Saturday, June 20, 2009

Easy Microwave Gumbo Roux | No Oil. No Fuss. No Mess.

This is a written version of the previous post, Easy Microwave Gumbo Roux (video), with annotations.

The 4,3,2,1, plus formula used in my video demonstration was for a 700-watt oven. You may want to adjust the minutes in this formula to fit your particular circumstances, especially if you are going to use a more powerful microwave oven. In other words, you may want to begin your cooking cycles with 3 minutes, or perhaps 2 minutes, then move on to the 1 minute cycles until the desired color is reached. There were times when a more powerful oven compelled me to reduce the ending cooking cycles to 30 seconds rather than 1 minute ... to prevent burning.

Remember that the color of the roux does not correctly reflect the color of the gumbo until it is dissolved in water and mixed well. Then it will appear several shades darker.

Here are a few advantages of preparing powdered gumbo roux over the traditional method:

  • No need for oil.
  • No stove-top oven.
  • Less likely to burn.
  • Saves time & money.
  • Versatile applications.
Obviously there is no need for oil to make my powdered roux. As long as you press-out all the flour lumps (which begin to accumulate during the first few minutes of cooking), and as long as you scrape the bowl, mix the flour thoroughly and return it to a powdery state within a minute of the next cooking cycle, you'll do just fine.

You can make powdered roux without a conventional stove-top oven. This means you can process your roux in an RV while camping ... or on a road trip ... or anywhere there happens to be a microwave oven for that matter. I always have a couple coffee cans full of powdered gumbo roux handy. It stores well and doesn't need refrigeration. There's no oil so there's no chance of it becoming rancid.

Unlike preparing the oil-based roux, if you make a mistake using my formula and burn it, it will usually be a small lump or two which you may not have pressed-out well enough. If this happens use a spoon to take out the burning lump or lumps and discard them in the sink or in cool water. You do not have to throw out the whole bowl of flour as you would with an oil-based roux.

Caution: Do not press-out any burning lumps in the bowl with the rest of the flour or you will have to throw out the entire mixture.

The microwave method saves you time and money because to make the powdered roux does not require specialized cooking materials and is surprisingly simple to make.

Finally, the powdered roux gives you more versatility when it comes to cooking and preparing other meals besides gumbos. You can use it for gravies, fricassees, piquantes, etouffees, stews and sauces.

We die-hard Cajuns love to make roux the old fashion way when we can ... along with our favorite oils like Mazola Canola, cottonseed, or peanut. And, the crowning moment with making gumbo roux the old fashion way is when it comes time to add the onions, celery and bell peppers to the mix while it is still sizzling hot. The magnificent aroma which it produces is truly out of this world.

But, there are occasions when time or circumstances will not allow us to prepare our favorite gumbo roux the traditional way, or we may not have the right equipment on hand, like a heavy cast-iron skillet or pot, to complete the job.

So, I am going to reveal to you my secret -- a way to prepare world-class powdered gumbo roux right from your microwave oven in less than 30 minutes using only a few simple utensils and 2-cups of all-purpose flour (enough to produce a gumbo which will feed a half-dozen, or more, hungry eaters). You will need to set aside about one-half hour of time to prepare your roux without interruptions, because once you get started you do not want to lose the heat you will have built-up.

Please keep children and infants away from you while preparing your powdered roux because the bowl and the flour will get VERY HOT before you are finished. Now, let's get started.

You Will Need:
  1. A non-plastic microwavable vessel (3-cup capacity).
  2. 2-cups of all-purpose flour.
  3. Oven mitts and heat absorption pad.
  4. A sturdy metal fork for scrapping and mixing.
  5. A small container of water to test the color of your roux.

On the high setting begin by first cooking the 2-cups of flour for 4 minutes, according to the formula, then remove the bowl from your oven and scrape all sides with the metal fork. Press-out all the lumps and mix well. Level-off the bowl of flour and return it to your oven within a minute of the next cooking cycle -- which will be the second step of our cooking-time formula (3 minutes).

Repeat this process through each stage of the formula (4, 3, 2, 1, plus) until you have reached the desired results.

Note: You can control the heat better by using transparent vessels or bowls rather than white or lightly-colored ones which retain more heat and cook faster. In my personal experiences I've noticed that they have more of a tendency to burn the flour. So, when I do use a white bowl I have to keep a closer eye on what I am doing and sometimes adjust my ending formula to 30 second cycles.

When you believe you have reached the desired color (chocolaty), test it by dissolving a small amount in a bowl or glass of water to make sure. If you like the color it produces then set the hot roux aside in a safe place to cool down. If the color is not dark enough for your taste simply cook it for another minute or two until you have reached perfection. It's as simple as that.

