Hearty Satisfying Gumbo!I worked with a few Cajun cooks many years ago and I learned some great Louisiana style cooking techniques. Cajun food is like no other food anywhere else in the world. The basic Acadian cooking techniques are like French cuisine from 300 to 400 years ago. As the Acadians adapted to the new world, culinary influences and ingredients from other cultures have been incorporated through the years. Native American cuisine was a principal adaptation too. What this all adds up to is this. Louisiana Cajun cooking is an innovative adaptive cuisine that is unique and full of diverse traditions.
The word Gumbo is African slang for Okra. The various North African spellings of the word Okra translate to "slimy or mucilaginous vegetable" in Arabic languages, so the characteristics of Okra have always been well known for adding a unique texture to a stew. African Slaves often were employed as cooks and African style stewing or frying techniques dominated the cooking styles in the American South. This is probably why Okra ended up being part of Cajun style roux thickened stews. This heritage is also probably why these unique stews ended up being called Gumbo.
Filé Powder is fine ground Sassafras Leaves. Sassafras is a tree that can be found throughout the midwestern states and the south. The leaves of these trees are pleasantly aromatic and the flavor is unique. Sassafras Leaves also have medicinal value and a tea made from the leaves tastes so good that it naturally puts a smile on one's face. Native Americans used Sassafras medicinally and to thicken stews. The Cajuns adapted ground dried Sassafras Leaves to their own cuisine as a stew thickener and because of the unique flavor that brings on smiles.
For Gumbo making, the Cajuns definitely are credited with the traditional use of roux. A dark brown roux is what gives today's Gumbo recipe a deep brown color. The Cajun rule of thumb for roux making is easy to understand and it is the opposite of modern French roux applications that were defined later in the 1800's. By Cajun definition, for dark color meat, a light color roux is used. For light color meat, a dark color roux is used. For pork and wild game meats that are in the middle of the color range, a reddish light brown roux is the right choice.
Always be careful when making roux, because it can spatter and cause severe burns. To be safe, wear a long sleeve shirt and gloves when making roux, especially if a recipe calls for a brown or black color roux.
Andouille sausage can be added to this recipe, but not every gumbo requires andouille sausage. Many gumbos are made with no sausage at all. Sometimes a Cajun style highly seasoned ham, like Tasso, is added for flavor, but this is an optional ingredient too. If there is plenty of orange color crawfish fat in the crawfish shells, then adding extra flavors is not necessary at all.
Being proud of one's own Gumbo making ability is important and every home cook should boast about how good their own Gumbo is. I once made a Bayou Gumbo with Alligator Tail, Frog Legs, Crawfish and Catfish for a new menu at a seafood restaurant in a Florida luxury resort back in 2001. The Swiss executive chef that managed every restaurant in the resort stopped by to taste each new menu item, as a quality control measure. After one taste, the Swiss chef could not stop eating the Bayou Gumbo that I made and he ended up eating 3 cupfuls. He said it was the best soup he ever tasted and he was a Swiss born French chef for over 50 years! Next thing you know, I was transferred to the upscale Michelin rated French restaurant in the same resort. Now, that was a great compliment for Cajun Cuisine and my Gumbo making skills that I learned from old Cajun chefs!
Cajun Crawfish and Shrimp Filé Gumbo:
This recipe yields about 4 1/4 cups. (2 large portions)
Gumbo takes about 2 hours to make. Be sure to have all the ingredients ready, before starting the brown roux.
Step 1: Place 1/2 cup of diced celery in a bowl.
Add 1/2 cup of diced green bell pepper.
Add 1 cup of diced onion.
Set the Trinity vegetables aside in a container. (The Louisiana Trinity is always 1 part bell pepper, 1 part celery and 2 parts onion!)
Step 2: Heat a pot over medium heat.
Add 2 ounces of unsalted butter.
Add an equal amount of flour while constantly stirring to make a roux.
*The roux should look like shiny warm peanut butter and it should not be caky.
Constantly stir till the roux turns a dark brown color.
Step 3: Immediately add the reserved diced celery, onions, peppers.
*This will stop the roux from cooking any further. Be careful, because steam will be produced.
Add 3 cloves of chopped garlic.
Add 2 chopped green onions.
Add 1 minced seeded Green Serrano Chile Pepper.
After the steam subsides, briefly stir the vegetables with the roux, so the vegetables start to cook.
Step 4: Add 5 cups of shrimp stock.
Stir occasionally as the gumbo heats and thickens to a very thin consistency.
Bring the gumbo to a gentle boil.
Step 5: Reduce the temperature low heat.
Add 4 ounces of thick half moon shaped slices of Andouille Sausage. (optional)
Add 1/4 cup of diced tomato.
Add 1 bay leaf.
Add 1/4 teaspoon of sea salt.
Simmer the gumbo for 30 minutes and stir occasionally, as the brown roux flavor mellows. Allow the level of liquid to slowly reduce.
Step 6: Add 2 pinches of thyme.
Add 1 pinch of tarragon.
Add 1 pinch of basil.
Add 1 pinch of oregano.
Add 1 pinch of marjoram.
Add 1/2 teaspoon of Spanish Paprika.
Add 1/4 teaspoon to 1/2 teaspoon of cayenne pepper. (To taste.)
Add 2 pinches of white pepper.
Adjust the seasoning with sea salt and black pepper to taste.
Step 7: Raise the temperature to medium low heat.
Add 8 ounces of shelled medium size shrimp, that are sliced in half. (Remove the tails.)
Add 1 cup of shelled poached crawfish tails and the orange fat from behind the crawfish heads.
Simmer the gumbo for about 10 minutes.
Step 8: Add 1 teaspoon of minced Italian Parsley.
Add 1 cup of thick sliced okra.
Simmer and reduce till the Gumbo is a rich medium thin consistency and the volume reduces to about 4 1/4 cups. Stir occasionally.
*Only add water if the okra is not tender before the Gumbo finishes reducing.
Step 9: Keep the Cajun Crawfish and Shrimp Filé Gumbo warm over very low heat or in a 135ºF bain marie.
Step 10: Add 1 teaspoon of file' powder to the Gumbo while stirring, just before serving.
Serve each 2 cup portion of gumbo with a 3/4 cup portion of plain long grain white rice.
The amount of cayenne pepper added to a Gumbo is a matter of personal taste. Some like it spicy and some like it mild. Cajun Crawfish and Shrimp Filé Gumbo is Louisiana style down home cookin' at its best!