Mardi Gras is coming to a close and while I'm going to share my recipe (which I entered into a cook-off at my home church) my mind keeps thinking back to a visit to New Orleans last year. My husband was attending a work conference so I had time to explore the city on my own. Next to exploring the culinary scene, checking out a new city on my own is a favorite thing. NOLA has such a rich history and is steeped in such wonderful culture that you don't have to look far to experience its flavor. Looking for the best local restaurants, exploring art galleries, the French Quarter, and Market Square were high points. I even attended a church service at the historic St. Louis Cathedral. Of all that I did and saw, one of my favorite stops was the Mardi Gras museum. It was full of float sculptures, both new and old. I had no idea that the floats were so huge and each piece was a wonderful work of art. I even stopped and watched some float artist working away for the coming season. It was inspiring watching them work on such mammoth sculptures.
I love Mardi Gras and the season of Lent. We celebrate this Fat Tuesday in my home church with a Mardi Gras gumbo cook-off. I made my roux from scratch. I mean I whisked and whisked until my arm cramping and I was totally annoyed. It really does take a long time to get that beautiful but oh so flavorful amber colored roux that is quintessential to an authentic gumbo. I used bacon grease and filé powder. I traveled to Sherwood, Arkansas, to a wonderful Louisiana grocer called Floyd's Meat and Seafood to buy the freshest gulf shrimp for this prized gumbo. Just like exploring in NOLA, it's a joy to explore in my own backyard local merchants carrying unique items. What an awesome store for anything Cajun cooking-- from étouffée to fresh crawfish, this place was packed with wonderful meat and seafood for anything authentic New Orleans. The owner even said he would say a prayer for my gumbo.
Laissez les bon temps rouler!
Denise's Mardi Gras Gumbo
1 cup all-purpose flour ¾ cup bacon drippings 1 cup coarsely chopped celery 1 large onion, coarsely chopped 1 large green bell pepper, coarsely chopped 2 cloves garlic, minced 1 pound andouille sausage, sliced 3 quarts beef bone broth and 2 cups of homemade shrimp stock 1 tablespoon white sugar salt to taste 2 tablespoons hot pepper sauce (such as Tabasco), or to taste ½ teaspoon Cajun seasoning blend such as Tony Chachere's, or to taste 4 bay leaves ½ teaspoon dried thyme leaves 1 (14.5 ounce) can stewed tomatoes 1 (6 ounce) can tomato sauce 2 teaspoons gumbo file powder 2 tablespoons bacon drippings 2 (10 ounce) packages frozen cut okra, thawed 2 tablespoons Braggs apple cider vinegar 1 pound lump crabmeat 3 pounds uncooked medium shrimp, peeled and deveined 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce 2 teaspoons gumbo file powder 1 tsp of old bay seasoning.
Make a roux by whisking the flour and 3/4 cup bacon drippings together in a large, heavy saucepan over medium-low heat to form a smooth mixture. Cook the roux, whisking constantly, until it turns a rich mahogany brown color. This can take 20 to 30 minutes; watch heat carefully and whisk constantly or roux will burn. Remove from heat; continue whisking until mixture stops cooking.
Place the celery, onion, green bell pepper, and garlic into the work bowl of a food processor, and pulse until the vegetables are very finely chopped. Stir the vegetables into the roux, and mix in the sausage. Bring the mixture to a simmer over medium-low heat, and cook until vegetables are tender, 10 to 15 minutes. Remove from heat, and set aside.
Bring the water and beef bouillon cubes to a boil in a large Dutch oven or soup pot. Stir until the bouillon cubes dissolve, and whisk the roux mixture into the boiling water. Reduce heat to a simmer, and mix in the sugar, salt, hot pepper sauce, Cajun seasoning, bay leaves, thyme, stewed tomatoes, and tomato sauce. Simmer the soup over low heat for 1 hour; mix in 2 teaspoons of file gumbo powder at the 45-minute mark.
Meanwhile, melt 2 tablespoons of bacon drippings in a skillet, and cook the okra with vinegar over medium heat for 15 minutes; remove okra with slotted spoon, and stir into the simmering gumbo. Mix in crabmeat, shrimp, and Worcestershire sauce, and simmer until flavors have blended, 45 more minutes. Just before serving, stir in 2 more teaspoons of file gumbo powder.