Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Seafood Gumbo, John Besh Style

I wanted to make a nice meal for my beautiful wife, Clare, inspired by Mardi Gras.  While I have eaten many a dish of etoufee and gumbo in my time, I have never made these dishes, or, for that matter, any Creole or Cajun dish.  I thought this had to change, beginning with my first attempt to make gumbo. 

I combed through a lot of recipes on my free time, trying to find  one that would be fairly easy for a novice like myself, but remain true to the culture that underlies the dish.  After a while, I came across a blogger who posted a recipe for seafood gumbo by John Besh.  A native of New Orleans, Besh has dedicated himself to the cuisine of Southern Louisiana.

However, I did not find just any John Besh, seafood gumbo recipe.  I had found the "Gumbo for the Gulf" recipe.  The "Gumbo for the Gulf" was a campaign that called upon cooks to host parties and cook gumbo for their guests, all the while raising money to help families in the Gulf region who were devastated by the spill.  John Besh donated this recipe to that campaign.  So, I had stumbled upon a recipe that had been used for a very good cause, something that is generally, and in this particular case, personally important to me.

With the recipe in hand, I had to turn my attention to the ingredients.  Besh's recipe calls for use blue crabs and andouille sausage.  I could not get the first ingredient in a cost efficient manner for just the two of us (live blue crabs are very expensive) and I could not use the second ingredient because Clare does not eat meat.  (Fortunately, she eats fish and seafood.)  Also, despite checking two different stores, I could not find any okra.  Consequently, I had to make a few tweaks to the ingredients called for in recipe.

I also made one other modification to John Besh's recipe.  The original recipe serves ten people, and I was only cooking for two.  To make matters a little more difficult, some ingredients, like lump crab meat, are sold in 8 ounce containers.  The original recipe called for 1 pound of crab meat (16 ounces).  I could not just buy 1/5 of a pound of lump crab meat.  So, in the end, I decided to cut the recipe in half, hoping that, if I was to prepare the dish properly, we could have some delicious leftovers for lunch. 

In preparing the dish, I confronted the notable characteristic of my style of cooking ... the emphasis on the protein.  As you can see from the pictures, I heaped a lot of catfish, crab meat, crawfish, oysters and shrimp into the bowl.  While a mass of this seafood is usually not considered a negative, it overshadowed the broth, which was the culmination of the first successful attempt on my part to get a roux to reach the appropriate shade of dark brown that is mandated by gumbo lovers throughout the Gulf region. 

So, with all of the changes I noted above, I can't say that this is John Besh's gumbo recipe (nor do I think he would want me to say that given my gumbo falls far short of the gumbo that he would make).  So, I will refer to this dish in the style of the original Iron Chef program.  Whenever an Iron Chef would make a dish inspired by a style of cooking or a place, they would refer to the dish in a particular way, noting it prepared in a certain style.  Along those lines, I present to you, Seafood Gumbo, John Besh style.

Adapted from a recipe by John Besh from My New Orleans: A Cookbook
     by John Besh, Andrews/McMeel Publishing and reprinted on the
     Gulf State Organizer's blog
Serves 4-5

1/2 cup canola oil
1/2 cup flour
1 large onion diced
1 stalk celery, diced
1/2 green pepper, diced
1/2 cup sliced okra
1 clove garlic, minced
1 sprig of thyme, leaves only
1 1/2 quarts of seafood stock
1 bay leaf
1/2 pound of shrimp (preferably American)
1/2 cup of lump crab meat
8 ounces of shucked oysters
1/2 cup of crawfish meat
1 pound of catfish, cut into bite size pieces
1/2 cup of minced green onions
Salt, to taste
Ground black pepper, to taste
Basic Creole spices (see recipe below)
Worcestershire sauce
1 cup cooked rice

 1.  Make the roux.  Heat the canola oil in a large cast iron or heavy bottomed pot over high heat.  Whisk the flour into the hot oil.  It will immediately begin to sizzle.  Reduce the heat to moderate and continue whisking until the roux takes on a deep brown color, about ten minutes.

Making the roux.
2.  Saute the onions.  Add the onions and continue to stir with a wooden spoon, incorporating the onions into the roux.  Reduce the heat and continue to stir for another five to seven minutes, until the roux is a rich dark brown.

Trying to get that rich, dark brown color.

3.  Saute the other vegetables.  Add the celery, bell peppers, garlic and okra.  Increase the heat to moderate and continue to cook and stir for a couple of minutes.

Celery, bell peppers and garlic.  I wish I had okra.

4.  Create the soup.  Add the thyme, seafood stock and bay leaf.  Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally and cook for about twenty five minutes at a simmer.

With seafood stock.  Even better with homemade stock.
5.  Add the spices and protein.  Add the Creole spices and taste to make sure that you have just the right amount.  Then, add the catfish first.  Stir gently.  After about three minutes, add the oysters.  Continue to stir gently.  After about one to two minutes, add the shrimp.  Continue to stir and then add the crab and crawfish.  Add the Worcestershire and Tabasco.  Allow the seafood to cook for about two to three minutes more and then take off the heat. 

My favorite seafood ... Crab, Oysters, Shrimp, Crawfish and Catfish

6.  Plate the dish.  Spoon some rice into bowls.  Serve the gumbo over the rice.

And, last but not least, the recipe for basic Creole spices.  One note, I upped the cayenne pepper because I like things spicy.  For those who do not like the heat, just add 1 teaspoon of cayenne pepper:

Adapted from a recipe by John Besh from My New Orleans: A Cookbook
     by John Besh, Andrews/McMeel Publishing and reprinted on the
     Gulf State Organizer's blog 
Makes 1/4 cup

1 tablespoon of celery salt
1/2 tablespoon of sweet paprika
1/2 tablespoon of coarse sea salt
1/2 tablespoon of freshly ground black pepper
1/2 tablespoon of garlic powder
1/2 tablespoon of onion powder
1 tablespoon of cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice.

Mix all of the ingredients together.

As I noted above, I ended up plating a lot of catfish, oysters, crawfish and shrimp, which obscured the very good broth that lies underneath. In doing so, I learned something from this endeavor ... Clare and I need to invite people over for gumbo, so I can divide the protein and rice between more bowls for hungry guests and, in the process, show off the broth. If the recipe turns out as well as it did when I made it this time, I think there will be no shortage of people willing to eat it!

I hope everyone has a happy and safe Mardi Gras and Fat Tuesday.  And, of course,



Frank Savage said...

Looks like you hit the mark on the roux--beautiful color! Wish I could have tasted the final product. We will have to make gumbo together sometime.

Keith Bolek said...

Thanks Frank! I would love to cook gumbo with you sometime.

Unknown said...

I like your recipe .. its remind me the tasty cup of Gumbo which I enjoyed at New Orleans Bar and Grill.

Keith Bolek said...

Thank you John for taking the time and reading my blog.

Viode said...

This is useful information.

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