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Mardi Gras jambalaya or Cajun gumbo?

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Roux, gumbo’s French heart. Gumbo has many influences, including African, but roux – flour cooked in an equal amount of fat – is pure French. But it has become a Louisiana kitchen staple. In fact, it’s been said that almost every recipe from southern Louisiana begins with, “First, you make a roux.”

A few years ago, James DeWan wrote a helpful piece on making a roux for the Chicago Tribune, “Roux the day.” In it, he explains how a roux works to thicken sauces and what makes it different from using a slurry of flour and water or the also French beurre manié. The main difference is that the flour is cooked in a roux, doing away with that raw flour taste – indeed, you can smell it dissipating as the roux darkens. That darkening is the other thing. Depending on how long you cook your roux, you end up with a white, blond or brown roux. Some Cajun recipes call for cooking roux until it’s just short of black.

In researching gumbo, I noticed that many writers included photos of their roux. I assumed it was to illustrate the proper color. As my roux darkened to a deep mahogany under my watchful eye, I suspected there was some pride involved, too. Even though I rarely include food-in-progress shots with my recipes, I was tempted to photograph my roux. There is nothing difficult about making a roux; you just have to watch your heat and patiently stir it for 15 minutes or more. But there is just something elemental and satisfying about performing a simple, timeless cooking technique and getting it right.

Elemental and satisfying is a good way to describe gumbo too. Yes, it is comfort food, but it’s more than that, a delicious blend of big flavors with just enough heat to liven things up. Perfect for Mardi Gras – or a cold winter night. The duck adds a meaty depth to this version, but if you can’t find duck legs, you can substitute chicken.

Duck and Andouille Sausage Gumbo
Serves 4

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