So, you have figured out how to make a roux for that Sunday gumbo, and you know that the holy trinity needs to be cooked for a long time. Seasoning? Yup, Tony Chachere’s Creole Seasoning and red pepper flakes, that’s all it takes, but what about the stock? Should you just use chicken stock out of the box? Well, that really isn’t a good idea.
There is nothing wrong with store-bought stock, but there are few things you can do to make it better. If you use a rotisserie chicken in your gumbo, and I do recommend that you do, de-bone it and add the bones to the stock. Also add any leftover veggies, onion and celery tops, ends of bell peppers and maybe even a carrot or two. Season with Tony’s and simmer for an hour. Strain and use not only as the base for the gumbo but use to make the rice as well.
I also suggest that you use local ingredients if at all possible. Check out the Saturday morning Fresh Market in downtown Ocean Springs for fresh veggies. Check out the Delta Blues Rice at Rouses, a farm in the Delta that I am very fond of. David Arant, the owner, is good to his land and good to the people that work for him. He uses a variety of rice that he thinks does best on his land, but doesn’t sell to the big silos, only to grocery stores and discerning restaurants.
For seafood, buy directly off the boats in the harbor, or use a local fishmonger. My favorite is Desporte’s, in Biloxi. Fresh shrimp and fish should smell like the sea, never fishy and their eyes should be clear, like your favorite teetotaler aunt. When in doubt, don’t.
Here are just a few more suggestions. Melt butter, add garlic and toast the rice before you steam it if you want a garlicky element in your gumbo. The south Louisiana practice of adding a dollop of potato salad to a bowl of gumbo, as weird as it sounds, is pretty darn good. A nice spoonful of lump crab is good too, but it’s even better if you make crab cakes (small and round), fry them crispy and just before you serve the gumbo, use as a garnish. You can also add a quartered boiled crab, it looks pretty and adds some crabby flavor that is pretty good.
So, there you go! If you think I am a nutter for some of my suggestions, just remember what I said in the first gumbo essay: gumbo isn’t a recipe, its an opinion.