April 29, 2008

Gumbo, Day One- ROUX by Guest Blogger Mimi Nunu!

I am fortunate to say that I have known one person in my life who is as passionate about food as I am! We call her Mimi Nunu, and this is her guest blog:

My brother lived in New Orleans for about 5 years. He moved back home to Philadelphia after Hurricane Katrina. He misses lots of things about NOLA, but one thing he often mentions is that he has not had a good bowl of gumbo since 2005. I’ve thought about making a gumbo for a while now, and I just finally got up the courage to give it a shot. All of the recipes that I read said the same thing - to make a good gumbo, you have to “start with a roux.” Let me start by saying, I have never made a roux before. I didn’t even know what a roux was. A roux is just equal parts of a fat – vegetable oil, butter, or lard - mixed with flour. So I spent a lot of time on the internet, reading about how long it would take and the process. I read a lot of conflicting information – cook it on low for over an hour on stove, bake it for 30 minutes, it should be the color of peanut butter, it should be brick-colored, or the shade of a penny. I combined all of my internet reading with some advice from my brother and a friend who lives deep in Cajun country in Opelousas, Louisiana, and decided I would go with the theory that for gumbo “the darker the roux the better.” The problem is, to get the roux to the required brick shade, you must CONSTANTLY stir it, and I mean CONSTANTLY. If you don’t continue to stir, you run the risk of burning it and you must throw it away and start over. I read that if you burn it, you will see black flecks, it will smell scorched, and it will completely ruin the taste. Let’s just say I am not the most patient person in the world. I had to go against every grain of my normal hot-head personality and step into the mindset of someone else to prepare this roux!

I used vegetable oil as my fat of choice. I mixed 1 cup of all purpose flour with one cup of vegetable oil in a pan.

I combined the flour and the oil in a pan and stirred until all of the flour had dissolved.

I turned the burner on low and just started stirring. After about 30 minutes, it still looked pretty lightly colored, and my patience was starting to go. I had to talk myself out of giving up. All in all I stirred the pan of roux for 70 minutes. But I was very proud of myself for achieving a great brick color without burning it. Patience is key!

After the color looked just about right, I immediately removed from the pan and heat and put in Tupperware to cool. This was probably pretty stupid, since it a burning hot concoction of oil that is often referred to as Cajun napalm, but I didn’t want to dirty any more dishes. It is advised to pour the roux onto a baking sheet or some other heat safe container to cool. My gumbo would be a two day cooking affair. My plan was to prepare the roux on day one, and put together the gumbo on day 2. After 70 minutes of stirring and a very tired arm, I decided to stick with the two day plan. I kept thinking to myself, all of the effort to make this roux better be worth it…

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