There are few things that I look forward to in life as much as the brisk north wind on chilly mornings after a long sweltering summer in South Louisiana, with ducks hovering over my decoys, and me waist high in the salt marsh estuaries with my black Lab, Schatzi, minutes from home. When the clouds are low and the damp cold rain stings your face there is no doubt that this is anything but gumbo weather. In my life duck hunting means gumbo, from talking about it in the blind with life-long friends to cooking it as if in a competition at the camp, to enjoying it at the table in all of its many guises.
There is nothing, in my book, that is any more compatible than the coming of fall, hunting and gumbo. Not all gumbos are created equal. For it is predetermined by where you come from just what sort of gumbo you will make and yearn for. Blake LeMaire from Gueydan, Louisiana, which is in the extreme southwest of Acadiana prefers his gumbo made only of a roux, onion, teal birds and spicy sausage from Larry’s Superfood. It’s very thin, yet flavorful, and always served with potato salad and rice.
Whereas Drew Mire, another life-long buddy, hunting partner, and cooking mate, prefers the deep dark rich and smoky gumbo that is finished with andouille sausage from Jacob’s and whole gray ducks, almost always with okra. Then, there is my brother-in-law, Patrick, who prefers his gumbo made only of poule d’eau (instead of gray ducks like Drew’s) and also uses a couple of other types of sausage. Patrick and Drew prefer theirs with rice only and leave the potato salad for Blake.
A Creole gumbo like Patrick’s and Drew’s is not just a soup, but a meal in and of itself. These are the standard gumbos that we cook, but that’s not to say they don’t vary. Rabbit, squirrel, dove, or quail can also find themselves standing in for the much-lauded duck.
Gumbos are good food that takes time and passion to cook. That is where the hunting comes in. You see, you can easily go purchase a chicken, shrimp or crabs and procure a prepared roux, but not in our camp and not on my table. Because making a gumbo should be a commitment and the giving of one’s soul to the pot. It takes the sacrifice of time.
First, you cook the roux until it is milk chocolate in color, then the onions are added while stirring with only a wooden spoon. As the sugars in the onions caramelize the roux will quickly take on a deep mahogany or a dark chocolate color without being the least bit bitter, or burnt. Rather, the roux should have a strong nutty aroma, that of toasted pecans, and a sweet flavor (if you were to taste it, which I don’t advise—it is too hot to taste) given by the caramelized onion. The previously harvested game is seasoned with a mixture of salt, black pepper, onion powder, a little garlic powder, cayenne pepper and dried thyme. The carcass of each bird is stuffed with a bay leaf and one clove of garlic which has been dropped into the hot roux to sear. Then the remains of the ‘holy trinity’ of our cooking, that is to say, one bell pepper and one stalk of celery, both diced, are added to the pot, as well. Once the vegetables are tender, we add enough stock to cover the birds and bring to a boil while continuing to stir with that same wooden spoon. Once the pot comes to a boil, you may add your sausage and reduce the flame to medium low, allowing the gumbo to simmer just barely, bubbling as if to resemble swamp water. I like to simmer the gumbo for at least an hour before adding my okra, for in my book it isn’t a gumbo without the okra, and cook at a low simmer for an additional 30 minutes while skimming the pools of fat that rise to the surface. Then after only a few minor adjustments of seasoning with salt, black pepper and Tabasco sauce, your gumbo is ready to serve over a spoonful or two of warm fluffy white rice.
Duck and Oyster Gumbo
1 each 5-pound duck
3 cups diced onion, divided
2 cup diced celery, divided
1 cup diced carrots
1 cup diced green bell pepper
1 cup all purpose flour
1 pound andouille sausage
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons Creole seasoning
2 each bay leaves
2 cups okra
3 cups oysters
1 quart cooked jasmine rice
1 cup chopped green onions
salt and pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 350ºF.
Liberally season the duck with salt and pepper. Slowly roast in pre-heated oven until most of the fat had rendered out and the skin is nice and crispy, about 1.5-2 hours. Remove the duck from the oven and reserve the fat. Once cool, pick all the meat and skin from the duck, cut into roughly 1-inch pieces, and reserve.
To make the stock, place the duck carcass in 2-gallon pot and add 1 cup onion, 1 cup celery, carrots and bell pepper. Cover with water and bring to a simmer. Let simmer 2 hours, strain, and reserve, yielding about 1 gallon of stock.
To make the roux, in a pot, over low heat, heat 1 cup of reserved duck fat and flour together and allow it to slowly caramelize, about 1-1.5 hours. Stir often and cook slowly over low heat to avoid burning. Roux should look like dark chocolate when finished. Add the remaining onions and the andouille and allow to caramelize further, roughly 5 minutes. Add garlic, Worcestershire, Creole seasoning, bay leaves, and okra and simmer for 5 more minutes. Add the reserved stock and duck meat and allow to simmer for an additional hour. Add the oysters and simmer for 5 additional minutes. When finished, serve over rice in a large flat soup bowl and garnish with green onions.
Early fall of 2009, James Beard winner, Chef John Besh grew the size of his New Orleans restaurant family by opening Domenica and The American Sector, in the National World War II Museum, which join August–twice on Gourmet Magazine’s list of Best Restaurants; Besh Steak, La Provence, and Lüke. This year Besh became a first time published author, celebrating his life growing up in Louisiana—My New Orleans: The Cookbook. Visit Chef John Besh and his restaurants at www.chefjohnbesh.com.
Paula’s Note: The day that John came on the set of Paula’s Best Dishes here in Savannah, I knew something was up because all of the women were a flitter! As a matter of fact all the guys were actin’ a little silly too since he brought his beautiful wife. My head food stylist, Libbie, said Chef Besh was “dreamy”. I have to agree, because what isn’t a bigger dream to a woman. A handsome man who can cook! We cooked fried soft shell crabs and served them over grits. John’s recipe for the pan sauce that went with them is still in my recipe box. He and his wife were both so gracious and he was a dream to work with. On top of that, he is pretty “dreamy”.
That’s not all! Check out Senior Food Editior, Libbie Summer’s, reaction to Chef John Besh!