Until last week I had only made real gumbo—dark roux and all—once in my life. It was the late 80’s and I was the test cook at Cook’s Magazine. I remember staying late one night trying to figure out how to microwave the much-needed roux to its chocolate brown state. I got it to work, but roux is tricky enough stovetop, much less in a testy microwave. Plus, Pyrex wouldn’t guarantee their tempered glass with this offbeat method. We ultimately decided it was too risky and ran a recipe for traditional stovetop roux.
That was over 20 years ago, and the next time I got my chance with real gumbo was last week in Florida. I was visiting my parents when neighbor, Norm Fralick, stopped over and mentioned he had a cheap source for wild Gulf white shrimp. His Source was making a drop at his house at 4:00 that afternoon. Price: $5 a pound, five-pound minimum. As Maggy and Sharon will attest, I’m incapable of resisting a good food deal. I pull out my wallet, hand over a twenty and a five, and give him the security code to the garage where he would fridge the fresh shrimp if we weren’t there at the appointed time.
We weren’t there, but when we got home the shrimp weren’t there either. (Turns out we gave Norm the wrong code.) We head to their house where Norm had them intricately ice-packed for our two-block trek. (I think he was Fed-Ex in a former life.)
Back home we divide and devein—some for the fridge to cook now, some for the freezer for later. As Mom deveins the shrimp, I notice she’s gotten quiet. A depression baby, she’s always been thrifty, and something about this deal didn’t seem right to her. She pulls out the kitchen scale and a few minutes later mutters, “Oh shucks. There’s only three pounds here.” She’s not happy. Turns out the price included heads. Mom failed to feel good, but for me even $8 a pound for wild shrimp was a great price.
Besides, the best part of the shrimp deal was Norm’s gumbo recipe. As we were leaving, he raced to his computer and printed it out. I carried it with me the rest of book tour, and eventually I got home and planned a dinner party so I’d have a reason to make it.
Before starting the gumbo I notice the roux is equal parts—1cup each—flour and oil. Hoping to cut the fat, I do a little research. There were two extremes: the 1: 1 ratio recipes, or recipes instructing to dry-toast the flour. I simply wanted to cut the fat, not eliminate it. Surely there was a happy medium. From previous tests I thought a 1:2 ratio of fat to flour usually worked, and it did.
Other than a few herb- and spice- additions, I followed Norm’s recipe and served it at a dinner party this past weekend. Already it’s become a new favorite one-dish dinner. With chicken, shrimp, and sausage, there’s something for everyone.
Next week I’ll share Sharon’s recipe for the butter- and cinnamon sugar-dredged croissants that successfully tempted us that afternoon. The ratio was simple: equal parts decadence and irresistibility.