Yesterday an old friend came over to our new house for dinner. I decided to make a Cajun duck gumbo. Or at least, I thought I did, as the resulting effort, although relatively appetising, tasted nothing like the genuine dish. So I did some research:
Gumbo is a stew or soup popular in Louisiana and the Southern States of America. It's probably got okra in it, and most importantly, the "holy trinity" of diced onions, green peppers and celery. It's also thickened at the beginning by a roux. Now, this is not just any old roux. There's a whole sub-culture of check-shirted, bearded roux experts out there, ready to tell you at a drop of a hat that your roux isn't dark enough, and that you should have stirred it one hundred and one times anti-clockwise, and in slow-motion.
Forget your namby-pamby Cordon Bleu type rouxs made with a bit of butter and a genteel sprinkling of flour, these Cajun rouxs are macho affairs, made by heating cups of oil to a high temperature in old tin pans, and then stirring in cups of flour, until the liquid roux turns a mahogany colour, or even in some cases almost black. If you've got time, have a look at this excellent website, the Southern Gumbo Trail- which will tell you how to make authentic "Cajun Napalm".
Here's my recipe for Cajun Duck Gumbo:
Heat a heavy pan until it's smokin' hot. Pour in a cup of oil. Let it get hot, then turn down the heat to a low flame. Gradually whisk in a cup and a half of white flour, whisking it the whole time to make sure it doesn't burn. If you cook the roux on too high a heat, not only might it burn, but the oil might separate from the flour. Keep on whisking. I think it's important to have more flour than oil: you want the roux to be slightly sloppy, but you don't want an oil-slick.
You will see that as the flour cooks, the colour will start to turn brown. Keep on stirring. Your goal is to end up with a dark brown, nutty flavoured roux with the consistency of a thick chocolate sauce. Which hasn't burnt. This might take up to half and hour to achieve, but you will end up with an extremely worthy base for your gumbo. Oh and by the way, it's not called "Cajun Napalm" for nothing. Be extremely careful: if you splash a bit of the roux on your skin, it's going to hurt. As I write this, I'm suffering from some darn nasty burns on my fingers, which I wouldn't wish on anyone.
Now it's time to add the "holy trinity" of diced green peppers, onions and celery. Stir it in, and sauté for around five minutes. Add some chopped garlic. Stir. Throw in some chopped up okra. Turn the heat up, and stir the okra in until it's cooked properly, and become less "stringy" and gelatinous. The okra will thicken up the mixture almost immediately. You will see tiny "strings", looking a bit like miniscule white optic fibres. You need to cook the okra until these strings disappear.
Next, add shrimps (prawns), sliced smoked sausage and small chunks of duck. Keep on stirring as it cooks. After about another ten minutes or so, pour in some stock. I used a lovely clear duck stock which I had made by using a very low heat, and then skimming off the scum as it rose to the surface.
Simmer gently for about twenty minutes until the gumbo thickens up. Season to taste and add a generous slug of Tabasco and a teaspoon or so of Cayenne Pepper. Finish off the dish with some chopped parsley, and serve it on a bowl of steamed rice. The gumbo should be a dark brown colour, and that agonising half hour or so of roux stirring will give a complex, deep hickory flavour to the dish.