I’ve wanted to do another culinary geography post for a while now and finally decided to go Cajun. Growing up in Florida with family in Louisiana, I wanted to make something that I hadn’t had in years, gumbo. At first, I worried that southern Californian stores wouldn’t even have the ingredients I needed (luckily most are common enough and you don’t need everything). But of course, being the naive, under-experienced cook that I am, I messed up, a lot.
So instead of telling you how to make a gumbo, I’m going to tell you how you shouldn’t go about it. Technically my gumbo came out edible (after making some adjustments), but it was a long and messy process.
Step 1: Don’t go ingredient shopping when you’re in a rush. Because as I later discovered while cooking, the ingredients did not match my list. When you’re in a rush, you tend to not really write down your list correctly and then misread or ignore things on the list.
Don’t get chicken with bones. I grabbed what I thought was boneless chicken and then had to cut out the bones, which took up a huge chuck of time and almost made me want to become a vegetarian.
Don’t get cubes of chicken bullion. I was having trouble finding chicken stock and decided to just grab some bullion. Practically the same thing, right? Nope. Because I got bullion instead of stock, I had to add 3 cups of water to the gumbo mix, so it would actually cook and not be a dry, burned lump. I should’ve probably added 4 or maybe even 5 cups of water, looking back at the end result. And I didn’t get nearly enough bullion either.
Don’t forget to double check your list. In some instances, I didn’t notice when it said a fresh or powered version of a spice. I used powered oregano instead of dried, dried parsley instead of fresh, I forgot garlic powder and couldn’t find celery seed. This mix-up though wasn’t that bad. For some spices, it doesn’t really make a difference if you get dried, fresh or powdered. And the lack of celery seed and garlic powder wasn’t a huge deal either. I simply added more fresh garlic to make up for the loss in powder.
Step 2: Don’t start cooking in the evening, thinking you’re going to be all done in 2 or 3 hours. Especially if you don’t read the instructions all the way through. “Soft boil for about an hour.” WHAT?? I’VE BEEN AT THIS FOR 3 HOURS ALREADY!!! There are a lot of steps in cooking gumbo. First I made the creole seasoning, which was just dumping spices and salt together. This is where I made my first and ultimately biggest mistake.
Don’t add 2 tablespoons of salt. Just add 1 tablespoon. (You can always add more later if you need it). The thing that ruined what otherwise would have been a perfectly delicious gumbo was the over abundance of salt. Because of that blunder, I had to add extra water and rice to my bowl to thin out the salty taste.
Next I washed and chopped vegetables, which took about an hour because there were so many to chop. They can be chopped or diced, whatever one prefers. The recipe calls for 2 onions, but I only used one because my eyes were tearing up so bad I couldn’t manage a second. I also used 4 ribs of celery, a bulb of garlic (because of no powder), otherwise use 4-6 cloves and one bunch of green onions. You can also add 2 bell peppers (I don’t like them) and 2/3 cup fresh parsley (but I used dried). Put the chopped onion, garlic and celery in one bowl and the parsley/green onion in another because you add them at different times.
Once that was done I had to wrangle with the chicken removing bones, which took about 30 minutes. Otherwise you would just add some oil to a pan, get it hot and then put the chicken pieces in the creole seasoning and pan fry them till they’re brown. You don’t have to completely cook them since they’re going to be boiled later. After the chicken is done, set it aside and pan fry a package of sausages. These were much easier to cook than the chicken. Cut up the sausage after it’s been browned and set it aside too.
Then get a big, deep pot and add 1 cup flour and 1 cup oil (vegetable or peanut oil). Heat and CONSTANTLY stir until it’s brown like chocolate or coffee. This is called a roux (ruu). I didn’t wait for the color change though because it was already super late and I was tired and grumpy, so I cooked it until I just gave up and decided to throw the garlic/celery/onions in. I heated those for a few minutes and then dumped in the bullion, 2 bay leaves, 1 teaspoon of thyme and 1/2 teaspoon of file powder. I was surprised to find the file powder. That was the one ingredient I had thought I wouldn’t find. Then I added the chicken, sausage and 3 cups of water. This is where you’re supposed to soft boil for an hour but since the meat was mostly cooked (and it was super late) I went for 30 minutes instead.
While it’s boiling, make the rice. Either use a rice cooker like I did (quick and easy) or cook on the stove top. Once rice is done, the gumbo should be about done too. This is when you add the parsley and green onion, cook for a few minutes and you’re done!
During the process, it smelled so freaking fantastic, I could hardly wait. So I was super excited (and exhausted) after it was done and then horribly disappointed when it came out too salty. But in the end, with lots of rice and water, it was still amazingly delicious and I recommend a good gumbo for anyone. Just don’t make the many mistakes I did.
I have placed both the original recipe and the version I ended up with on here.