Before he became the catchphrase-shouting, product-shilling Ewok-like face of the Food Network, Emeril Lagasse was television chef who made good food. I still refer to his Every Day’s A Party cookbook when I’m looking for something new to try.
I’ve cooked his Gumbo Ya Ya – chicken and sausage gumbo – many times; but have become dissatisfied with the taste. The roux is too dark, lending too much of a smoky/burnt note to the final dish. After watching the “Bowl o’ Bayou” episode of Good Eats last week, I decided to try a hybrid of Emeril’s recipe and Alton Brown’s shrimp gumbo recipe.
I began with the first steps in Emeril’s recipe, stewing the chicken:
I placed a fowl (a large, old, tough chicken, about 7 pounds) into a pot with 2 quartered onions, 2 stalks of celery, a bay leaf, a tablespoon of salt, and 3 quarts of water. I brought the water to a boil, reduced the heat to medium, partially covered the pot, and let everything simmer for 2 hours. I had already deviated from the recipe at this stage: Emeril calls for 2 quarts of water, which isn’t enough to cover the fowl, so I upped the amount to 3 quarts. I also omitted the cayenne pepper. I knew I’d have more broth than I needed after this step, and it’s difficult to use spicy stock in most dishes I make.
While the fowl simmered, I turned my attention to making the roux. Emeril calls for 1 1/2 cups each of oil and flour, stirred together on the stove for 20 to 25 minutes until it turns dark brown. No matter how much I lowered the heat during this step in previous preparations, the roux was always dangerously close to burning in about 15 minutes. Here’s where I introduced Alton’s method. I mixed the oil and flour together in a large dutch oven:
The pot went into the oven set to 350°, and was stirred every 30 minutes for 90 minutes. While the roux cooked, I prepped the rest of the ingredients:
(Left to right, top to bottom: 1/2 lb. chopped andouille, 1 lb. sliced andouille, 1 cup chopped green bell pepper, 2 cups chopped onions, 1 cup chopped celery, 1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme 2 tablespoons minced garlic, 1 teaspoon cayenne, 1 tablespoon filé powder).
The thyme, garlic, and filé are Alton’s additions. The andouille is from Chef Paul’s, don’t settle for the stuff sold in supermarkets – it’s not made the same way, and doesn’t taste the same as real andouille.
When the fowl was done I removed it and set it aside to cool. I strained the stock and reserved 2 quarts. The rest I saved for later (foreshadowing – the key to a good recipe).
The roux came out of the oven, a bit lighter than Emeril’s preferred doneness:
With the roux back on the stove over medium heat, I added all of the ingredients except the filé and sliced andouille. Cooking and stirring for ten minutes produced the base:
I added the reserved stock, stirred to combine, and let the mixture simmer uncovered on medium-low heat for 90 minutes.
While the gumbo simmered I pulled the fowl apart, discarded the skin, shredded the meat, and reserved the bones. I chopped the shredded meat into smaller pieces, then browned the sliced andouille:
Emeril’s recipe calls for adding the meat, cooking for a final 15 minutes, then skimming the fat off the surface. That’s very hard to do with such a thick, chunky nixture, so I let the base sit for 10 minutes, then skimmed off the fat (almost 2 cups!) before adding the chicken and andouille. I also added the filé to thicken the gumbo.
During the final gumbo simmer I made the rice from another Alton recipe: cook 2 cups of basmati rice in 2 tablespoons of butter for 3 minutes over medium heat. Add 3 cups of boiling water and 1 teaspoon of salt, stir to combine, cover, and cook over low heat for 20 minutes.
Final plating: a hefty spoonful of rice in a bowl, ladle the gumbo over, and garnish with parsley and scallions:
Oh mais oui, this was the best batch I’ve made. The flavors were more balanced, not dominated by the roux. The garlic and thyme added some depth and the reduced cayenne provided some afterburn without wiping out the taste of the andouille. And, of course, it tasted all the better while watching the Steelers win. Laissez les bon temps roulez!
A cooking tip
Knowing I was going to wind up with a pile of bones and meat scraps from the cooked fowl, I decided to make a batch of chicken stock. I thawed out my stash of frozen chicken backs and wings (leftovers from previous chicken preps), then chopped everything in half. This is a key step: chopping exposes the bones, which releases more collagen into the stock. I browned the pieces with a little oil, a chopped onion, a chopped carrot, and a few celery stalks (use the little bits from the middle of the celery hearts; the leaves add more flavor to the stock).
I added the reserved stock from the gumbo prep, tossed in the fowl bones and scraps (See? Foreshadowing!), some salt and a bay leaf, and then water to almost fill the pot. I let this simmer over very low heat for three hours:
I strained it, cooled it down, and portioned it out into quart-sized containers, which now reside happily in my freezer.
… and a snack
When I made char siu pork, I got to the step where I had to trim off the skin from the pork belly after it had marinated for two days. I didn’t want to throw it away, but I also didn’t know what to do with it. While pulling together the munchies for yesterday’s Super Bowl viewing, it hit me: pork rinds.
I cut the skins into bite-sized pieces:
Then I gave them a quick dunk in hot oil. I removed and drained the puffed up skins:
Behold, five-spiced pork rinds! (They’re not burned, that’s the caramelized sugar from the marinade.) Sweet, salty, crunchy, and with a hint of soy and hoisin.
And an absolute flop with my guests. Philistines.