With Crab, Sausage, & Sunchoke
This recipe was born from a strong hankering for a rich, hearty, stick-to-your-ribs gumbo, and a decision to try and cook a meal with local ingredients and scratch methods (i.e. no sauces or broths). As you can probably tell from this recipe (and my take on food in general), I’m no purist. This is not Louisiana gumbo. But there’s a good reason for that; I’m not in Louisiana. This is an example of what you can do with a cooking style adapted to local ingredients. Call it Pacific Northwest Gumbo if you want to. Oh, and on that note – I realize that not every part of the world is lucky enough to have things like crab available as a local food, so feel free to either adapt a bit, or ditch the whole locavore concept for this dish.
The key to this gumbo (and all good gumbos) is the roux. I personally hate tending a roux on the stovetop, so I like to follow Alton Brown’s baked roux instructions. It’s more or less foolproof, as long as you’ve got the time to do it right.
I fully admit that this gumbo commits Cajun sacrilege by omitting celery and bell peppers. I wanted to cook local, and it was December. Instead, I tried to come up with something of an “alternative holy trinity” – kale stalks and golden beets do the heavy lifting in place of green peppers and celery. Yes, seriously. The other secret to this particular gumbo is the Jerusalem artichoke. At first, they might just seem like a miscellaneous starch filler, but the unique character of this vegetable actually adds a distinctly sweet edge that partners really well with the crab and the rich, bold roux.
If you’ve never made a Cajun style roux before, I strongly urge you to do a little reading about them first. They’re not exactly difficult (especially if you use the oven method I’ve linked to above), but you want to make sure you’re able to recognize when it’s done. Ideally, you want it to get to an even, dark-copper colour (like an old penny).
One of the keys to a good roux is getting an exact 1:2 ratio of oil to flour. I strongly encourage you to use a kitchen scale to get this right, but if you don’t have one, I’ve provided approximate volume measures. Be aware the the density of flour can make volume measurements unreliable, so make sure to keep an eye on the roux as it cooks and trouble-shoot if necessary.
If you have trouble getting your roux to the ‘old penny’ colour in the oven, take it out and put it onto the stovetop and cook CAREFULLY over medium heat, stirring regularly. It shouldn’t take more than a few minutes to finish off.
If you like making your roux on the stove top, there’s no reason you can’t do that here.
Golden beets have much of the earthy, bold taste of their red cousins, but lack the aggressive, overwhelming character (not to mention the tendency to turn everything pink). I don’t recommend that you substitute red beets, but if you can’t find golden beets, you might try a bit of turnip or rutabaga.
This recipe does not call for filé powder (ground sassafras leaves), but you can include some if you can find it and if you enjoy it. It is not essential to thicken the gumbo; many traditional Cajun recipes only call for it to be used at the end of cooking as a garnish anyway.
You can adapt this a little depending on what’s available and in season for you, and you could still use celery and bell peppers in the vegetable mixture if you wanted to achieve something a little more classically Cajun. That being said, I strongly urge you to seek out the Jerusalem artichokes, as they bring a lot to the dish.
Try your best to find andouille sausage, as there’s really nothing like it. If you live in the Lower Mainland of BC like me, Oyama on Granville Island is the place to go. If you can’t score any, try to find a good, flavourful smoked sausage to use as a replacement.
No pantry pages have been written yet for any of the ingredients in this recipe. Like to see one? Let me know in the comments below or by email.
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