Once you have learned the process of cooking roux in the microwave oven, you may never want to go back to the old-fashioned way of preparing it again. Over the last decade I've made hundreds of gallons of gumbo this way. I don't remember receiving even one complaint about the taste.

Remember, when making gumbo you should know that the roux (whether powdered or oil-based) needs to cook a long time on low to medium-heat so as not to impart a slightly-bitter taste to your meal. The roux has to have enough time to absorb all the flavors of your vegetables and meat stock. Hope this helps.

Enjoy! ... and take care not to burn yourself, okay? From the Gumbo Gu-roux ... Ahheee!!

P.S. For the traditional stove-top method of making roux follow this link: Stove-top Gumbo Roux Signature Icon

Saturday, June 06, 2009

What Makes A Gumbo A Gumbo?

What is gumbo? There are two types.

A Cajun gumbo can be a combination of meats and vegetables slow-cooked in an all-purpose flour-based roux which, along with the flavors of the 3 main vegetables (onions, celery and bell peppers), adds a nuttier taste to the soup.

Or, it can be a Creole gumbo--a lighter and more translucent soup which is slow-cooked in a well-prepared tomato base and includes onions, celery and okra along with the choices of meats.

Both types include mostly the same basic ingredients -- meats and/or seafood and vegetables.

The vegetables in the Creole types of gumbos are added in stages and at the right moments to retain their individual flavors and crispness, while the Cajun type gumbos usually incorporate the main vegetables at the beginning of the cooking process. Garlic, green onions and parsley are usually added toward the end of the cycle.

The Cajun gumbos rely on the all-purpose flour-based roux to create taste and flavor. By manipulating the color of the roux during its preparation, one can also change the taste of the gumbo. Cajun gumbos usually do not include tomatoes or file'. And, not all gumbos include okra.

The roux in a Cajun gumbo continues to absorb the spices and flavors long after the cooking process is done. That's why good gumbos always seem to taste better the following day.

This is not the case with Creole gumbos which rely on citric and malic acid-based vegetables, such as tomatoes, for flavoring. Fish Courtbouillon is a Creole dish which is akin to this method of cooking with tomatoes. The fish used to make the meal is usually added toward the end of the cooking time, less it disintegrates and mixes in with the vegetables.

Roux ... the color of the roux will have a direct bearing on the taste of your gumbos. You can use a light peanut-butter colored roux for fricassees and stews, or you can choose to use a darker chocolate-colored roux for gumbos and piquants. It eventually becomes a matter of personal preference.

Stock ... the stock that you create should have no more than a teaspoon of salt added to the water--just enough to draw-out all the flavors of the meats and vegetables, but it can include any other unsalted spices (black pepper, red pepper, bay leaves, etc) so that you can get an idea of what your gumbo will begin to taste like before adding the roux. Chicken stock made from the skin and bones of the bird adds a heightened flavor to certain gumbos and, likewise, the shrimp and fish-head stocks greatly enhances the flavors of seafood gumbos and stews.

Meats ... certain kinds of meats, seafood and vegetables go together better than others. For example, you can mix chicken and smoked sausage, chicken and shrimp, shrimp and sausage … the list goes on … and these can include okra. However, a wild duck and oyster gumbo is an example where okra just doesn't fit in. Okra would merely thicken a gumbo which is meant to be on the thinner side. The same goes with crab gumbos and stews. You will, after a few hits and misses, learn which meats, vegetables and seafood go together and those that don't.

Vegetables ... knowing when to add the vegetables to the cooking pot will certainly enhance the taste of your meals. As previously mentioned, Creole dishes must be prepared with care and diligence. Adding the vegetables to your brew at the proper times will make your gumbos better tasting. The popular trinity of vegetables (onions, celery and bell peppers) can be and should be added to your Cajun gumbos at the beginning so they can quickly cook and meld into the stock. You should add the garlic, green onions and parsley toward the end of the cooking cycle so as not to cook-out their unique flavors. This makes all the difference in the world with respect to taste.

Spices ... use spices sparingly if you have certain guest which are spice-intolerant. In a pinch, you can always add your spices after the gumbo is served without sacrificing too much flavor.

Techniques ... slow and low-heat cooking is always best. Remember that roux takes a long time to cook, less you get a slightly bitter tasting gumbo. Take your time, do it right, and folks will be begging for your recipe, or at the very least, they will be asking you for seconds.

Keep in mind that once you learn the basics of making gumbos, the whole world becomes your oyster. Who knows? You may someday create a gumbo which is world-class.

Bon appetite! Ahheee!!

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Monday, February 23, 2009

A Cajun Boucherie (audio)

Listen to Jacques as he describes a Cajun boy's rite of passage into manhood.


Background Music: "Amede Two Step" by T-Mamou on Cajun Creole Jam Signature Icon

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