Casts and Blasts from Gumbo-thon, 2014

Some smells are just meant for certain seasons….the smell of freshly-cut grass the first time in the spring. Those of us old enough, remember the smell of burning leaves in the fall. Yesterday the smell of simmering gumbo filled our house, a sure sign that we’re in probably the coldest week of the winter. I call it gumbo-thon. Here are a few bits about it -

About four gallons of gumbo that includes turkey, pheasant, venison and, unfortunately, store-bought sausage.

About four gallons of gumbo that includes turkey, pheasant, venison and, unfortunately, store-bought sausage.or the coldest week of the year, and make it early enough that it can sit and season for a few days and take us through the weekend. A few facts -

– I learned how to make gumbo from Margaret Simien, mother of Wayne Simien, Jr., past KU All-American. She’s been like a big sister to me since we worked together in Leavenworth when I was in college. She learned it from her mother-in-law, a Louisiana native.

– She taught me how to make it per “batch.” though the least I’ve ever made is a double batch. A batch contains, roughly, one onion, one bunch of celery, the meat of about two chicken breasts and a package of tube sausage and, of course, shrimp.

– Tuesday morning I really intended to just make a double batch, but ended up making a quatro-batch, which is about all my large plug-in roaster will hold. I have that problem of stopping once I get started making gumbo. No matter, it freezes well and we always seem to have plenty of friends wanting to help reduce the load.

- I started with the legs and thighs from a mature tom turkey shot last week. I separated them at the joint, placed them in a tall stock pan and added about a gallon of water, one chopped onion and one chopped bunch of celery. With the lid on, I let them simmer for about five hours. The meat was tender enough to be easily shredded with my fingers and I had a great starting stock for the gumbo.

- I added all that to the roaster, with three more onions and three more bunches of celery chopped. The water was sprinkled liberally with seasoned salt, garlic powder and Creole seasoning, and tasted for testing. I like my stock to be almost too spicy for me to handle. That will make it about right when more meat is added and the gumbo is put on rice when eaten.

Gumbo is an excellent destination for the thighs and legs of wild turkeys, simmered with onion and celery for about five hours.

Gumbo is an excellent destination for the thighs and legs of wild turkeys, simmered with onion and celery for about five hours.

- As for other meats, I kind of went to the “beer and worm” fridge in the garage, and found what hadn’t been frozen yet from hunts the past week or so. That included all the thigh meat from six pheasants, and one slab of turkey breast meat. From the freezer I added a loin and roast of venison, too. All was cubed, of course, and added to the gumbo that was not at a high simmer.

– I hate to admit it, but I had to buy four packages of sausage (oh, the shame!). I used to take elk or wild pig into Parson’s in Derby, and have them make it into brats, but not this year.  I also used to use Johnsonville New Orleons style sausage but I can’t find it any more and I refuse to pay the shipping on the real stuff from Louisiana.

– In the past, I’ve also added duck, spoonbill catfish, bison, elk roasts, moose roasts, limb chicken (squirrel), cottontails, a lot of wild pig, and several things I can’t remember, I’m sure.

– Yes, I can make a roux from scratch but no, I don’t. Every couple of years I’ll order several large jars of what’s basically a concentrated roux from cajungrocers.com.  This batch used about a cup, first dissolved in boiling water, then added to the gumbo.

– The entire conglomeration simmered together for about four or five hours before I moved the entire roaster to the cold garage. One of the secrets of making really good gumbo, is to not eat it until it’s set for at least a day or two.

– I’ll share about half of this year’s batch with some friends living west of Newton (Yes, PJ, that includes you!). They’ve had several people sick and were very kind in letting me enjoy some of the best pheasant hunting of my life, on their lands.

– Oh, I don’t like to add the shrimp until just before the gumbo is re-heated and served. This year, though, high shrimp prices may mean quite a few bowls without shrimp. Ste. Kathy, my wife, actually prefers her gumbo without shrimp.

– No, I don’t use okra, but I sometimes add peanuts or cashews to a bowl to give it some crunch.