Roux d’etat

There’s not much that’s militant about a cooked mixture of flat and flour. But doesn’t my daughter look like she’s capable of staging an organized governmental overthrow, wielding this culinary tool?

The tool on display is my favorite in the utensil bin. Not necessarily the most-used, but the one I’d take with me if forced to pick one. This is a roux stirrer. It was given to me as a Christmas gift by one of the Senior Art Directors at my old ad agency in Mississippi. Ron Despeaux (pronounced “despo”) was his name, and a bona-fide cajun he was. He gave all the designers this wooden tool, and around its neck was tied a tag illustrated with a rooster head. Get it? A roux-stirrer, or rooster, when said with a thick southern accent. It was before my days of actually making a roux, but I must have sensed its importance and usefulness, because I held on to it, moved it with me to four different states, before it found its intended use in my hand.

I love it because it’s such a well-designed tool. When cooking a roux, you must continuously stir it to cook it without burning. The flat tip, angled on side, is perfect for accomplishing this goal. It’s also great for general sautéeing, interchangeable with a thick wooden spoon.

Back to the roux. It’s the base for my annual Turkey Gumbo, the first recipe I ever created (inspired by a collection of sources). A roux is something that has a reputation for difficulty — a mysterious culinary bad boy, in the same family with soufflé and bouillabaisse. But it is no more than equal parts fat and flour, cooked to varying degrees of brown, depending on its intended use. Sometimes, as with a béchamel (white sauce), the flour doesn’t brown at all, but is just cooked enough to remove the flour-y taste; with a gumbo, the flour is actually browned. The key to making a roux without burning it is a good, heavy-bottomed pan. I currently use my Le Crueset dutch oven, and burned many a roux before I acquired that champion of enameled cast iron. It’s also easier with a gas stove, since the heat of those more controllable than their coil-electric cousins. And stirring. Constantly. But not all day — usually just about 10 minutes or so.

On to the gumbo. I make it once a year, the days following Thanksgiving. I’ve gone to great lengths to get a turkey carcass back home from Mississippi or Pennsylvania; we’d freeze the bones on-location, then pack them with ice in a cooler to stay frozen for the 8- to 10-hour trip home in the car. I usually brought home leftover meat, as well, to use in the soup. Having Thanksgiving at home this year made it easier to deal with the bones, but we had such a small bird that there wasn’t much leftover meat (after making turkey sandwiches for a day or so) — I ended up buying some turkey tenderloins to make up the difference.

So below is my beloved recipe for Turkey Gumbo. Like many soups, it’s a pretty flexible recipe, and I doubt I’ve made it the exact same way twice. I realize this post is probably too late to be utilized by many this year, unless you happened to feel an indescribable need to freeze your leftover turkey bones. But you can still plan ahead if you roast another turkey for Christmas dinner, or for a Thanksgiving in years to come.

My only disclaimer is that you should only try to brown a roux in a sauté pan or dutch oven that has a thick bottom and evenly distributes heat, especially if you’re working on an electric range. And use a heatproof spatula with a flat end that can scrape a lot of pan real estate with every stir. And if you happen to have some Cajun heritage, and can pass on a personal tip for making authentic gumbo, please, do post.

Turkey Gumbo

  • 8 cups turkey stock, made from a leftover roasted turkey carcass, meat removed and reserved.
  • 1/2 cup olive oil (or mixture of oil and rendered turkey fat)
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup finely-chopped (1/2″ pieces) yellow onion
  • 1 cup finely-chopped celery
  • 1 cup finely-chopped bell pepper (green, or a mixture of green and red)
  • 3/4 pound andouille sausage (fresh or cooked, see below), chopped into bite-sized pieces if cooked
  • 1 Tbsp minced garlic
  • 4 cups (or more) reserved turkey meat, shredded or cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 1/2 cup chopped scallions
  • one bag (appx. 10 oz.) frozen okra
  • salt and pepper to taste

*If using fresh (uncooked) andouille sausage, brown the whole links in a couple tablespoons of vegetable oil before beginning your roux. The cooking sausage can help flavor the roux. Once brown, remove the sausages, let cool, and chop. They will break up more than pre-cooked sausage, and have a more crumbled texture. Set aside and proceed with recipe.

Heat a large dutch oven or heavy-bottomed sauté pan over medium heat. Add the oil, and once hot, add the flour (carefully! the oil can splash). Stir constantly over medium heat, scraping the bottom of the pan to prevent burning. Continue to cook, reducing the heat if flour starts to burn, until the mixture is a dark golden brown (about the color of coffee with cream). If you start to see black flecks in the roux, the flour has burned, and you should start over (I’ve done this, and it stinks, but you can’t use a burnt roux).

When the roux is dark enough, remove from heat and add the onion, celery, and bell pepper (the roux will bubble fiercely, so once again, be careful!). Once bubbling subsides, if you have used a sauté pan, transfer the mixture to a soup pot. Whisk in slowly the turkey stock. Bring to a boil, whisking constantly. Reduce to a simmer and add your andouille sausage and garlic. Cook for 15 minutes. Then add reserved turkey meat, scallions, and bag of frozen okra (no need to thaw first). Cook another 10-15 minutes, until okra is tender. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Gumbo tastes better the next day — but if you’re making it the day you plan to serve it, it’ll still be good, and you should have plenty leftover to test that theory. Eat it over cooked white rice, best enjoyed on a cold, rainy day.


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