We needed a dish to help keep us warm this winter. Being in the Cariboo now about 350km North of Vancouver it stays a little on the cool side here compared to on the Coast and with this years polar vortex bringing in cool air between -20 and -30C we’ve really had to work at staying warm! Fortunately for us we have a roaring fireplace and some great food to help out with that.
Tomato beef stew gets a bit boring after awhile so this time we thought we’d elevate the dish a little bit by starting with a Gumbo rioux and throwing in some seafood in addition to the typical stewing ingredients like tomatoes and potatoes.
It all starts with a two pound piece of bone-in blade steak with plenty of marbling cut into chunks. It’s easy to just dump this in to the stew as many do, but searing off the pieces to add some browning really ups the flavour of the finished dish so you don’t want to skip this step. When searing the meat chunks it’s important not to crowd them in the pan otherwise they begin to boil/steam instead of brown and if that’s the case you may as well just skip this step instead.
Now time to dice up the holy trinity and some carrots to make it more like a stew. Sometimes we like to leave the pieces a little chunky by using a rough chop, but in this case I went with a fine dice that way the veggies sweat faster and you get more flavour in every bite. We wanted to make this stew extra chunky though so we kept the potato, carrot, and tilapia pieces on the larger side.
Next we are preparing the spice mixture which is basically a home made Cajun spice. For this mix we used ancho and cascabel chilies, smoked and regular paprika peppers, oregano, toasted and ground cumin seeds, and the secret ingredient…cinnamon, which gives the mix just a bit of intrigue.
After peeling the shells off the shrimps it’s time to move on to the rioux, which is the critical process/ingredient that will either make or break your gumbo. For this recipe we are using equal parts flour and canola oil… about a cup and a half in this case. The process involves cooking the flour over medium-high heat in a heavy bottom pan while stirring constantly with a spoon or whisk so it doesn’t stick to the bottom or sides and burn. You definitely don’t want to walk away from it during this process! If the temperature gets too high or the flour is allowed to settle anywhere it will turn color rapidly and take on a acrid taste. If you suspect that the flour is burnt or temperature has reached too high for too long then it would be better to dump it out and start all over again rather than to risk having a dish that is inedible… We’ve gone past the point of no return on this one before and the gumbo turned out so bad that our dogs wouldn’t even eat it! It’s not a pleasant feeling to know that you’ve completely wasted twenty dollars or more worth of perfectly good ingredients so you’ll want to make sure you are careful. The goal of creating the rioux is to develop intense flavour within the cooked flour and as the flavour develops the color will change from whitish to golden, to milk chocolate brown, and if you’re patient enough, almost black. This process will probably take a minimum of twenty to thirty minutes of constant stirring and monitoring of temperatures so the rioux doesn’t go above 375F. We use an infrared thermometer during this process to ensure it doesn’t get too hot and for this recipe we were aiming for a nice chocolate brown. Once you’ve reached this stage it’s time to add the vegetables.
After sweating off the veggies it’s time to bring most of the dish together by adding stock and the remaining ingredients except for the shrimp and fish which get added near the end. For this recipe we added smoked turkey stock, a can of whole tomatoes, and the seared beef chunks along with our seasoning mixture, ground sassafras leaves otherwise known as file powder or gumbo file, and a couple bay leaves. To make the beef fall apart tender, chunks like these need to simmer for about two hours so we set our timer for about an hour and a half at which point we moved on to making the saffron rice. And after the rice was done we added the fish and shrimp… just long enough for them to cook through.
And…. the finished gumbo stew! Garnished with fresh ground pepper, file powder, and sriracha!