“It’s a great seafood stew. It’s a meal in and of itself. It’s full of interesting flavors. It’s got that Gulf Coast flavor,” Lauder said.
Although most people think of gumbo as a Creole Cajun dish, Lauder said gumbo has roots everywhere.
“It has African influences. It has the French influence of New Orleans, and Spanish and American Indian. That’s what I think makes gumbo interesting. You’ve got a little bit of everything,” the Marietta resident said.
The base of gumbo is the roux and Cajun Holy Trinity (a mixture of onion, bell pepper and celery) added after the roux browns. The hardest part of making gumbo is the roux. Lauder recommends a little less vegetable oil than flour as key in preparing it.
“The roux is the most intimidating step for most folks when preparing gumbo. It’s pretty easy with a little practice,” he said.
He said that Creole gumbo is prepared with a lighter roux and the Cajun variety, preferred by Lauder, is a darker roux cooked just to the point before it burns for a spicier, richer gumbo.
“Once you get the base down, it’s really up to you what to add to (the gumbo),” Lauder said.
A heavy cast iron Dutch oven or skillet works best for even heating and to avoid hot spots that can burn and ruin a roux. A wooden mixing paddle or high temperature spatula is necessary because every square inch of the skillet needs stirring while cooking the roux.
The variation of gumbo depends on the ingredients available. Lauder, who doesn’t cook from a recipe, recommends smoked duck and andoullie sausage or chicken and seafood.
“I kind of make it up. That’s part of the whole adventure of gumbo. I visit several stores to see what ingredients are available and let the ingredients lead me,” he said. “(Gumbo) is really a dish of whatever people could get their hands on to put in it in addition to the okra.”
Lauder said he makes the dish often and it reminds him of home. He said, “It’s a good comfort food for me.”
3 pounds large raw shrimp (headed/peeled)
1 pound grouper cut up (crab or other white fish can be substituted)
1 pound andoullie sausage
3 quarts seafood stock
1 cup diced celery
1 cup diced onion
1 cup diced green bell pepper
2 cloves garlic finely diced
2 10-ounce packages frozen cut okra
1 can chopped tomatoes
2 tablespoons Cajun seasoning (more to taste)
3 bay leaves
1 cup all purpose flour
¾ cup vegetable oil
To begin, whisk together the vegetable oil and flour in a bowl until smooth. Begin warming the flour/oil in your skillet over medium heat, stirring constantly (scraping the entire bottom of the skillet to avoid burning). Adjust heat to keep the roux gently bubbling, stirring/scraping constantly. You will notice the roux starting to get darker (some say a peanut butter color and then changing to a milk chocolate color) and beginning to give off a nutty aroma.
Remove from heat when the roux reaches a dark reddish brown. This can take 15 to 20 minutes of constant attention and stirring. If you suspect the roux has burned (by smell or dark specks in the roux), throw it out and start over. Also, be very careful working with the hot roux (they don’t call it Cajun napalm for nothing) — particularly when combining with the vegetables as hot oil and moisture (from the veggies) don’t get along very well.
Combine the celery, onion, bell pepper and garlic with your roux in a stockpot — this will help slow the cooking process of the roux. Cook this mixture over medium/low heat until the vegetables are just tender. Gradually stir in broth as well as sausage, tomatoes, Cajun seasoning, and bay leaf. Bring to boiling point, then reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes. Add okra and simmer another 30 minutes.
Taste and adjust seasoning to your liking. Add shrimp and fish about five minutes prior to serving. Serve over long grain rice with an assortment of hot sauces. Garnish with chopped green onions if you’re fancy like that. You can build on this same basic recipe for a variety of gumbos: adding oysters to the above recipe, substituting seafood with chicken or smoked duck, etc.