Tuesday, February 22, 2011

A Dish You Won't Rue

The deeply flavorful, dark brown roux that is the base of much of Cajun cooking is something I hadn't yet atttempted, but after reading this recipe from contributor Jim Dixon of RealGoodFood, I had to jump in with both feet. It was a revelatory experience!

Farro “Gumbo”

Just to be perfectly clear: this is not what anyone from Louisiana would call gumbo. While that gumbo has centuries of history and still generates passionate disagreement about what form of the thick, spicy brown stew is real gumbo, my ersatz version only borrows from the basic approach to gumbo-making. I started from this, John Besh writing about making roux in his cookbook, My New Orleans:

“I always heat the oil first and whisk the flour into the hot oil. Not only does this speed up the process; it yields that deep, dark chocolate-colored gumbo I love. I always add the onions first to the dark roux, holding back the rest of the vegetables until the onion caramelizes. Otherwise, the water in the vegetables will keep the onion from browning and releasing its sweet juices.”

So I made my roux, heating some extra virgin olive oil* in a cast iron skillet, then adding an equal amount of flour (white whole wheat, a whole grain flour made from soft white wheat). I stirred the roux over medium heat, and after about 15 minutes I started to get the chocolate brown Besh describes.

(Donald Link’s cookbook, Real Cajun,offers more good advice about roux. Use a whisk to make sure no flour sticks to the skillet and burns, since that will spoil the roux. Watch the heat, and stir carefully. Link says roux isn’t called Cajun napalm without good reason; splash a dab on yourself and you will be burned. His last words of caution: roux left untended can catch fire.)

I added half a chopped onion and cooked it for another 10 minutes or so, then chopped bell pepper** and celery (roughly the same amount as the onion) and cooked for a few minutes more. Next into the pot: a quarter head of green cabbage***, roughly chopped, a healthy dash of Cajun seasoning, and a bit more cooking.

I’d already soaked and cooked a pot of Bluebird farro (right), and I spooned the grain and most of the cooking liquid into the skillet, roughly as much in volume as the roux-vegetable mix. I added a little file powder (ground sassafras), too.

I knew the already thick stew would get thicker, so I added about a cup of water, turned the burner down to simmer, put the lid on, and let it cook for about 45 minutes, checking regularly and adding a bit more water when necessary to keep it from sticking. Then I spooned into a bowl, sprinkled on a little more file, and splashed on the Crystal (Tabasco-like hot sauce).

* I used 1/4 c. each of olive oil and unbleached flour and it seemed to be the perfect amount.
** There was a poblano pepper in the fridge, so that substituted for the bell pepper.
*** I used the equivalent amount of lacinato kale, which I'm sure Jim would not begrudge me, and about 1/2 lb. of frozen Trader Joe's shrimp.


Lacy said...

You might say no but could you substitute the grain for either steel cut oats or maybe barley? Looks good!

Kathleen Bauer said...

I don't see why not…let me know if you try it!

Jim Dixon said...

I used the green cabbage mostly because I always have some around. The next batch I made was a variation on gumbo z'herbes, a version toned down for the Good Friday fast, and I used cavolo nero (aka "lacinato" kale; I try to avoid using the supermarket label since it's a mispelled Italian word, lacianato or lacy). I'll be posting that soon, along with more roux advice from my friends at Cochon.

Kathleen Bauer said...

I was thinking that Savoy cabbage would work well, as would collards, chard or any braising green. Can't wait for more roux info…so magical to make! And thanks for the word on "lacianato." Interesting!