Thanks to a little nudging from Del Lansing, an online cooking pal, I made a big pot of seafood gumbo for dinner last night, and I'm glad I did -- it was delicious! (We just finished up the leftovers for lunch today, and it was even better after a night in the fridge.)
I combined an old gumbo recipe from a campaign brochure put out by the late Louisiana Senator Allen J. Ellender (I am not kidding about this), a somewhat de-fatted Paul Prudhomme recipe and a few ideas of my own, some traditional and a couple (adding a dash of Thai fish sauce at the end) really off the wall. It was good, though, and best of all, the entire process took only about 60 minutes -- admittedly, an hour of intense, frenzied activity, but it was worth it. A technique hint: I chopped, sliced, diced, measured out and organized all my ingredients first -- about a 30-minute chore -- and then devoted the last half-hour to cooking without any last-minute worries about missing items or further preparation time.
VEGETABLES: Chop fine and combine in a bowl one medium onion, one green pepper, one or two sticks of celery, and two fat garlic cloves. Chop and reserve about 1/4 cup fresh parsley. Wash and slice about 8 ounces of fresh okra into rounds.
SEASONING: Coarsely grind or crack with a pestle 1 rounded teaspoon black peppercorns, and combine it with 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper (more or less to taste), 1 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano, 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme and 1 bay leaf.
SEAFOOD, ETC.: Cut about 2 ounces (a 2-inch chunk) of andouille sausage into small dice. Peel and reserve 8 ounces uncooked medium shrimp. Open a 6-ounce can of white crabmeat. Shuck or open grocery container of about a dozen large fresh oysters (8 ounces), with their liquor.
OTHER: Warm 4 cups chicken broth. Have ready 4 tablespoons vegetable oil and 4 ounces white flour. Measure out and reserve 1 tablespoon nam pla (Thai fish sauce).
Now we're ready to cook!
Start steaming plenty of white rice. (I recommend the double-boiler technique so you can ignore it while working on more labor-intensive projects.)
Start cooking the andouille in a heavy pot. It's so fatty that no extra oil is needed, it will give off plenty. Once it's started to cook and render its fat, stir in the sliced okra. Stir occasionally and add an ounce or two of water at a time to keep it from sticking and burning. As the okra cooks up, it will lose the "slimy" quality that puts a lot of people off this fine vegetable. :)
Heat a large, black-iron skillet over high heat, and when it's quite hot, pour in the 4 tablespoons oil. (Don't use olive oil here, it can't take the high heat needed for a Cajun roux.) When the oil is sizzling hot, stir in the 4 tablespoons flour all at once, stirring hard with a wooden spoon. Making roux is sort of a controlled burn situation, and you've got to be careful not to let it stick and turn black; keep stirring and shaking the skillet, watching for hot spots, and in three to five minutes, you should see the roux start turning a pale tan and then gradually darken to a nice reddish brown. When it's good and dark (but not nearly black), stir in the reserved onion, peppers, celery and garlic and the seasoning mix, and stir around in the roux until they start to cook. Pour in the warm broth, and stir; reduce heat to the simmer. If you did a good job of handling both pots at the same time, the okra by now should be cooked up, and the slime will have magically disappeared. Pour this into the gumbo, and continue simmering, uncovered.
About five minutes before dinner, stir in the crabmeat. As discussed in the forum, it will pretty much fall into nearly invisible threads; you can either not worry about this (the flavor is still there), or, as someone suggested, substitute the meat from whole crab claws. About four minutes before dinner, add the shrimp. About one minute beforehand, add the oysters and their liquor, and continue simmering just until they are warmed through. Stir in the nam pla and parsley, and serve.
The tradition is to use large, low soup plates, placing a mound of rice in the middle of each and pouring gumbo around them. We ate a lot of it last night, with crusty Italian ciabatta bread, and ended up wishing we had more.
It worked well enough with a California "Nouveau Beaujolais," too, although I really do think that an icy beer is the beverage of choice for spicy Cajun stuff.