a tale of two gumbos – secrets to making the perfect roux
Any Cajun will tell you that the secret to an authentic gumbo is to start with a perfectly darkened roux. Mastering the art of making a roux is simple when you combine equal parts patience and wisdom of generations past.
Happy Fat Tuesday! As Mardi Gras rolls around each year, I find myself smiling from ear to ear as I remember the year that I spent Mardi Gras in Mamou, Louisiana. I drove from Dallas, Texas to Kinder, Louisiana to visit family before the big move out west. I witnessed my first Krewe parading on horseback through the town of Kinder, throwing beads and rallying the townspeople. I spent the afternoon in Mamou, The Cajun Music Capital of the World, dancing to Zydeco music at the infamous Fred’s Lounge and eating the best Red Beans and Rice of my life from a local street vendor. And thanks to my gracious hosts, I had more than my fair share of home cooked Crawfish Étouffée and Chicken Gumbo.
Although the authentic small-town Mardi Gras celebrations were unlike anything I had ever experienced, the memory that sticks out the most was my last meal of Chicken and Sausage Gumbo. Separated by over three-hundred miles and a few generations, my extended family’s gumbo tasted exactly like the gumbo that my Mommom and Poppop had made over the years in Austin.
The next time I was home in Austin, I made sure to have my Mommom and Poppop teach me how to make gumbo their way. It may have been over 100 degrees outside in the middle of June, but it was worth every minute spent over the hot stove to ensure that this tradition carries on. It is comforting to know that no matter how far we move or how extended our family may grow, the recipes of tradition will stay the same. My heart is always at home when I sit down to a piping hot bowl of my Mommom and Poppop’s gumbo.
I’m not ready to give away all of our family secrets, but I will tell you that the best Cajun dishes start with a good roux. I’ll leave you with a simple trick involving an old penny and well wishes for a safe and delicious Fat Tuesday.
Happy Mardi Gras, y’all. Have a bowl of gumbo, a slice of king cake and let the good times roll!
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 cup vegetable oil
- (may substitute 1 cup bacon drippings for an even richer flavor)
- Combine flour and oil in a cast iron skillet over medium-low heat, stirring with a wooden spoon until smooth.
- Stir continuously, making sure to scrape the bottom of the skillet so that the flour does not burn.
- Continue to stir over medium-low heat as the roux foams, thickens and eventually darkens.
- Patience is key as it will take at least 15-20 minutes for the roux to significantly darken. Do not increase heat to try and speed up the cooking time.
- Place an old, dark, rusty, dirty penny on a white plate or tile next to your cooking surface. As the roux begins to darken, splatter a drop or two next to the penny. When the roux is the same color as the penny it is done.
- Remove from heat and immediately transfer your roux to a stockpot to start your gumbo. Roux left in the skillet will continue to cook and burn if not removed quickly.
A heavy cast iron skillet is key. I especially love my extra deep skillet when it comes to making a roux.