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 grandma’s 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 Mandy’s connection to her family’s food traditions through a variety of dishes, not the least of which was her grandmother’s 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 sautéed 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 can’t taste the difference, then it can’t taste that bad”.
Click on the image below to download the recipe.