Three weeks into starting a gluten free diet, Mandy Migues knew she had to get creative to keep eating what she loved. The limitations imposed by a strict gluten-free diet denied her the joys of her grandmas Cajun cooking, an oral history of recipes she used to make a home menu of Louisiana favorites. The thought of giving that up, even to improve her day-to-day health, was devastating.
The problem with Cajun and Creole cooking for the gluten-free diet is that it usually starts with roux, a mixture of browned wheat flour and oil that is used as a thickening base to many Louisiana staples. Wheat flour, as any gluten-free diner will tell you, is kryptonite to the gluten-sensitive. To imagine a roux-less life for Mandy, would mean a life without most of her favorite foods, a problem that needed an immediate solution. I needed to make sure I had roux in my life. The roux goes into shrimp stew, chicken stew, sauce piquante, Mandy says. In short, roux was the key to continuing her life as normal.
When a friend suggested substituting rice flour for the traditional wheat flour in her roux, the innovation reopened Mandys connection to her familys food traditions through a variety of dishes, not the least of which was her grandmothers shrimp and egg gumbo. Skeptical though she may have been, the promise of a gluten free version of a family staple was too good not to try, and she set out to a make a gluten-free version of her childhood favorite.
Besides the rice flour substitution, the recipe for the shrimp and egg gumbo was unchanged. She began with a roux of three parts flour to four parts oil, browned to nearly blackened in a cast-iron skillet. Once the roux reached a dark chocolate color, she sauted onions and green peppers in the mixture until softened and immersed in the deep brown folds. She found the rice flour browned somewhat faster than the wheat she was accustomed to, but otherwise showed no difference, at least by appearance. She dissolved the roux by the spoonful into a gumbo pot of boiling water, tossing in shrimp and hard-boiled eggs, and cooking them till the shrimp were done. She ladled a helping over rice with a side of her no trash, no-nonsense potato salad of eggs, potatoes, mayo, and Creole seasoning (thankfully gluten-free in its original form).
The results? Well, the rice flour made no difference whatsoever, which in this experiment was the exact result she wanted. On first bite her tongue recognized it for what it was: a roux-less but genuine gumbo article. It was roux. It was gumbo. It worked! she remembered. The great gluten-free gumbo experiment was a resounding success, at least as far she was concerned.
Mandy has since served her gluten-free roux in a variety of family recipes, even variations of other gumbos. Most importantly, the rice flour alternative has as yet gone unnoticed by even the most discerning of Cajun palates. Fooling well-seasoned Cajun foodies, to Mandy, is the proof in the putting. If there are Cajun people in the world that cant taste the difference, then it cant taste that bad.
Mandy Migues' Gluten Free Shrimp & Egg Gumbo
1 Large Onion
c Fresh Parsley
c Green Onion
1 Green Bell Pepper
2 lb 91 Count Shrimp, Peeled, Cleaned and Deveined
2 tsp Slap Ya Mama or Cajun/Creole Seasoning
4 qt of Water, Shrimp Stock or Combination
tsp Cayenne Pepper
Hard Boiled Eggs
Gently place eggs in small pot on stove.
Cover eggs with 1 inch water.
Turn stove on high until water is just boiling.
Turn off heat and cover pot with lid.
Let eggs sit for 13 minutes in water.
Peel eggs under cold water.
Set aside peeled eggs in bowl for later.
Dice onion, green onion and green bell pepper to preferred thickness and finely chop parsley. Set aside for later.
Rinse shrimp under cool water. Season with 1 tsp of Slap Ya Mama or Cajun/Creole seasoning of your choice. Set aside for later.
In large pot start water, shrimp stock or combination of both on a low boil for later.
1 c White Rice Flour
c Vegetable Oil
Mix white rice flour and vegetable oil in a small cast iron skillet continuously stirring on medium heat until you reach the desired color of roux. Depending on your preference of darkness the roux will take anywhere from thirty minutes to an hour. Once you have reached the color of roux you desire turn off the heat and add a handful of onion and green bell pepper, continuing to stir until the skillet cools. Once the skillet has cooled set aside for later.
When liquid in pot begins boiling add remaining onion, green bell pepper, parsley and green onion and cook for five minutes on high heat.
Add roux to the boiling water one spoonful at a time until dissolved.
Cook mixture for 10 minutes on medium to high heat.
Add peeled eggs to pot and cook for another 10 minutes.
Add remaining seasoning and cayenne pepper.
Add shrimp to pot and cook for 10 minutes or until cooked through. Shrimp should be firm and completely white with a little pink on the outside.
Adjust seasonings to taste with salt and pepper.
Serve gumbo over steamed rice.
Lafayette native Christiaan Mader has been eating gumbo for over thirty years, twenty-eight of which hes managed do so without any help from his mom. When not waxing pompously about food and what should be in it, hes writing and recording songs for his critically acclaimed band Brass Bed, a fixture of the south Louisiana music scene. Hes performed internationally with Sub Pop recording artist Shearwater, and written Ray Davies fan fiction for Vice Magazine. His music has been featured in publications like Spin, Entertainment Weekly, and The New Yorker, as well as on nationally syndicated radio programs and podcasts produced by NPR and KEXP.To view more of Christiaan's work, or to contact him about a project please visit christiaanmader.pressfolios.com/.