Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Gumbo aux Poissons, Huitres et Chevrettes

I asked my beautiful Angel, Clare, "what would you like for dinner on New Year's Eve?"  Her answer, "seafood gumbo."  So, I decided that I would try to make the best damn gumbo ever.  I did my research, reviewing not only modern day gumbo recipes, but also historic gumbo recipes, including a couple of recipes that date back to the late nineteenth century. I studied the difference between Cajun gumbo and Creole gumbo. I contemplated the ingredients, particularly the seafood, that I would use in the gumbo.  And, after all this research, I felt ready to cook.

However, I planned on making my own gumbo. I was not going to simply follow a recipe ... or any recipe.  I decided that for this "Gombo" (the name that I saw used to describe the dish in some old Cajun recipes), it would be a Chef Bolek Original, inspired by the gumbos of the Cajun bayous.  There was one twist ... Clare is a pescatarian, who does not eat meat but does eat seafood.  So, with andouille sausage, chicken and other meats off the menu, I still endeavored to be as Cajun as someone from the Midwest could try to be, choosing to make my Gombo with what the Cajun would call "poissons" (fish), "huitres" (oysters) and "chevrettes" (shrimp). 

With the selection of seafood, I turned my attention to the roux.  Perhaps the most important aspect of this dish is the roux.  My prior experience with roux has generally been successful; however, I always left thinking that I could have gotten the roux darker.  This time I worked to get the roux as dark as I thought I could get it ... or at least as dark as I could before I began to worry about burning it.  I saw the color go from light brown, to brown, to chocolate brown, to dark chocolate.  Although I did not reach mahogany, which was my goal, I did manage to get the darkest roux that I have ever achieved.

After getting the roux to the desired color, the key to cooking the rest of the gumbo is timing.  I tried to cut the fish pieces in even sized pieces that would cook in a few minutes.  I also made a change that is usually not done in cooking seafood.  Generally speaking, one almost always puts in shrimp last, because they cook fast and can overcook fast.  So, typically, one would follow the fish with the oysters and finish with the shrimp.  I bucked convention by putting the shrimp in next and then turning off the heat after the shrimp cooked for a couple of minutes on each side.  I then placed the oysters in the gumbo.  The residual heat would finish cooking the shrimp and cook the oysters just enough so that they were cooked on the outside and a little soft on the inside.  This resulted in the perfect oysters. 

In the end, I have to say that I surprised myself.  I think I made a pretty good gumbo, especially considering that there is not a drop of Cajun blood in me.  Clare also loved the gumbo so I can say that I made the best damn gumbo that I could for my beautiful Angel! 

A Chef Bolek Original
Serves 2-3

1 whole fish (catfish, snapper, bass), scaled, filleted,
     and reserving the head and backbone
1/2 pint of oysters, liqueur reserved
1/2 pound of 26-30 count shrimp, shells reserved 
     and deveined
1/4 cup of canola oil
1/4 cup of flour
4 stalks of celery
2 carrots
1 1/2 onions
1/2 green pepper
4 bay leaves
Several dashes of Tabasco sauce
1 teaspoon of ground red chile peppers
1 teaspoon of dried thyme or 2 sprigs of fresh thyme
2 cups of fish stock
Salt, to taste
Pepper, to taste

1.  Make the fish stock.  Place the head and backbone of the fish, along with the shrimp shells into a small stock pot.  Cut 1 onion into quarters and add it to the pot.  Cut two carrots and three celery stalks into quarters and add them to the pot.  Add 3 bay leaves, the dashes of Tabasco sauce, thyme and 10 cups of water.  Bring the pot to a boil and reduce to a strong simmer.  Let the stock cook for 1 hour.  

2.  Strain and reduce the fish stock.  Strain the fish stock.  Carefully pick through the backbone and the head for all the little pieces of fish meat.  After you have picked the bones and head, discard the parts and the vegetables.  You could get as much as a quarter of a cup of additional fish meat. Return the stock to a clean pot, add the oyster liqueur, and bring it back to a boil.  Reduce down until you have two cups of liquid.

3.  Make the roux.  Heat the canola oil over high heat.  Reduce the heat to medium.  Add the flour slowly, whisking the flour with the oil.  Continue to whisk the flour into the oil until completely incorporated.  Continue to cook the flour and oil until it reaches a dark chocolate to mahogany brown.

4.  Add the vegetables.  Add the onions, celery, bell pepper and okra, stirring continuously.  Cook the vegetables for about ten minutes or until tender.  

5.  Add the fish stock.  Add 2 cups of fish stock in a steady stream or slowly to the roux over medium heat, stirring constantly to make sure the roux does not break up.  Once all of the fish stock has been added, add the ground chile pepper.  Reduce the heat to low and let the gumbo simmer for one hour. Stir occasionally.

6.  Prepare the rice.  Prepare 1 cup of rice according to the instructions on the package or box.

7.  Add the seafood.  Cut the fish fillet into even bite size pieces.  Add the fish to the gumbo first and cook for about three minutes or until the fish is opaque.  Add the shrimp and cook for another three minutes until they are opaque.  Turn off the heat  Finally, add the oysters and cook until they just become opaque, which should take a couple of minutes.  If the oysters do not seem like they are cooking, turn the heat back on low for a couple of minutes.

8.  Plate the Gumbo.  Spoon the gumbo into a bowl.  Spoon a cup of rice in the middle of the bowl or serve it on the side.


When it comes to pairing, gumbo has a surprising flexibility that makes it possible to pair both beers and wines with this dish.  When it comes to a beer, a pilsner or lager beer would work best, particularly if the gumbo is really spicy.  One such beer that would pair well with this dish is the following:

Abita Brewery -- S.O.S.
Weizen Pils
Louisiana, USA
Malt and slight hop flavors

When it comes to pairing this dish with a wine, red wines can be ruled out.  Red wines would only underscore the heavy nature of the gumbo.  A white wine or, even better, a rosé would be a better pairing for a gumbo.  One such wine is the following:

Famille Bougrier -- Rosé d'Anjou (2010).
100% Cabernet Franc
D'Anjou AOC, Loire Valley, France
Strawberry and raspberry flavors, with a little sweetness.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

thanks for sharing.

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