I’ve been a fan of Paul Prudhomme since he opened K-Pauls on Chartres Street in New Orleans, published his first cookbook, and started the almost total depopulation of the lowly (until-then) redfish in the Gulf of Mexico – his most famous early recipe was blackened redfish.
Paul cooked what he knew, what he had learned watching his mother and relatives cook, and turned it into great food. I particularly love his gumbo. There are scores, maybe hundreds, of recipes for this versatile and robust dish, but few more exciting than Paul’s. My favorite doesn’t use okra or file powder for thickening, just a really dark roux.
Prudhomme wants a deep black roux for many of his gumbos. Now a roux, for those of you who don’t know, is simply vegetable oil and flour cooked over a high flame and stirred constantly until it turns from whitish to pale brown to reddish brown to dark red to black. You can stop it at any stage and use it for a particular soup or stew. But at the point when it’s dark red to black, and there is so much smoke coming off the pot that you have to blow into it to see the bottom of the pot and judge the color of the roux, then it’s ready for the gumbos I like to cook. And it’s important to see the roux because the color tells you when it’s ready.
When the color has just turned a shade darker than the darkest red, it’s at the proper temperature and it’s time to cool it off – instantly – by tossing in a few cups of chopped onions, bell peppers and celery. This causes something like an explosion of boiling oil and vegetables, but it cools the roux. The vegetables cook quickly as you stir the pot. You add more, along with spices and garlic, and later, a chicken or seafood stock. The result is a dark, smooth base into which you add the meats and fish: andouille sausage, chicken, beef, pork shrimp, oysters, crab, crawfish or other fish. You serve the result hot over rice or grits.
Wonderful, wonderful, filling and satisfying. I’ve made it for years and enjoy it every time.