Gumbo is about as American as America gets. Gumbo does not have one recipe. Gumbo in its backbone has a few of the same ingredients, but very few. A protein: chicken, crab, sausage, shrimp, duck, crawfish, oysters, etc. Vegetables: celery, onion, and bell peppers. The spices aren’t consistent, the proteins aren’t consistent, heck, even the use of okra isn’t.
I love okra. When I was very young, four or five, we lived in Winters, Texas. It is so flat it feels like you can see for miles and there my mother had a garden. It was filled with okra, squash, jalapeños and Lincoln roses. I recall taking the tiny spuds of fluffy okra and gently rubbing them between my fingers with warnings whispered in the background not to pick them. I believe it is absolutely necessary to good gumbo.
I found in my research that okra is a hot button topic. Most of my fellow Texans I polled agreed it was best deep fried. Texas is on a line of being south and southwest, hence the name of the enormous music/tech/art fiasco that happens during spring break every year, so the use of okra in gumbo is up for debate around here. I was raised understanding that you used it in conjunction with your roux as a thickener.
Cameron however, does NOT share my affinity for okra. One morning during one of our early dates as a couple, we ordered brunch bloody marys. As garnish, the bartender used celery of course, but also had an impressive skewer of olives, pickles, pepperoncini, and spicy pickled okra. Cameron, being from the West Coast, had never seen pickled okra, and didn’t know how to eat it. I explained that you just bite it, but don’t eat the stem. He somehow couldn’t bite through the okra, but instead skinned all of the fuzzy hairs off. I still wish I had recorded this hilarious event. However, I haven’t been able to get him to try another since.
Until (drum roll please)
Duck and Oyster Gumbo
- 1 whole duck (You can buy them frozen, they come with an orange glaze packet typically, just throw it away)
- 2 smoked turkey wings (You can find these in the supermarket with the odds and ends of the meat department.
- 1 cup rendered duck fat (If your duck doesn’t render enough fat, sub vegetable oil to make your roux)
- Smoked pork feet
- 2 cups chopped celery
- about 6 cloves chopped garlic (or use pre-chopped and add 1 teaspoon at a time)
- 1 diced onion
- 1 cup chopped red bell pepper
- 1 cup chopped green bell pepper
- 2 cups chopped okra
- 1 bag (3 cups/24 ounces ish) frozen crawfish (If it is crawfish season you could use fresh. These are next to the seafood counter
- 2 lbs of shrimp (Cameron suggests U-12)
- 1 cup ISH all-purpose flour
- 3-4 links andouille sausage
- 2-4 cups white wine -Use a chardonnay you don’t mind drinking with while you’re waiting for things to cook. I was also taught to never cook with a wine you wouldn’t drink
- 1 pint shucked oysters
If you have the time, cook your duck, remove the meat, then use the carcass for your stock.
Preheat your oven to 400 F
Remove the giblets poke holes and score the top layer of the skin not the meat so the fat can release into the pan. Place duck in a roasting pan elevated from sitting it its fat and cover with salt, pepper, and Herbs de Provence. Roast the duck approximately 2 hours until the internal temperature reaches 165 F.
While the duck is roasting, prepare a stock pot of smoked turkey wings, smoked pork, the ends of celery, onion, garlic, and carrots.
Chop vegetables and thaw any frozen shrimp and crawfish.
When duck is finished, pour fat rendered into a heat resistant container and set aside. You wont be able to separate the fat from the juices, chill all of the liquid together
Start your roux. This is an ART FORM. Cookbooks will very simply say “Brown flour in animal fat or lard”. It is not that simple. Go watch someone’s great-grandma do it. Place 1 cup of reserved duck fat (or vegetable oil) into a dutch oven and let it get shimmering hot. Adding 1 tablespoon at a time, brown the flour into your OIL This takes focus and a second sense of timing. Turn the heat down if you get nervous. You will need to use your sense of sight, smell, and feel to know when your roux is ready. It should smell almost like roasting peanuts, with an earthy smell. It should have a dark reddish brown, but not burned, color. When I asked Cameron how it would describe it, he replied, “Warm Nuts.”
Let the duck cool and shred the meat for gumbo. Some like to carve and cube the meat, we prefer our gumbo more primal in texture.
Separate the solids from the stock with a strainer. Fill your stockpot half full with stock. If you have leftover, save it.
On the highest heat you can muster, toss the shredded duck, a fathand’s pinch of Cajun seasoning, and a gulp of wine. If you’re a risk taker, add some crystal hot sauce. When the liquid is gone, add to the pot.
Place back half the pot full of stock, adding duck meat, cajun seasoning, and white wine.
In a sauté pan toss together sausage, 1 tsp cajun seasoning, and 1/4 cup white wine. Simmer together until wine is reduced and sausage is cooked through. Add to stockpot.
Throw in shrimp, cajun seasoning, garlic, and 1/2 stick of butter to the sauté pan. Simmer together until shrimp are pink. Add to stock pot. Next in the sauté pan, throw in okra with cajun seasoning and the other 1/4 cup white wine. Sauté okra until it just starts to get slimy. Add to stock pot.
Cook the crawfish the same as above. Add cooked crawfish and stir until well blended. Add contents of pan to stock pot.
Take your roux and add one heaping spoonful at a time and blend into the contents of your stock pot. Add a bit, drink some wine, re-visit. You want always add more roux later, but you can’t un roux the pot. Allow to simmer long and slow until your house smells amazing. Add the oysters 20 minutes before serving.
This dish has lots of components, phases, ingredients. Mise en place is critical to this working successfully. You need to have a plan. You need to be thinking 2-3 steps ahead or you will 1) screw it up 2) make a mess in your kitchen 3) not have fun.
There is no one way to make gumbo. Our gumbo is a representation of our, The Newett Home’s, tastes and culture. I know a LOT of duck hunters who could easily use this recipe to make use of the duck they’ve shot. The oysters are reflective of our proximity to the gulf. You don’t want to eat Texas gulf oysters raw, you fry them or you put them in gumbo. If you’re creole, you’re more likely to use butter in your roux. If you’re cajun, you use lard or animal fat. Move father east, you may be serving your gumbo on grits or even potato salad rather than rice. The use of okra as a thickener comes from western African cooking, so if your heritage reflects that a little brighter, you might find your grandmother putting eggplant in your gumbo. As you move west, your gumbo gets spicier depending on the influences from Cajun or Mexican culture.
My frustration with calling any country where Americans have immigrated from a “sh*thole” is that we wouldn’t have some of our most beautiful, flavorful staples of American culture if it hadn’t have been for those immigrants. The gulf is one of the greatest melting pots of culture because it attracts so many people from different parts of the world. We have almost every continent represented in the school where I served outside of Houston, Texas. There is a restaurant around the corner from my school where I can order my gumbo on pho noodles. What matters, however you throw together your gumbo, it that should reflect you