Tuesday, 15 November 2011

How Do You Do Voodoo?

Gombo Sudamericano Veloce
Turbo-Charged Gumbo

There must be a million and one versions of "authentic" Gumbo- even the descriptions of the typical or essential ingredients varies- it's a list probably as long as the Mississippi itself! I always loved the idea of what a real, Southern Gumbo would be like, but being born in Europe and having lived my whole life here, I never tried it until 3 years ago when I visited New Orleans. The flavor that awaited me was exactly as I had always imagined it to be... to the power of 10! A rich, saucy, succulent, hot and spicy stew of any number of ingredients, but typically including okra, onion, celery, tomato, garlic, oregano, cayenne and often a couple of slices of spicy Andouille sausage. Needless to say- I loved it!

But the problem, as with all of these kinds of dishes, is the time it takes to cook them traditionally. I just don't have the time to prepare something and let it simmer and stew for a couple of hours after I come home from work at 8pm. So I had to come up with a quicker solution- and this is what I did...

I decided to improvise and use what I had at home- so what went into my frying pan first, was some finely diced bacon, as I didn't have any sausages at home, chunks of chicken breast, sweet potato and celery. I fried these all together at a high temperature and then added a mix of spices that I ground in my mortar and pestle: cumin, cayenne, oregano, thyme, rosemary, sea salt, sugar, cinnamon, cloves, and paprika. This went into the frying pan too, as well as a squeeze of tomato paste. I continued frying this for a further minute, until the tomato paste had lost its bitterness and then deglazed the pan with a splash of red wine.

After a further 5 minutes of cooking, I added the okra, and another 5 minutes went by before I added the shrimp. I turned the heat down low and added the most important ingredient, which was ground File powder. This is THE archetypical ingredient, made of ground Sassafrass, and with wonderful thickening properties. I suddenly found I could "stretch" that sauce quite a way and that it would stay nice and thick which was great. I had a lot more sauce than you can see in these photos- but decided to show less of it so that you could easily recognize the ingredients. So I hope you like what you see!

In any case, done this way, you will have a much quicker version of the real thing, but it will still be good- and for sure it will be much healthier! I know it is traditional to use a "roux" to thicken the sauce here- but I didn't need flour or butter to get my sauce just right. I served it up with a few celery leaves and more of those smokey paprika flakes... and have to say it was pretty amazing!

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