Mardi Gras jambalaya or Cajun gumbo?
Their differences are slight, both are perfect for celebrating Mardi Gras Lousiana-style. This duck and andouille sausage gumbo is comfort food with a Creole/Cajun kick.
I frequently email myself food ideas when I come across them, as inspiration for future posts here. Often, these emails will include a link to the article or restaurant review or whatever got me thinking about cooking something. Not so with the email whose subject line read “duck gumbo?” The entire contents of the email read “try some.”Skip to next paragraph
Terry Boyd is the author of Blue Kitchen, a Chicago-based food blog for home cooks. His simple, eclectic cooking focuses on fresh ingredients, big flavors and a cheerful willingness to borrow ideas and techniques from all over the world. A frequent contributor to the Chicago Sun-Times, his recipes have also appeared on the Bon Appétit and Saveur websites.
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Undaunted, I turned to Google. Then I was daunted. Almost all recipes called for multiple whole ducks. One called for five or six, which were to be covered with water in a pot. Who owns a pot that big? I couldn’t help but picture a big galvanized wash tub sitting atop all four burners on the stove.
Still, with the arrival of Mardi Gras and the flavors of duck and andouille sausage stuck in my head, I knew I had to make something work. If you’re an even semi-regular reader here, you know we love duck. And how can you go wrong with andouille, the spicy, smoky pork sausage created by the French and co-opted by Louisiana Cajuns?
Gumbo is a hearty soup or stew long tied to Louisiana and traditional Mardi Gras celebrations. It usually contains some combination of poultry, seafood, meat and sausage in a spice-rich broth that may be thickened with a roux or okra or both. Aromatic vegetables like onion, celery, bell peppers and garlic add to its big flavor. Gumbo is simmered for hours (I found cooking times from a leisurely nine hours to a strangely precise two hours, five minutes) and served with cooked rice.
There are both Cajun and Creole versions of gumbo as well as others, with considerable overlap in the recipes. My own version is something of a mutt – hence the hedged bets in the subhead above. Marion points out that nearly all cultures have some sort of long-cooked soup or stew as part of their heritage, but none is like gumbo.
Roux, gumbo’s French heart. Gumbo has many influences, including African, but roux – flour cooked in an equal amount of fat – is pure French. But it has become a Louisiana kitchen staple. In fact, it’s been said that almost every recipe from southern Louisiana begins with, “First, you make a roux.”
A few years ago, James DeWan wrote a helpful piece on making a roux for the Chicago Tribune, “Roux the day.” In it, he explains how a roux works to thicken sauces and what makes it different from using a slurry of flour and water or the also French beurre manié. The main difference is that the flour is cooked in a roux, doing away with that raw flour taste – indeed, you can smell it dissipating as the roux darkens. That darkening is the other thing. Depending on how long you cook your roux, you end up with a white, blond or brown roux. Some Cajun recipes call for cooking roux until it’s just short of black.
In researching gumbo, I noticed that many writers included photos of their roux. I assumed it was to illustrate the proper color. As my roux darkened to a deep mahogany under my watchful eye, I suspected there was some pride involved, too. Even though I rarely include food-in-progress shots with my recipes, I was tempted to photograph my roux. There is nothing difficult about making a roux; you just have to watch your heat and patiently stir it for 15 minutes or more. But there is just something elemental and satisfying about performing a simple, timeless cooking technique and getting it right.