Making Gumbo Together As A Family
I’m continuing today with our family photos that I started posting last week.
Ben is cutting up some Petit Jean Smoked Sausage for Gumbo!
I love how you can see all the different parts of the process of getting ready for dinner in these photos. Whitney has even more from this series online, and I feel like they really tell the story of our family being at home in the evening.
Our kitchen is wide open so everyone can be gathered around to help at the bar. Cole is following the recipe for a new salad out of The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook, Ben is chopping ingredients for gumbo, Mary Polly is helping Cole and Simon is setting the table.
I have really worked this year towards everyone spending a little more time in the kitchen. Some days it flows really well and others, not so much, but I feel like it is really worth the effort to pull these guys into the process with me.
I hope that when my kids leave home they will have a few more cooking skills under their belts than I did at eighteen.
I’m pretty sure I only knew how to make Chocolate Chip Cookies, which I felt was enough to live on.
Taido has been making this amazing Gumbo Zeb, Crescent Dragonwagon’s base for gumbo, since we lived in Chicago. (a gazillion years ago)
He usually makes it on a Saturday, and we help him turn piles of greens into thin ribbons. The base is very thick, full of greens, tomatoes and all sorts of spices. We freeze it in ziplock bags that we pull out in the winter.
Crescent Dragonwagon made twenty-one different gumbo recipes before settling on the one in her cookbook, so it is tried and true. She also gives a fascinating history of the development of the soup, starting with filé powder—made from ground dried sassafras leaves—a seasoning used by the Choctaw Indians.
Then all you have to do is add stock, meat and okra to the base to have a hearty Gumbo for dinner. We use lots of meat combinations: chicken and sausage, sausage and shrimp, fish and shrimp. Sausage and shrimp tends to be the favorite, so that’s what we did on this night.
Every member of our family loves this meal, so it was a perfect one to have for our photos.
We sit every night at a table that lived many years in my aunt and uncle’s house. It is a long barn table with benches. They had five kids, so it was perfect for them. I grew up babysitting for them and I always loved this table.
We have treasured it in our family for sure, and we cram as many people as we can around it on a regular basis.
There are lots of fun details in these pictures that I will remember for years and years.
A friend gave us this little tin filled with questions for the dinner table for Christmas a few years ago, and Simon pulls it out every night. He LOVES to ask the table topic every night and almost never forgets. It is super cutie and you cannot believe how many questions are in this itty bitty box. Hundreds. We still manage to pull out new ones every night.
I’m not going to lie to you. The recipe for making the base for this gumbo is a little bit involved, but if you make it you will be so happy because you will be able to have gumbo in a snap from your freezer. I am not an expert at freezer meals, but this is about the yummiest one I have in my arsenal.
If you double the base, you can have gumbo about once a month all year.
Gumbo Zeb Base
For the roux:
1 cup mild vegetable oil, such as corn, canola, or soy
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
For the mirepoix:
1 stick butter (8 tablespoons)
2 large onions, chopped
2 green bell peppers, stemmed, seeded, and chopped
1 bunch celery with leaves, chopped
1 large bunch (8 to 10) scallions, chopped
For the seasoning purée:
8 cloves garlic, peeled
¼ cup Pickapeppa or Worcestershire sauce (I used Worcestershire)
¼ cup tomato paste
1 tablespoon Tabasco sauce
2 teaspoons dried basil
2 teaspoons dried oregano
2 teaspoons dried thyme
1 teaspoon paprika
Heaping ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
Heaping ¼ teaspoon ground allspice
Heaping ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
6 to 8 good grinds of black peppercorns
1 (16-ounce) can whole tomatoes, drained and coarsely chopped
1 bunch fresh Italian parsley, leaves and stems rinsed and coarsely chopped
For the stock and greens:
6 cups any well-flavored chicken or vegetable stock, or bottled clam juice
2 cups tomato juice or V8 vegetable juice
1 teaspoon salt
4 bay leaves
6 bunches greens (about 4½ to 5 pounds total), ideally 1 bunch each mustard greens, spinach, turnip greens, beet tops, collard greens, arugula, and watercress, very well washed and finely ribboned
1½ cups tomato or V8 vegetable juice
After you chop up all your veggies and ribbon all your greens, make the roux.
Pour the oil in a cast-iron skillet and set over medium heat. Add the flour and whisk until fully incorporated and smooth. The color will be a pale cream to beige color. Stir often to keep the roux from burning, and constantly during the final cooking stage. During the early stage, you may move on to the next step—sautéing the mirepoix—but don’t forget about the roux. Check back frequently, stirring every few minutes or so.
As the roux cooks it will darken in color and begin to smell nutty and, if you go all the way to dark roux, like burnt popcorn. Roux making cannot be rushed: The entire process will take from 45 minutes to an hour or more.
When the roux becomes fairly brown, the oil will separate out partially from the flour. This is what you want. Crescent says not to take the roux off the heat before this point. After the oil has separated, how much longer to cook it is a matter of taste. The darker and nuttier it becomes, the richer the flavor.
Saute the mirepoix: In a heavy skillet, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the onions, and sauté until softened, 5 to 6 minutes. Add the bell peppers and celery; lower the heat slightly and continue sautéing another 10 minutes. Add the scallions, and sauté until limp, about 5 minutes more. While the mirpoix is sautéing, prepare the seasoning puree, but remember to keep checking the roux and stirring it. Once the vegetables are softened, remove them from the heat and set aside.
Prepare the seasoning puree: Place all the ingredients for the seasoning purée except the tomatoes and parsley in a food processor. Process until the garlic is chopped fine. Add the tomatoes and parsley to the food processor, and chop coarsely.
Check the roux. If it has become caramel-colored or darker, it’s time to give it your undivided attention. If it is ready, finish the roux. (If not go on to the next step and then come back) When the roux is done to your liking, remove it from the heat and let cool for a few minutes. Drain off any excess oil that has separated out, but be careful not to pour off any of the browned flour. Vigorously whisk in the 1½ cups tomato juice. It will be a smooth and thick orange paste.
Prepare the stock and the greens: This is the mixture into which the other three mixtures you’ve prepared—the roux, mirepoix, and seasoning purée—will go. In a large stockpot, bring the stock and tomato juice to a boil. Add the salt and bay leaves. Drop in the fresh greens. Bring back to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, covered, about 30 minutes.
When the greens have finished their 30-minute simmer, remove them from the heat. To the stockpot, add the roux mixture, sautéed mirepoix, and the seasoning purée. Taste for seasoning and adjust, if needed. Set the pot over the lowest possible heat and let simmer, covered, another 15 minutes, stirring often.
Remove from the heat and let cool to room temperature. It is now ready to be used. Or you can cool it and freeze it. It makes about 6 quarts. In Crescent’s book, Dairy Hollow House Soup & Bread, she has about seven different ways to prepare the gumbo.
Sausage and Shrimp Gumbo
1 to 1½ pounds Petit Jean smoked sausage, sliced
1 pound frozen, sliced okra
1 pound shrimp
6 cups Gumbo Zeb Base
5 to 6 cups any well-flavored chicken stock
1 cup or more cooked white rice
Fry the sausage in a skillet over medium heat until slightly browned and to cook out as much fat from the sausage as possible, about 5 minutes. Add the okra and cook until soft, stirring occasionally.
In a large stockpot, bring the base and the stock to a boil. Reduce heat, add the sausage, okra and shrimp. Cook about ten more minutes (or until shrimp are done). Serve hot over rice. Sprinkle with file powder.
Also very yummy with cornbread.