will also add a dollop of tomato paste here and there to thicken and sweeten the final product.
Rice is not something I have the patience to mess with. So I cheat. Costco sells these wonderful packs of garlic quinoa and brown rice that require only 90 seconds in the microwave. And this is what I do. Once it is time to serve up the gumbo, a large mound of rice goes in the center of the bowl and a couple of ladles of gumbo are poured around it. It is important to the presentation to have the visible island of rice in the center of the dish! Garnish with chopped green onions and Saltine crackers and dinner is served!
Like most soup-type dishes, this gumbo gets better over the next few days. Into the fridge go the left overs and you have some good eating for the next week!
Flour - 2 Cups...ish
Butter - 3/4 Stick...ish
Oil - 1 1/2 cups...ish
Another fat if available - chicken/bacon/etc. - 1/2 cup...ish
1 green bell pepper
1 red bell pepper
1 Poblano pepper
2 sweet yellow onions
1/3 bunch of celery
Chopped Garlic - Lots
Frozen Chopped Okra - 2 twelve-ounce bags
1 bunch Green Onion
Shrimp - Lots
Lump Crab Meat - Lots
Boudin - 1 pack
Andouille - 1 pack
Beer - 1 bottle...ish
Red wine - 2 cups...ish
Water - 6 cups...ish
Tobasco Hot Sauce - To Taste
Louisiana Hot Sauce - To Taste
Old Bay Seasoning - To Taste
Salt - To Taste
Pepper - To Taste
Smoked Paprika - To Taste
Thyme - To Taste
Basil - To Taste
Parsley - To Taste
Basil - To Taste
Filé powder - To Taste
Tony Chachere's Seasoning - To Taste
2 Bay Leaves
Tomato Paste - 2 dollops...ish
Diner in the Diner
I recently shared on FaceBook that I had made a pot of gumbo from scratch. This post was made without too much thought, as are most posts on social media. A friend soon requested that I share the recipe on a FaceBook group called Home Cooked Soul Food. This inquiry caught me off guard a little bit as food is generally not a topic I write about.
Now both of my grandmothers could cook and I do dabble in it a bit myself. Some of the things they cooked I remember and some I have forgotten. Grandma Scorsone made a good gumbo, the recipe to which she wrote down many years ago on a few scraps of paper. Of course I have improvised a bit since then and the scraps of paper are long gone.
So in the Meridian Speedway world there is a place for food, specifically menus and recipes, and that would be on board the dining car in the office car fleet. As President and CEO I do get to set the menu!
That being said, with this blog post I have created the "Dinner in the Diner" blog category. Here I will occasionally share recipes that in my world would be served in the dining car. It will also allow me to find the recipes when I need them!
Forthcoming will be my recipe for seafood gumbo!