Lester taught me how to make Gumbo.
During my first try at running a small kitchen, (Blue Bird Café, circa 1990), a scrawny, loud mouthed, burned out character who weighed a buck twenty holding a sack of quarters was washing dishes while I prepped. I paid him little mind. Why should I? The average tenure of a dishwasher back then was two weeks (pay day to pay day).
“You need some halp, chief?” Lester insisted he knew a thing or two about cooking, and was relentless with his nagging, so I gave him a chore.
“Cut me a mirepoix.”
For those of you unfamiliar with the term, it means two part onion, one part celery and carrot cut into quarter inch dice. And yes ladies, size does matter. A perfectly cut mirepoix makes the dish you are cooking, better.
So I was shocked when Lester handed me a bowl of the most gorgeous mirepoix I had ever seen.
“What is your deal?” I asked. It turned out; Lester had done some serious time in some serious restaurants in New Orleans, including K-Paul’s. We got to chatting about all foods Cajun and he promised to teach me how to make Gumbo the next day. That he did. Lester was a no show the day after payday, though he did phone me that night, apologizing through his slurred words he was sorry he couldn’t make it in. It would be my only lesson this chef got from his dishwasher.
According to Lester’s scripture, it was all about the roux. A dark roux that is. One needing the time and attention you would give a two month old. Let’s make some Lester Gumbo.
For the roux:
2 cups flour
1 ½ cup canola or peanut oil
½ cup Cajun Spice
1/3 of the Trinity ( see below )
For the Gumbo
2 medium onions (cut like Lester would)
1 ½ red pepper ( same )
4 stalks of celery ( you guessed it )
If this looks like a mirepoix, its New Orleans version called the Trinity. They substitute peppers for carrots since they won’t grow there.
For the rest of the Gumbo
6 slices bacon, cut into strips
1 T garlic pasted
2 cans diced tomato
1 cup okra ( optional )
1 jalapeno, sliced
1 quart chicken stock or water with 4 bullion cubes
This is more roux than you need for this amount of gumbo. Use what you need and freeze the rest. It will make the next batch of gumbo a breeze. Pour the oil into a pan and get it as hot as you are comfortable with. If you like skydiving and other adrenaline sports, take it to the smoking point. Be careful, no updating facebook cover shots here, a hot roux can burn a hole in your hand.
Carefully add your flour and whisk to incorporate. Get comfy because you are going to be stirring for a spell. You’ll soon understand why I had you make a double batch.
Here is the roux blonde.
By the way, how do you sink a submarine full of blonde rouxs? You knock on the door.
Here is the roux getting darker.
And we have arrived at our destination. Thanks for flying Delta. Now turn off the heat and add one third of the Trinity and the spices. Four things are going on right now. One, the roux just got flavored, the Trinity is getting cooked, we’re trying to cool the roux, and you are thinking, “holy hell this lava is hot”.
Relax, keep it stirring and ask your assistant to hand you a baking sheet. I like to transfer the roux to a sheet because it will cool faster. Place it aside.
Inevitably, someone in the household will come by and mistake this for something sweet and chocolatey. Let them do it, the expression is priceless.
The hard part is done. In a pot, sweat the bacon until it gives up a little fat. Add the rest of the Trinity, garlic, okra, and let it cook a little. Then add the tomatoes, the stock and bring to a simmer and cook for 30 minutes.
Feel free to use whatever combination of meats you see fit. Just make sure it includes some Andouille Sausage. After that, I like chicken and shrimp. If you have cooked chicken, add everything at the end just to warm a cook the shrimp through. If you are using raw chicken, add it now and simmer until it’s cooked.
It’s time to add the roux. This will thicken the Gumbo once it hits the boiling point.
Once you have the desired consistency, add the sausage and shrimp and cook until they are ready.
Here it is just after I added the shrimp and sausage. Look at that deep mahogany color. Beauty.
Serve this gumbo over rice, with some cornbread, and just enjoy.
Thanks Lester, wherever you are.