Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Mardi Gras Gumbo

When you were born elsewhere, raised elsewhere, trained as a world child and a globe trotter, how do you become a native of any one place? How do you finally find a home?

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!


Mark Churchill said...

Congratulations, Matt. It looks good, and if I didn't have the cold from hell, I could probably (almost) smell it.

Making a roux from scratch intimidates me, too. If not for what Susan calls "the little red boxes" (Zatarain's), Louisiana cooking would be beyond me. Your "cheat" is far less egregious.

Gotta go before the serious foodies stone me...

Matt Mullenix said...

Thanks Mark---the kids gave it a thumbs up.


Anonymous said...


There are several kinds of "instant" roux. On recipe I have even uses Cambell's mushroom soup in sauce picaute. If you are really lazy (like me) you can use Zatarains and {for color) Kitchen Bouquet. Really works good in Jambalaya. I learned this trick from a champion cooker from Gonzales (you guessed it, another lawyer). Works so well that it is now banned in most competitions.

Russ London

mdmnm said...


Congrats on the gumbo, looks good! A roux really isn't that bad, 2-1 oil to flour, have the veggies finely chopped and waiting by the stove, then cook and stir until is about the color of a new penny. Start stirring a little faster and watch- once it turns the color of an old penny, quickly dump in the veggies then stir until it turns glossy- take it off the heat and whisk it into your (hot) stock. After the first time, it won't seem hard at all (unless you splash some on you- sticks AND burns).

Duck gumbo is about my favorite.

Matt Mullenix said...

Russ I used the Kitchen Bouquet (had to ask the grocer where [and what!] that was) in a venison stew recipe I made before Christmas. Worked like a charm.

Mike, thanks for the detail! I make blackberry jelly on occasion, so am familiar with the skin-searing potential of a spill. Incedentally, I made a huge mess of the kitchen last night, which is my M.O. I asked my wife why my cooking is so much messier than hers. She said, "Good question."

mdmnm said...

Matt- what I forgot to mention is that once you've taken the roux and vegetables off the heat, you can take a little bit on a spoon, cool it, and taste. It won't taste good (no salt), but if it is burned you will be able to tell. At that point, all you're out is a little flour, oil, and some vegetables- you haven't spoiled the whole dish.

Anonymous said...

Matt - Our daughter Lauren called me from Long Beach last week to ask me how to make a roux. She was going to use it to thicken a sauce for a shrimp dish she was making. I walked her through it over the phone and it turned out just fine. Trust me, if Lauren can make a roux anybody can make a roux! The girl is just learning to cook at 25. She never spent a minute with me in the kitchen as a kid - wasn't interested.

Roux is such a magical thing - it can be the base for a white cream sauce or that beautiful copper color needed for a gumbo or etouffee, and it is really nothing to fear - it's all about heat control and paying close attention. Reid's mom taught me how to make crawfish etouffee after we got married and one of the first cookbooks Reid gave me as a gift was The New Orleans Cookbook by Rima and Richard Collin. I now probably have at least a dozen cajun cookbooks in my library. So don't go for the stuff in a box - go ahead and make your own. Trust me, even if you burn a batch and have to start over it's worth it.

Connie Farmer

Matt Mullenix said...

Connie and Mike---you've convinced me to take the Roux Challenge. I will send a report after the next gumbo---there are still a few rails and rabbits in the freezer.

(But Connie you may have to talk me through it)

Anonymous said...

No problem - give me a call any time!