When my friend Monica served me Mercy Gumbo at a party a couple of weeks ago, I had no idea I would be eating something I would remember for the rest of my life. This was good gumbo- made better by its origin from the small coastal town of Venice, Louisiana that's served in a bowl with white rice and potato salad. That's right, potato salad. And if you don't combine all three, there is no sense eating it. For all you skeptics out there, I defy you to eat this and not consider it the best gumbo, ever.
Monica learned the recipe the authentic way- from a fourth generation fisherman on the open sea while producing a show for the Discovery Channel.
Waylon Buras (bottom left) is Captain of the Miss Carmine. Chookie (in top pic with Monica) is his longtime friend and deckhand. While on the shoot, word got out that Waylon could cook. Monica was lucky enough to feast on many of his freshly caught, shellfish delights throughout the shoot, including shrimp scampi, shrimp wrapped in bacon and blackened shrimp salad. But when Monica tried Waylon's Mercy Gumbo, she had a moment, sharing, "It was so good, I had 5 bowls of it."
Waylon learned this recipe from his mom and over the years, he's tweaked it again and again until it was just right. Monica smartly had Waylon teach her how to make the gumbo on the boat, and now, he's been gracious enough to share it with all of us.
Gumbo ingredients: 3/4 cup roux (see below); 4 chicken breasts; 2.5 lbs. smoked sausage; 3 lbs peeled wild-caught Gulf shrimp; 1/3 cup olive oil; 4 onions, chopped; 2 or 3 green peppers, chopped; 1 red bell pepper, chopped; 2 stalks celery, chopped; can of diced tomatoes; 1/3 cup parsley flakes; 1/4 cup chopped garlic; 1/3 cup dehydrated sweet bell pepper; 2 TBSP worcestershire sauce; 2 TBSP hot sauce; 1 TBSP garlic powder; 2 TBSP Tony Chachere seasoning; 1 1/2 TBSP salt
As this is a Louisiana gumbo, there is no substitute for wild-caught Gulf shrimp. For anyone who knows Gulf shrimp, you know their sweet, incredible taste. Plus, these are a clean shrimp with no sandy grit in the vein so you won't have to devein them. As Monica shared, "Gulf shrimp have a distinctive and delicate flavor because the water where they live is brackish, meaning less salinity." (see below for ordering info)
Cajun cooks prefer a dark roux for their gumbo, which offers the most depth in flavor but is also the hardest to make. Yet with rapt attention and patience, this dark, smoky roux is well worth the effort. To make, heat up 3/4 cup vegetable oil on medium low in a cast iron skillet. Sprinkle 1 cup of flour over it, turn the heat up to medium and start mixing the oil and flour together until it gets dark. If it seems like the roux is getting too dark too fast, lift the frying pan off the heat, stir some more and set it down. Keep stirring and do not walk away - if it burns even the tiniest bit, you need to throw it out and start over. Stir until it is a rich brown color, much like dark chocolate and about the consistency of peanut butter. Allow 30-40 minutes. Set aside.
Heat up olive oil in a large pan, then add in all the chopped vegetables and the seasonings. Crank the fire up and keep stirring.
When the onions soften, throw in the chicken and sausage. Keep the fire cranked up and keep on stirring steadily. If the mixture looks dry, add a little bit of water but not so much that everything is floating.
Once the chicken looks cooked on both sides, but not all the way through, add a little bit of the roux and keep stirring. Once the sauce gets thick like gravy, add in hot water. Start mixing it all together and keep adding roux and water until the roux is gone and it's the consistency that you like.
While your gumbo is simmering, peel and add the shrimp. Next, add the can of tomatoes, (this is optional). Turn the heat down and keep it on low boil for about an hour or up to a few hours.
Next, make the potato salad. Boil about 10 medium potatoes (peeled and diced) with 7 eggs and 1/t tablespoon of salt. When the potatoes are soft, the eggs are ready. Strain the water, peel the eggs, cut them up and dump the chopped eggs back in the pot with the potatoes. Add 1 teaspoon garlic powder, 1 teaspoon Tony Chachere, 1/3 cup sweet relish, 3/4 cup mayo, 1 tablespoon yellow mustard. Stir to combine and add seasoning as needed. Finally, cook 8 cups of white rice. (this gumbo recipe will satiate 10-15 people)
To properly serve Mercy Gumbo, place a scoop of cooked white rice in a bowl, a scoop of gumbo over that and a scoop of potato salad on top.
And there you have it, Mercy Gumbo. I brought my friend Bob to this tasting and at first a skeptic, he's now a believer, claiming "That was the best gumbo I've ever had." It really is that good. A huge thank you to Waylon Buras for sharing his treasured family recipe with us, as well as a heap of gratitude to Monica for inviting me to try a bowl of gumbo at her house in Atlanta. It's a gumbo, I dare say, that will change your life. Merry Christmas everyone...
**When ordering your wild-caught Gulf shrimp, medium size is best. Ideally you want 31/35 or 36/40. This number is the count and it denotes how many shrimp per pound. Large (21/25) or XL (16/20) work too but cut them in half before cooking.
**New blog posts will resume Monday, January 6.
Photos and Content: Sweet Peach