January 21, 1998
Twice a Year, It's a Gumbo Gig
By ERIC ASIMOV
By night, six months out of the year, Tony Garnier is on stage
somewhere in the world, playing bass behind Bob Dylan. By day,
once and maybe twice a year, Mr. Garnier stands behind a stove,
feverishly stirring the roux of what will in a few hours become a
Mr. Garnier's gumbo is a holiday tradition, something he makes in great
quantity around Christmas, when Mr. Dylan, whom Mr. Garnier has
played with for nine years, can be counted on to take a break. He then
serves it to friends, fellow musicians and acquaintances, whom he
to the narrow East Village apartment he shares with his wife, Trisha
This week, his gumbo-loving legion is again in luck. With the Dylan tour
residence at the Theater at Madison Square Garden through tonight, Mr.
Garnier seized the rare opportunity to make a second round.
Mark Strausman, the chef and owner of Campagna on East 21st Street,
has not only sampled Mr. Garnier's gumbo, but was also present at the
creation of several batches when they shared an apartment in the
mid-1980's. "What was cool was it used to cook for hours and hours in
the house," he said. "You knew it was the realest thing you ever
Gumbo is one of those mystical folk dishes, like paella and
made from heirloom recipes that are argued over passionately and
personalized by cooks who are loath to give up their secret ingredients.
is easy to find in restaurants, far from its spiritual Louisiana home,
it's almost always a soupy imitation of the real thing. But Mr. Garnier,
comes by his gumbo naturally. His father and grandfather, both named
D'Jalma, came from New Orleans. Although Mr. Garnier was born in
Minnesota, one of eight children, and grew up in California, he has
been far away from real gumbo.
"I would always have great gumbo at my aunt's in L.A.," he said. "Easter
and Thanksgiving, they'd serve gumbo and turkey and ham, but we'd only
eat the gumbo because it was so great. They'd get mad at us because
that's all we would eat."
But Mr. Garnier never learned to make gumbo until he joined his first
professional band, Asleep at the Wheel, in 1973 and moved to Texas.
Touring the South, the band would regularly play Jay's Lounge and
Cockpit, a dive deep in Cajun country where the proprietor would keep
a pot of gumbo simmering for when the music and the cockfighting were
done for the night.
"I became interested in how to cook it, so I'd sneak back to the kitchen
and ask questions," Mr. Garnier said.
The soul of every gumbo is the roux, a seemingly simple amalgamation of
flour and fat that, like the blues, is easy to produce but hard to
well. Over the course of three or four years, Mr. Garnier managed to pry
away Jay's recipe and his techniques. He kept experimenting and learning
as he traveled, playing with Robert Gordon and Buster Poindexter and
countless blues bands before joining Mr. Dylan in 1989. After 10 years,
he finally achieved his own deep, intense gumbo, made with a roux that
nearly black -- Cajun-style -- as opposed to its lighter Creole cousin.
The roux is cooked almost to the point of burning, but yanked back from
the precipice just in time. If even the smallest bit of roux burns, all
"You just have to stand there and be fearless," Mr. Garnier said. "Just
when you think it's going to burn, you have to take it off."
There are countless methods for making gumbo, many of them much
easier than Mr. Garnier's. You can bake a roux and even microwave it,
but he chooses the traditional, labor-intensive way. He precooks his
duck, then uses the fat for his roux. So that the stock will have less
it, he precooks his chicken, sausage and shrimp rather than simply
dumping them into the pot.
To thicken the gumbo, he combines the Creole technique of using okra,
cooked until it practically dissolves, and the Cajun method of using
powder, made from sassafras leaves, which the Cajuns learned from the
Mr. Garnier is happy to share his recipe, though not all of it. Like
traditionalists, he keeps one ingredient secret to preserve its
"I was with him for six years before he let me know what the secret
ingredient was," said Ms. Mulligan, his wife, a freelance cook and
herself. "But it's great without it."
TONY GARNIER'S GUMBO
Total time: 7 1/2 hours
1 medium free-range duck, cut into 8 to 10 pieces
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Cayenne pepper to taste
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 large yellow onions, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 1/2 tablespoons chopped garlic
1 green bell pepper, chopped
1 pound okra, stemmed and thinly sliced
6 quarts unsalted chicken or vegetable stock, or unsalted canned broth
1 tablespoon celery salt
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
6 bay leaves
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 pound pheasant sausage, hot or mild (see note)
1 free-range chicken, cut into 8 pieces
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 pounds medium shrimp, peeled
4 scallions, including tops, chopped
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
4 cups cooked rice
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Season duck with salt, black pepper and cayenne to taste. Place in a
deep roasting pan, and roast until the meat releases most of the fat,
Reserve the duck meat (cool, cover, and refrigerate) and allow the pan
juices to settle.
Carefully pour 1 1/2 cups clear duck fat from the pan into a large
measuring cup. If there is less than a cup of duck fat, add enough
vegetable oil to make 1 cup.
Discard fat and juices remaining in pan.
Duck meat and fat may be prepared a day ahead, and stored, covered, in
the refrigerator. 2. Prepare a roux: In a heavy 4-quart saucepan over
medium-low heat, warm the duck fat.
Slowly add flour, stirring constantly. After about 10 minutes, mixture
have the consistency of thick gravy.
If it is too thick, add a small amount of vegetable oil. Continue to
adjusting heat (or removing pan from stove, if necessary) to prevent
Continue to stir constantly as the mixture gradually darkens to the
milk chocolate, about 30 minutes.
Remove from flame, and let mixture settle for about 10 minutes.
Pour off and discard oil that has separated from roux. Roux may be
prepared a day ahead, and stored, covered, in the refrigerator. 3. Place
pan with roux over medium heat. Add onions, celery, 1 tablespoon garlic,
and half the bell pepper.
Cook about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Add okra. Cook, stirring, an additional 15 minutes. 4. In a large
stockpot, bring chicken or vegetable stock to a full boil.
Pour about 4 cups of stock into roux mixture, and stir well.
Pour all of roux mixture into stockpot. Bring to a boil, and add celery
cloves, allspice, bay leaves and Worcestershire. Boil uncovered for 15
Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 1 1/2 hours. Add duck to
stockpot, and return to a simmer. 5. Slice sausage into rounds.
In a small skillet over medium heat, brown sausage until the fat is
Remove sausage from fat, and add to stockpot.
Continue simmering for an additional 1 1/2 hours. 6. Preheat oven to 350
Season chicken with salt, black pepper and cayenne.
Place in a roasting pan, and bake until juices run clear when meat is
pierced, about 40 minutes.
Add chicken to stockpot. Simmer an additional 45 minutes. 7. About 15
minutes before serving time, place a large skillet over medium heat.
Add the olive oil, remaining garlic, remaining bell peppers and shrimp.
Sauté briefly, about 2 minutes.
Add to stockpot. Add scallions and parsley, and adjust seasonings if
To serve, ladle over bowls of rice.
Sprinkle about 1/4 teaspoon filé powder in each bowl, and stir.
Serve immediately. Yield: 12 servings. Note: Pheasant sausage is
available from Quattros at Union Square Greenmarket, (914) 635-8202.