Saturday, November 3, 2012

Gluten Free Gumbo: An Experiment

I used to love cooking Cajun and Creole cuisine...etouffe, gumbo, jambalaya, blackened fish (or any other kind of meat that would hold still and let me blacken it)...cayenne toasts that guests could smear with just about anything (my favorite anything being a paste of feta, basil and olive oil that was pulverized within an inch of its life).  I even competed in a local Cajun Iron Chef match against my future partner, Eric (He made a legendary chicken and sausage gumbo. I made a crawfish etouffee.).  But then I discovered that I had an allergy to gluten, which meant that I could no longer make a flour-based roux for any of my New Orleans' favorites (or a beschamel sauce for my eggs and asparagus, or a sawmill gravy for the biscuit that I could no longer have).  I was, to quote Albert Goldman from The Birdcage, "betrayed, bewildered" by this terrible turn of events.  But, after two weeks or so of being completely gluten free, I no longer had the terrible stomach issues, the full-body rash, the like-clockwork-at-3PM-lethargy that made me think I was an undiagnosed narcoleptic.  I felt better than I had ever felt (I had a very hard time justifying and quantifying this to was hard to compare the now-self to the child-self in terms of how one felt from a gastrointestinal aspect.  Humans tend to adjust to whatever seems to be normal for themselves.  I thought that indigestion and bloating was something that everyone just lived with.).

Gluten free cooking is not very complicated once you learn which commercial brands of foods and condiments are safe.  If you are like me and many of my GF friends, keeping an online document of  resources as you find them makes it easier to navigate the isles of barbecue sauce, oats, and ice cream (thank the good Lord for Ben & Jerry).

Having said all that about GF cooking, gluten free baking is another animal altogether for me.  Most of the GF baking recipes appear to be an amalgamation of three different kinds of somewhat pricey potato/rice/corn/ or other non-glutenous flour, some xantham or guar gum, and tapioca or potato starch...mixed with some other more recognizable ingredients.  My talented GF friend Lora M., otherwise known as the Bamacross Beer Fairy (she sips on cider while giving beer hand-ups to the cyclists during races...all the while heckling them in the most creative and brutal fashion), has beautifully mastered the art of GF baking.  Her maple bacon cupcakes are absolutely to die for...

Wow, have I digressed, or what?!?  Let me get back to my original intent with this post, which was to describe in detail what I made last night for the first time in almost two years:  a gumbo.  Because of the fact that gumbos require a roux, and a roux is made with equal parts oil and flour, I have given gumbos a wide berth.  Never again.  Last night I tested a roux using Bob's Red Mill All Purpose Baking Flour and it worked splendidly in a gumbo which we will be having for dinner tonight with friends who are for all intents and purposes, gluten free.

Gluten Free Chicken, Shrimp & Sausage Gumbo
Modified from The New Cajun-Creole Cooking by Terry Thompson, which is an out of print softcover, but can be found used through Amazon, pg. 29):

1lb. Hillshire Farms Turkey Kielbasa, cut into bite-sized rounds
2 cups dark-cooked Cajun Roux (see recipe below and double it)
2 medium onions, chopped
2 medium green bell peppers, chopped
4 lg. stalks of celery with tops, chopped
4 med. cloves of garlic, minced
1 tsp. dried leaf thyme
1 tsp. dried leaf oregano
3 quarts (12 cups) of Swanson chicken broth
3 cups cooked chicken meat, shredded
1 lb. shelled raw shrimp
2 cups fresh okra
Salt, black pepper and cayenne pepper to taste.
Cooked white rice
Garnishes:  diced green onions and minced parsley (flat-leaf)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  On a lipped cookie sheet, spread the turkey kielbasa.  Bake to render out the fat for about 25 minutes.  Drain fat off and set aside.  Bring the Swanson's chicken stock to a boil and keep hot.  In a large Dutch oven (needs to be big 'cause this recipe makes a lot), combine already cooked roux (still hot), onions, bell pepper, celery, garlic, thyme & oregano.  Cook and stir constantly until veggies are wilted, about 25 minutes.  When the veggies are cooked, add the boiling stock to the roux/vegetable mixture, stirring constantly to blend.  Add the sausage, chicken and raw shrimp and stir.  If you are serving this immediately, add the okra.  If you are planning to serve it the next day, save the okra to add during the warm-up process (reheated okra is not a pretty sight).  Season to taste with salt, black pepper and cayenne (we prefer to use Nigerian cayenne because it has more heat to it).  Cook on low heat for about an hour.  Serve over rice.  Garnish with green onions and parsley.  8-10 servings.

Gluten Free Cajun Roux Recipe
Again, modified from The New Cajun-Creole Cooking by Terry Thompson, pg. 12):

1 cup vegetable oil
1 cup Bob's Red Mill Gluten Free All Purpose Baking Flour

Caveat:  Get any bathroom trips, iPod playlist changes, or beverage pouring over with before you start your roux.  You cannot leave it for ANY reason during the process unless you have a designated stand-in with you.  Turn your back on it and it will burn.

In a Dutch oven or deep cast-iron skillet, heat the vegetable oil on the upper side of medium temperature (5 or 6 if you have a numbered dial) until it is hot (NOT smoking or you'll burn your flour).  The oil will begin to quiver gently when it is ready.  Add ALL of your flour to the oil, whisking or stirring (a wooden spoon or wooden spatula works best).  Mash out any lumps with the back of your spoon.  Reduce heat to a medium-low.  Cook, stirring or whisking constantly, scrapping along the entire bottom of cooking vessel, until roux is either a dark peanut butter color or a dark mahogany color.  This will take time, so be prepared to spend 45 minutes with the cooking process.  Do not rush the process or leave the pot unattended.  If you see black specks in the roux, it has burned and will need to be discarded.  As with my stovetop, you may have to adjust your heat as you are cooking to either move the process forward, or slow the process down.  To stop the cooking process when you have achieved the desired color, either add the vegetables called for in the recipe you are making, or transfer the roux to an unheated metal bowl (will not hold heat).  Continue to whisk roux for the next 15 minutes to prevent separation.  Yields one cup.

So, that is it.  The roux is the trickiest part as you have to constantly work it while cooking it.  And although you may want to break out your Munsell chart to check, you will know when you have reached the desired brown color.  I went for dark peanut on this batch, but mahogany lends a nice rich flavor, if that is what you want.

Your house will smell intensely of gumbo for a couple of days after making this, but it is a small price to pay for home-cooked, gluten free comfort food that easily makes enough to serve about eight to ten people.


lauri said...

You got our mouths watering!

La_Petit_Rouge said...

Lauri, I was very surprised at how great it turned out. I can totally live with this gluten free version of gumbo!