In Louisiana, "first you make a roux."
Our local celebrity chef, John Folse, writes about the roux in his new game cookbook, After The Hunt.
"In Bayou Country the saying goes that every recipe begins with, 'First you make a roux...' but for this book, we should probably begin with, 'First you shoot a deer, or a rabbit or a duck,' because until you've got that, the roux won't do you much good."A roux is the primordial stuff of Cajun cooking. It’s made of oil and flour and elbow grease. It can be blonde or brown or any color in between, like the people who invented it. You add a roux to a stock to thicken it and give it a rich flavor. Gumbo is basically a soup of stock plus roux plus meat plus Louisiana's holy trinity: bell peppers, celery and onions. A little rice and French bread go with.
I made my first gumbo tonight, cheating on the roux with a dry mix that would probably make Chef Folse throw up his hands; although I'm sure he would approve the deer sausage and the duck breast, welcome gifts from my neighbors.
My trepidation about the roux is evidently common. As Folse says, "[the roux] can be a little intimidating because the margin of error between a perfect roux and a burnt one is slim. Just remember with any roux, it cannot be fixed if you burn it; you must start over." I would hate to have wasted the meat and the money in fresh ingredients on my first attempt.
Nevertheless, it seems you can't go wrong with gumbo. I spent about 4 hours in prep time (mostly re-reading the short recipe while things boiled) and about five minutes finishing off my bowl.
From one slowly simmering Louisiana native, Bon appetit!