Turkey Gumbo and Two Steps to Perfect Brown Roux
I cleaned out my refrigerator this weekend. It happened shortly after a wallet-busting trip to Whole Foods. My top shelves were so ladden with homemade pickles, sauces and jams that we couldn’t find anything. And the freezer… I don’t even want to talk about the freezer.
After an hour of serious reorganizing, and some tough decisions regarding the edibility of a few jars of pickles, we managed to clear some space. Out of this fit of tidiness came a surprising four chicken carcasses, three bags of bread ends, a couple of parm rinds, and a big bag of frozen veggies parts. The perfect start to a huge batch of chicken stock.
Whenever fresh stock is bubbling merrily away on the stove it’s time to start thinking soup. A quick scour through two or three cook books and it came down to Spicy African Peanut Chicken soup or Shrimp Bisque. I was really feeling the shrimp, but felt like some chicken might be nice given the season, as anything calling for chicken can easily be made with leftover turkey.
Then we came across a recipe for gumbo. Perfect, a blend of surf and turf, along with a little spice and some definite rib-sticking hearty goodness. I then cross-referenced about three of four different gumbo recipes and all of them had one thing in common, a good base of dark brown roux.
For the uninitiated, roux is simply a thickener of flour and fat. Generally clarified butter, but also oil, roux is used in many sauces, from alfredo to espanole and bechamel. Most sauces call for a lighter roux, and use less quantities of it; as the thickening agent, the starch, gets less active the longer it cooks. But Cajun cooking is unique in its use of brown roux to give both flavor and create a thicker stew.Most of the time making brown roux means standing in front of the stove and stirring the flour and melted oil constantly for an hour over low-medium heat as it sputters and pops. One unheeded second or two and your roux begins to burn and a new batch has to be made. Not to mention the popping roux spits lava-hot pieces of molten liquid that inevitably ends in cursing and a quick run to the sink.
In one recipe, from Cook’s Illustrated, I came across this ingenious method for making perfectly browned roux without the time consuming attention, or subsequent danger of the traditional method.
- Simple brown 1 cup flour in a heavy bottom Dutch oven over medium heat, about 5 minutes
- Add 3/4 cup oil and stir until smooth, cover, and place in a 350 oven for 45 minutes
That’s it! When you remove the pot, inside will be perfect roux, perfectly browned, with no fuss. Just what you need for a delicious batch of Cajun gumbo. While your roux is browning you have ample time to prep your mis en place (your little piles of prepped ingredients).
This is a perfect recipe for turkey leftovers, just add in the bits of turkey meat at the end with the shrimp instead of the chicken and you’ve got a delicious Thanksgiving leftover dish!
- Roux from recipe above
- 1 white onion, minced
- 2 stalks celery, minced
- 1 green bell pepper, chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 tsp dried thyme
- 2 tsp cayenne pepper
- Salt and pepper
- 5-6 cups chicken stock
- 1/2 cup fish sauce
- 4-5 whole, skinless and boneless chicken thighs
- 3 bay leaves
- 4 andouille sausages, halved and sliced 1/4-inch
- 12 oz raw shrimp, peeled and deveined, roughly chopped
- 3 cups white rice, cooked
- Prep roux as above, return to stove top over medium heat and stir in onion, celery and bell pepper. Cook until soft, stirring frequently, about 5-6 minutes. Add garlic, thyme and cayenne, season with salt and pepper and saute for another minute. Slowly add in stock and fish sauce, stir until smooth, using a whisk to avoid clumping, and bring to a boil. Add chicken thighs (skip this step if using leftover turkey), bay leaves and reduce to simmer, cover and cook until chicken is tender, about 30 minutes. Uncover and add sausage and shrimp (and turkey if using leftovers), cook until shrimp are pink and tender. Serve over a scoop of rice.