Alton Brown’s shrimp gumbo recipe: Brown roux in oven
Here is the gumbo recipe from Alton Brown: Shrimp Gumbo.
This is yet another example of why I think Good Eats is one of the best shows in the history of television: Not only does Alton Brown give us an entertaining half hour of viewing, but we also get some real life, hands-on kitchen activity, a classic recipe that we can use and improvise upon for years to come, and knowledge that can be applied to a host of other cooking situations. Along the way, he ingeniously eliminates an obstacle that has been tripping up Cajun and Creole and European cooks for centuries.
In practice, the main stumbling block in any recipe for gumbo is the roux — a seemingly simple mixture of just vegetable oil and all-purpose flour in equal parts (measured by weight, not volume, as Mr. Brown helpfully notes). Historically, the oil and flour have been continuously whisked in a pan over low heat for an extended time, gradually passing through various stages of copper color and brownness to the ultimate perfect shade. The problem is that one second beyond that beautiful chocolate stage lurks burned and ruined roux. The ages echo with the screams and curses of cooks who have had all their stirring wasted, with no gumbo to show or eat.
Alton Brown’s brilliant solution is to cook the roux in a cast-iron pot (we love our Lodge Dutch Oven) inside a 350° oven! No more burning, you stir it maybe three times over 90 minutes, and you’re freed up to do something more productive, like deveining the shrimp and making the shrimp stock. The man is a genius, and he comes up with innovations like this all the time.
One ingredient that’s not easy to track down in Racine, Wisconsin is the filé powder. We used Tony Chachere’s Creole Gumbo Filé, found in the spice aisle at Woodman’s Food Market in Kenosha along I-94 at Highway 50.
Another rare item around these parts is Andouille sausage. Some of the local grocers and butchers sell varying sausages of the same name, but there’s nothing even close to the real treasure found at, say, Wayne Jacob’s Smokehouse in La Place, Louisiana. I had first thought to substitute some readily-available hot Italian sausages, but we ended up buying “Cajun Style Sausage” made by Klement’s in Milwaukee, and it was all right — much better, at least, than the “New Orleans Brand Smoked Sausage” sold by Johnsonville, about which the less said, the better.
We bought the shrimp at Empire Fish in Milwaukee, our new go-to seafood store since Houmann’s closed its retail side. The 16-20 size were $8.99 a pound. Since the gumbo would be our dinner, we went with bigger shrimp than the recipe calls for. They looked terrific, and turned out to be delicious and satisfyingly substantial. Amy’s only regret was that they had no heads, which would have enhanced the stock even more. I have had New Orleans gumbo in New Orleans, and Louisiana gumbo in Layfayette. I have had gumbo in Beaufort, South Carolina, and I love the gumbo at the original Heaven on Seven in Chicago. Nevertheless, the shrimp gumbo we made last night was as good as any of them. Thank you, Alton Brown! We served it over Jasmine rice and splashed it with Crystal Hot Sauce.