A couple of weeks ago, I was walking around the house, preparing a grocery list and plotting some upcoming meals, including for New Year’s Day. I asked my wife what she wanted for New Year’s dinner, and she said, “Black-Eyed Peas, and Greens, of course!” Now she’s from the North and I’m from the West, but an aunt from the South has gotten us firmly entrenched in this New Year’s Day tradition. Those dishes are meant to be good luck, and to foretell a prosperous year, (the greens represent paper money; the black-eyed peas represent safety from hunger, dating back to their role as a staple food during the Civil War.)
I was willing to roll with it, but I wasn’t super excited. Until I thought of gumbo. And then I thought, “Why not add the greens and the black-eyed peas to the gumbo? And call it ‘Good Luck Gumbo’?” Then I Googled it to make sure no one else has had that idea, and it turns out everyone and their monkey is doing this. But — I came by the idea without undue influence, so I think I’ll just plunge ahead with my version and add it to the chorus of Good Luck Gumbos out there.
Let’s talk a little bit about gumbo and its history. Gumbo is a flavorful, braised, thickened stew that’s served over rice. It’s a Cajun dish, and showcases many of the hallmarks of that cuisine– besides being braised, it uses a roux, it’s boldly flavored, it frequently includes a sausage that encases odds and ends of meat cuts, and you use the aromatic “holy trinity” of that cuisine– onions, green peppers, and celery– to kick off your flavorings. Cajun cuisine shows strong influences from French culinary tradition, which makes sense, given the strong French influence in Louisiana. The cuisine often utilizes a roux, (cooked flour and fat, used for thickening), borrowed from French culinary tradition as the base for sauces, and Cajun chefs generally prefer a darker roux. Since butter burns more readily than oil, it makes sense to use oil in your gumbo roux, which you want to be dark (or “chocolate”– more on that below.) Cajun cuisine, having developed among the poorer residents of early Louisiana, often extended dishes with rice– hence the habit of serving gumbo over that grain– and in an attempt to use all parts of the animal, often uses a variety of sausages (Andouille, a pork sausage popular in the region, makes an appearance in many traditional gumbos.) And to wrap up the French connection, that “holy trinity” of three diced vegetables is a descendant of the French mirepoix, (which is onion, celery, and carrot.)
Let’s concentrate on roux for a moment. Roux is a combination of cooked flour and fat. The starches in the flour will react with the subsequent application of liquid to thicken that liquid, giving you a thick gravy, sauce, or stew (depending on quantity of liquid, and your ultimate aim.) Cooking the flour in fat first removes its “starchy” taste, (which you’ve likely encountered in an ill-conceived homemade gravy), so starting with a roux is a much safer path to tastiness than adding a slurry (starch mixed with cold liquid) later.
As you cook your roux, it will proceed through different stages, common ones being– from light with shorter cooking time to dark with longer cooking time– “blond,” “peanut,” and “chocolate.” The darker your roux, the more intense and complex the flavor of your eventual sauce. But on the flip side, the lighter your roux, the greater its thickening power.
To make your roux, add your flour and fat to the pan, keep the heat manageable, (it can burn and stick if your heat is too high– medium heat is fine), and stir frequently until you reach the color you want. For gumbo, you want a chocolate roux. This will take some time and a lot of stirring, but it’s worth it. Concentrate closely on the state of your roux as you approach a chocolate color. It will smell nutty, then toasty, and just when it is on the very edge of smoky, add your liquid. You now have the base for a deep and complex stew, you roux-master, you. Now get out there and make some gumbo.
Good Luck Gumbo
- 2 cups dried black-eyed peas
- 1 head greens, such as Collard
- 1 onion, diced
- 1 green bell pepper, diced
- 3 individual stalks celery, diced
- 6 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/2 cup flour
- 1/3 cup olive oil
- 4 andouille sausages
- 8 cups chicken stock or broth
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
- 1 teaspoon thyme
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- to taste, salt
- to taste, black pepper
- more olive oil, for frying the sausage and vegetables
- 3 teaspoons filé powder
- 1 bunch scallions, diced for garnish
- Soak your black-eyed peas overnight.
- Wash your greens; remove any thick stems or ribs. Cut the leaves into narrow strips. Pre-cook in salted water until nearly tender; set aside.
- Slice your andouille sausages to between 1/4-1/2 inch a slice, on the bias.
- Pull out a nice big cast iron dutch oven, heat some olive oil, and fry up your sliced andouille until lightly browned. Pull out the browned sausage and set aside for later.
- Put your diced trinity veggies (green peppers, onion, celery) into the hot oil and cook until soft.
- Add the minced garlic, spices, salt and pepper and cook briefly while stirring to bloom the spices. Pull out your vegetable/spice mixture and set aside for later.
- Add your measured 1/2 cup flour and 1/3 cup olive oil into the hot dutch oven. Stir frequently and carefully until you achieve a chocolate roux. This will take some minutes and patience, so turn on some music first.
- As soon as your roux has reached the chocolate stage, add the chicken stock or broth, pour the vegetable/spice mixture back in, add your pre-soaked black-eyed peas, and leave to simmer.
- Once your black-eyed peas are tender, you can serve any time. Shortly before you're ready to serve, turn off the heat.
- Once the gumbo is no longer bubbling, stir the browned sausage back in, add the cooked greens (and a little of their vitamin-packed cooking liquid), and stir in the filé powder. (Don't ever add filé powder to a bubbling stew; if it gets too hot it will get stringy instead of thickening the stew properly.)
- Taste; add more salt if necessary.
- Serve over cooked long-grained white rice.