Sunday, June 21, 2015

Cajun Bayou Gumbo

     A Classic Cajun Gumbo Of Bayou Alligator, Crawfish, Frog Legs And Catfish!
     I once made this gumbo at a 5 Diamond beachfront resort in Florida.  The resort had 5 restaurants and multiple banquet facilities.  I was hired as a tournant sous chef (roundsman) and I was expected to cover the duties of any cooking job at any restaurant in the resort.  The first task was sauté cooking at a trendy seafood restaurant.
     The chef de cuisine at the seafood restaurant wrote a new menu, because the old menu was getting tired.  One of the items that he put on the menu was Bayou Gumbo.  The chef wrote a recipe for the gumbo, but it was not really a gumbo recipe.  The recipe was more like a Seafood Chowder and there was a lot of ingredients that did not belong in a gumbo.
     As it turned out, the chef de cuisine was from New York City and most of the cooks were from Pittsburg.  None of them had ever made a real gumbo before.  I offered to show them all how it was really done and the chef gave me the green light.
     I made 5 gallons of authentic Cajun Bayou Gumbo that was loaded with gator, frog legs, catfish and crawfish.  While doing so, I showed the other cooks and the chef how a traditional gumbo is made.  When the gumbo was finished, the chef de cuisine called the resort's executive chef and executive sous chef down from the main building.  I gave both of the exec chefs a small bowl of the bayou gumbo to sample.  Both chefs were smiling from ear to ear after the first taste!
     The Swiss executive chef walked over to the pot of bayou gumbo and filled up a second bowl.  After finishing his second bowl, the Swiss exec chef complimented the Bayou Gumbo.  The chef actually said that the gumbo was some of the best tasting food that he had ever eaten!
     After it was all over and done, the seafood restaurant's Bayou Gumbo recipe was changed to my recipe, which actually was just a standard traditional Louisiana Cajun Gumbo recipe.  Cooks all over Louisiana make gumbo the same way and it is all good.
     After that day, the executive chefs asked for my opinion about recipes and menu changes.  I was also moved to the resort's 3 Star Michelin rated French fine dining restaurant to cook full time.  I no longer had to work in the trendy seafood restaurant.
     The moral of the story?  Good Louisiana Cajun cooking does get a sous chef moved up the ladder in the world of fine food!
     Cajun Bayou Gumbo:
     This recipe yields 3 servings of bayou gumbo!  (About 7 cups)
     For this recipe, prepare all of the vegetables ahead of time.  The vegetables are used to cool the hot brown roux after it finishes cooking.  
     Gumbo is cooked in stages.  The ingredients are also added in stages, so peak flavors and textures are achieved.  Gumbo does require a long simmering time. 
     Step 1:  Heat a small soup pot over medium/medium high heat.
     Add 3 1/2 ounces of unsalted butter.
     Add an equal amount of flour while stirring to make a roux.  (The roux should be shiny, not caky.)
     Constantly stir the roux with a wire whisk without stopping.
     Stir the roux, till it becomes a rich dark brown color.
     Step 2:  Immediately add these vegetables to the brown roux:
     - 1 cup of small diced onion
     - 1/2 cup of small diced celery
     - 1/2 cup of small diced mixed red bell pepper and green bell pepper
     - 2 chopped green onions
     - 5 cloves of minced garlic
     *The vegetables will stop the brown roux from cooking any further.  The vegetables will instantly cook in the very hot brown roux.  Wait till the steam blast of steam escapes before stirring! 
     Stir the ingredients for 1 minute.
     Step 3:  Add 3/4 cup of dry white wine.
     Add 7 cups of shrimp stock.
     Add 1 bay leaf.
     Stir as the gumbo heats and thickens.  The gumbo should be a very thin watery consistency at this time.
     Stir the gumbo as it comes to a gentle boil.
     Step 4:  Reduce the temperature to low heat.
     Simmer and reduce the gumbo for 45 minutes.
     Stir occasionally.  The gumbo should be a very thin sauce consistency after reducing.  (About 7 1/2 cups in volume.)
     Step 5:  Add 25 shelled poached crawfish tails and the orange colored fat behind the crawfish heads.  (Set aside 6 whole crawfish so they can a garnish.  Two whole crawfish per bowl is good.)
     Add 8 ounces of alligator tail that is cut into bite size pieces.
     Add 3 ounces of chopped Andouille Sausage.
     Add 1 1/3 cups of thick sliced fresh okra.
     Stir the gumbo.
     Step 6:  Add 3 pinches of oregano.
     Add 2 pinches of marjoram.
     Add 4 pinches of thyme.
     Add 3 pinches of tarragon.
     Add 2 pinches of basil.
     Add 1 teaspoon of Spanish Paprika.
     Add 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of cayenne pepper.  (The amount of spicy cayenne pepper is a matter of personal taste!)
     Add 1 tablespoon of finely chopped Italian Parsley leaves.
     Add 2 pinches of white pepper.
     Add sea salt and black pepper to taste.
     Stir the gumbo.
     Step 7:  Gently simmer and reduce the gumbo for 20 minutes.  (The volume should be about 7 1/2 cups.)
     Step 8:  Add the meat of 2 large pairs of frog legs.  (Remove the bones.)
     Add 8 ounces of bite size catfish nuggets.
     Add 1/2 teaspoon of lemon juice.
     *After adding the catfish pieces, do not stir the gumbo at all!  Just gently shake the pot, instead of stirring.  Stirring will cause the catfish pieces to break up!
     Simmer and reduce the gumbo for 15 more minutes.  (The volume should be about 7 cups.)
     Gently shake the pot occasionally.
     Step 9:  Add 1/2 tablespoon of file powder, by sprinkling it on the surface of the gumbo.  (File powder is ground dried sassafras leaves.)
     Shake the pot gently to mix the file powder into the gumbo.
     Simmer for 2 minutes.
     Step 10:  Keep the gumbo warm over very low heat.

     White Rice: 
     Gumbo is served with plain long grain white rice.  About 20 minutes before the gumbo is finished cook 1 1/4 cups of rice.  
     Step 1:  Heat the reserved whole poached crawfish in gently boiling water in a pan over medium high heat.  (2 per bowl of gumbo)
     Step 2:  Use a ring mold to place a portion of rice in a shallow soup bowl.
     Step 3:  Remove the bay leaf.
     Ladle about 2 cups of the Cajun Bayou Gumbo around the rice in the bowl.
     Place a couple of Italian Parsley sprigs on top of the rice.
     Place the two whole warm crawfish on top of the rice as a garnish.
     Viola!  Cajun Bayou Gumbo!  
     The amount of cayenne in this gumbo is a personal choice.  Some like their gumbo spicy hot.  A medium level of spicy cayenne pepper is best. 

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