What is Kitchen Kreature?

Our small kitchen buzzes to life with activity when I come home. Food is sculpted from its raw shape into dices, slices, wedges, and purees. Flames dance off the range, heating sauces and vegetables and soups. Colors decorate the granite counter tops - slices of green avocado, chunks of yellow mango mixed with diced red and green bell pepper, and bottles of spices - dark red, brown, green, yellow, white - are lined up and ready for use. Aromas drift delicately through the house, teasing the senses and rousing the appetite. The sound of vegetables being chopped are like the heartbeat of the kitchen itself, sauces bubbling create an acoustic energy - the life blood of most recipes.

The kitchen allows one to fully be immersed in being "local" - buying from the farmer's markets and enjoying the bounty that grows around the neighborhood. Paradoxically, it also is a terrific way to travel. From the rawest ingredients, I can make a dish from east central Africa to accompany a National Geographic safari on TV, or put on some blues, light a candle, and cook up a classic and hearty creole platter.

This room embraces so much - art and creativity, travel and discovery, and the pure essence of being local. In this blog, I share my experiences and discoveries - the delights of the kitchen.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Creole Gumbo

Gumbo is one of my favorite meals.  This recipe is a traditional okra gumbo.  It is easy to make but some sous chef prep is required to make the stock, compose the seasoning mixture, and chop/slice the ingredients.

I suppose this is more of a Creole than a Cajun dish - I took the liberty to designate it as such in the titling.  The spices ultimately assign that classification, but one could further paint a Creole character by adding some ripened local tomatoes.

Leef’s Creole Gumbo

There are no absolute rules to make a gumbo, but this recipe has proven quite flavorful.  Warning: religious conformity to precise measurements and reluctance to substitute ingredients may choke out the very whimsy that is the true spirit of the dish – so be bold and use a tasting spoon often.   Keep in mind that most of the work involved is preparatory.  Put your sous chef hat on first and compose the stock, since that takes the longest to prepare.  While the stock is simmering, prepare the creole spice mixture and slice the meat and vegetable ingredients.

Seafood Stock

Shell the shrimp and set aside the meat (re-wrap and refrigerate), saving the shells.  Fill a three quart saucepan with fresh spring water plus the following ingredients:

  • 2 leaved celery stalk heads
  • ½ to 1 onion, quartered with entire skin
  • 1 clove garlic, quartered with entire skin
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 sprig fresh thyme
  • Shrimp shells
  • 1 to 2 slices lemon

Bring to boil, then simmer, covered with lid askew, for at least 4 hours, and up to 8 hours.  Strain and discard all but the liquid, then use immediately or freeze (remember your 6th grade physics and allow ample room in the freezing container for a 9% volume expansion).


To make ½ cup of seasoning (from Chef John Besh’s recipe)…

  • 2 tablespoons celery salt
  • 1 tablespoon sweet paprika
  • 1 tablespoon coarse sea salt
  • 1 tablespoon freshly ground pepper
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder
  • 1 tablespoon onion powder
  • 2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
  • ½ teaspoon ground allspice
The Gumbo

The ingredients for the gumbo are listed below in the order in which they are used…

  • ¾ cup peanut oil or bacon fat (the latter is REAL traditional - and adds even more flavor)
  • ¾ cup bread flour
  • ½ cup yellow onion, chopped
  • ½ cup celery, chopped
  • ½ cup green bell pepper, seeded and chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • ½ cup fresh okra, sliced
  • ½ cup Andouille sausage, sliced
  • 2 tablespoons Creole seasoning (Besh)
  • 2 Bay leaves
  • 4 cups (1 qt) seafood stock (see recipe above)
  • 1stick unsalted butter, divided into two halves
  • ½ lb shrimp
  • 1 lb white crab meat (3 6-oz cans are sufficient)
  • Salt and whole pepper freshly ground to taste
  • White long-grain rice
  • 2 scallion onions (white and green entire), thinly sliced

In an iron skillet, fry the okra for about 5 minutes on high heat (with a bit of oil), until slightly browned.
In a separate deep iron skillet or enameled iron Dutch oven, heat oil on high heat until it begins to smoke.  With wooden ladle in hand and pot holders within reach, add the flour an immediately begin stirring.  Never stop stirring through the remainder of this paragraph, or the roux will burn (as noted by dark/black flecks), and must be redone.  When color of roux transitions through red and arrives at that of milk chocolate (darker than peanut butter, lighter than dark chocolate - on high heat this will take about 4 minutes), add onions and stir until caramelized.  Then add celery and bell peppers and reduce heat to medium.  Add garlic, okra, Andouille sausage, creole seasoning and bay leaves, and cook another 5 minutes.  Gradually add stock 1 cup at a time while stirring.

Here is where viscosity - or thickness - is evaluated.   You may well wish to stop at about two cups of stock, in which case, use only half the butter (which is why we divided the stick in two).  As long as you use the ratio of a quarter stick butter per cup of stock, the proportions for taste will be right.

Switch from stirring to gentle shaking of the pot for the remainder of the recipe, which will better prevent separation of the oils from the water in the gumbo.  Add butter (as discussed above, in the ratio of a quarter stick per cup of stock used) and shake pot gently until fully absorbed.  Then add shrimp and crab meat (here you may stir gently to mix in).  Turn down to simmer, and add salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.

Serve in bowl, adding a hefty spoonful of long grain white rice on top, and sprinkle with a smattering of sliced scallion onions.

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