The first documented references to gumbo, according to Dr. Carl A. Brasseaux of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, was in 1803 when gumbo was served at a gubernatorial reception in New Orleans. Since then gumbo has become a symbol of Louisiana cooking and like any recipe that has time to evolve the accepted methods can become blurred from one cook to another. While many types of gumbos exist within Louisiana itself just wait until an outsider gets a taste and takes it home, which is just what I did many years ago. I was living in a tent in New Iberia Louisiana while refurbishing helicopters for an off shore logistics company. I learned to enjoy gumbo while living in New Iberia and now want to share with you my gumbo recipe made with squirrel meat.
My first bowl of gumbo was in a restaurant in Louisiana and when the lady set it down in front of me I remember wondering if something was wrong. I actually called her back and asked her why there were bones sticking out of my soup. She told me that was the way they made gumbo and walked away. OK the taste was great so I began eating and when I wanted some chicken I just grabbed a bone out of the gumbo. Then I got a shrimp in my mouth and crunched into the tail which had been left on as well. I enjoyed that bowl of gumbo, sort of, but vowed to make it myself without the bones and this is just one example of changing a recipe to suit your taste.
3 squirrels deboned
1 pound of smoked sausage
1 tablespoon of Tony Chachere's Creole seasoning (add more to taste)
1 pinch of cayenne pepper (more if you like it hot)
1 pinch of salt (the sausage adds some on its own)
1 bunch of scallion
1 large yellow onion
1 large green pepper
¼ cup of flour
¾ cup vegetable oil
2 cups tomato juice
Prepare the Squirrel: The best way to prepare squirrels for any recipe that calls for just the meat is to slow cook them in water for at least 8 hours. I usually cook my squirrels overnight and have left them cooking even longer. You can simmer your squirrels on the stove but a crockpot works best. Place the squirrels whole into your pot of water and cover on low heat. Once the squirrels have cooked remove them and set them aside to cool. When the squirrels are cool enough to handle you can debone them. Save the broth and leave the pot on low and add the boneless squirrel meat to the broth. Add all of the seasonings at this point, this allows them to breakdown and begin the flavoring process early.
Prepare the Sausage: Traditional gumbo calls for andouille sausage which is a spicy smoked sausage but I use Hillshire Farm smoked sausage. I can handle the spicy andouille sausage but I try to keep the spiciness to a minimum for my family and add the “hot” to my serving. Although Hillshire Farm smoked sausage is fully cooked I still sear the sausage in a skillet with a little vegetable oil. Cut the sausage long ways ¼ to ½ inch thick depending on preference. Sear the sausage in a skillet until well browned on both sides. Add the sausage to the pot with the squirrel meat. Set the skillet off the heat but do not clean.
The Holy Trinity: The onion, celery and bell pepper was given the name “holy trinity.” The mostly catholic french cajuns of long ago meant this allusion as a sign of respect due to the importance this trio plays in cajun cooking. My family will not touch celery even though my little girl ate chicken noodle soup with celery for years. She thought it was pickles and called it pickle soup. Had she known it was celery she would have never touched it. My substitute for celery is scallions. Chop the onion, scallion and bell pepper into small pieces and set aside. This will be added to the roux once it's ready.
The Roux: The roux is the foundation to a good gumbo making the broth thicker and richer. There are many ways to prepare a roux but as long as it contains hot oil and flour you should be alright. Place the vegetable oil into the skillet with the sausage crumbles and heat to a medium high temperature. You can sprinkle a little flour into the oil and when it sizzles it is ready. Now slowly add the flour as you stir continuously making sure to scrape the sausage crumbles from the bottom of the skillet. This makes a great tasting roux and adds some color.
Some folks cook their roux for up to 45 minutes to slowly brown the roux. I only cook the roux until the flour is completely blended with the oil then I add the vegetables. The vegetables add some liquid to the roux as they release the flavorful water within and the roux continues to brown along with cooking the trio to a point of translucency. You can cook the roux more traditionally if you want and it is said that a black roux is the best. I don't take the time to make black roux because I prefer a little lighter colored gumbo. You can also use butter but you have to be careful as butter will scorch easier than oil.
Putting it All Together: I never like to add anything cold to my gumbo after the roux is introduced so anything you add should be warmed up first. This will prevent the possibility of the roux separating and causing a not so attractive gumbo as the roux could clump. Add the still hot roux with vegetables slowly to the broth while stirring. Stir for a few minutes to actively blend the roux with the broth as the temperature stabilizes throughout the ingredients.
Now is the time to add the tomato juice but first run some hot water over the jar to warm the juice. I put 2 cups in the list of ingredients but I use the tomato juice to acquire the correct consistency which is another personal preference. I will say that if you need more than the 2 cups to thin your gumbo to the point you like then just add some water or chicken broth to thin it further. Bring the gumbo to a simmer and cover. The gumbo is ready to eat but the longer it simmers the better the flavors mingle and meld. Serve over rice and enjoy.