Prejean’s Famous Gumbo
Last weekend I headed down to New Orleans to see my parents who live there and to soak in some much needed southern time. This involves feeling the warm air with a slight edge of humidity this time of year, smelling the Cajun seasonings in a restaurant while drinking an Abita beer, watching the enormous barges get pushed up the Mississippi river by their little tugboat, seeing the performers in the French Quarter entertain the crowds, and getting powder sugar from Café Du Monde’s beignets all over my clothes. It was all divine and just what I needed.
Once a week my parents take a little field trip exploring the areas outside the city. Sometimes they head up the Mississippi river to see all the old plantation homes and other times they might find their way to a far away restaurant they read about, but one of their favorite trips is to Avery Island in Louisiana’s famous bayou country. Although this island may be more commonly known as the home of the popular Tabasco sauce, it is also the home of Jungle Gardens—a remarkably gorgeous park filled with Spanish moss covered trees, swamps, egrets, and alligators.
For me, the alligators were the most fun to see. Before I let you think I am overly courageous, I should admit that the alligators in this park are all under five feet long. Anything larger gets moved to less visited swamps in the area. Nonetheless, it was exciting—if not a little scary—walking up to see the alligators close-up. I mean, I was at least a little courageous, right?
Once we left Avery Island we then headed to Lafayette, passing by fields of sugar cane and small little towns. I even saw one man sitting on his front porch playing his saxophone as the farmers were beginning to end their day. I love seeing the countryside in Louisiana—it is still so rich in culture. Time here just seems to pass by more slowly and take me back to an earlier era.
Our destination in Lafayette was Prejean’s, who are famous for their pheasant, quail and andouille gumbo served at New Orleans’ Jazz Fest. My brother and his wife discovered this heavenly gumbo, and as a result my parents have now made Prejean’s one of their favorite stops on field trips in the area. My dad excitably told me about their dinners there where Cajun bands play at night and diners step up from their tables to dance along the music. It sounds just like how I romanticize the social scenes in these small towns out in the country.
Since we had other dinner plans, we were not dining in but picking up a gallon of their pheasant, quail and andouille gumbo to take home for a later night. When the lady first brought out the gumbo, I immediately noticed how rich in color it was. If the color was any indication of the richness in taste, then I knew this was going to be special and I was looking forward to trying it.
Finally on my last night in New Orleans, we had the gumbo and it was incredibly abundant in flavor. The gaminess of the pheasant and quail mixed with the richly flavored broth was the perfect match. Then coupled with the spiciness of the andouille sausage…well, that was just pure perfection.
A few days after I was back in New York, missing my time in New Orleans, my dad sent me the recipe for Prejean’s gumbo that he had found at Nola.com. I could hardly wait for the weekend to roll around so that I could make this.
Now, the recipe calls for some ingredients that may be hard to find. I don’t know about y’all, but I just don’t get to do much pheasant hunting in Central Park. As a result, I had to make some substitutions. I replaced the pheasant and quail with chicken thighs (you want dark meat that will more closely match the flavor of pheasant). Duck meat would be an even better substitute, if you can find it. I was unable to find Cajun smoked sausage, so I just added more andouille sausage instead. Lastly, I was actually able to find Kitchen Bouquet (a browning and seasoning sauce found in the gravy products section at the market), but if you are unable to you can substitute this with worcestershire sauce.
I also want to discuss the dark roux with you. This is the most important part of gumbo; and without a good, dark roux you just don’t have gumbo. The dark roux gives the gumbo it’s color and rich flavor. To achieve it, you must be patient—cooking it slowly over low heat and mixing constantly. Once it reaches a deep, reddish brown color, it is ready. Go here to see the progression of colors. After you remove it from the heat it will then continue to darken to a rich brown the color of dark chocolate. Be sure to taste it to ensure that it is not bitter or burned. If it is, well, it’s back to the stove you go to make a new batch.
So here is the adapted recipe, using my substitutes to make it more user friendly (for the original recipe, you can find it here). I also halved the recipe, but for a family you may want to double it back since this does take time to make and it would be nice to have for another meal. Note that this tastes even better if you let it sit overnight refrigerated. The recipe below makes 2.5 quarts.
- 2 ½ tbsp butter
- 2 ½ tbsp flour
- 2 tbsp corn oil
- 6 oz andouille sausage, sliced into ¼ inch thick circles
- 1/3 cup coarsely diced onion
- ¼ cup coarsely diced bell pepper
- 2 tbsp finely diced celery
- 4 chicken thighs, skin removed (or 2 large skinless duck breasts)
- 1 tbsp paprika
- ¼ tsp black pepper
- ¼ tsp cayenne pepper
- 1 small bay leaf
- 1 ¼ quarts concentrated chicken stock (you can start with 1 ¾ quarts and boil it down to 1 ¼ quarts to make it concentrated, or add a bouillon cube)
- 1 tsp Kitchen Bouquet (or worchestershire sauce)
- 2 dashes Tabasco
- 1 ½ tbsp sliced green onion tops
- In a small skillet over medium low heat, add the butter and flour. Stir constantly and thoroughly as color slowly depends in color and reaches a dark, reddish brown. This process should take at the very least 20 minutes (mine took 40 minutes). Remove from heat and pour into a container. Set aside. The color will continue to deepen to a dark, chocolate brown. (Tidbit: You can make larger portions and freeze what you don’t need as a short cut for your next gumbo.)
- Heat corn oil to hot and maintain heat in a four-quart cast-iron or other heavy pot over medium-low heat.
- Meanwhile, in a nonstick skillet over medium heat, brown andouille sausage, then add to oil in the cast-iron pot. Repeat process with onion, bell pepper and celery, then chicken (or duck), sautéing each ingredient individually and transferring each ingredient to the cast-iron pot as it is browned.
- Add the paprika, black pepper, cayenne and bay leaf to the pot and stir. Mix in stock. Stir in roux until blended.
- Bring to a boil and cook 40 minutes, stirring attentively.
- Add Kitchen Bouquet (or worchestershire sauce), Tabasco and green onions and stir well. Simmer 5 minutes longer.
- Pull out chicken (or duck) and with tongs and a fork (the meat will be too hot to handle with your fingers), shred the meat and add it back to the gumbo and mix.
- Serve hot alone or with white rice.