For some locals, like self-described “Freelance Cajun” Jo Vidrine, the gumbo communion begins long before the onions, bell peppers, and celery are chopped into the trinity. Jo and his comrades begin their gumbos with a 3:30 AM wake-up call to hunt wood duck around the village of Estherwood, thirty-five miles due west of Lafayette. You could look at it as the first in a five-step recipe for a twenty-four hour duck and sausage gumbo. First, hunt your limit of wild wood duck. Second, pluck and clean the fowl. Third, nap. Fourth, cook gumbo. Fifth, dance the night away.
Wild wood duck, Jo muses, is what separates his duck and sausage gumbo from the sort you find in Lafayette’s restaurants. It’s something you literally can’t buy in stores, and that experience is essential to the earthiness of the recipe. “I know who shot it. I know who cleaned it. I know what went into making it,” he says. The flavor base of the gumbo is essentially a duck gravy: whole birds browned in a cast iron pot, their fat rendered into flavor and deglazed with water, stock, or even beer, if it’s the only liquid in grabbing distance. He thins the duck gravy with boiling stock, dollops of roux dissolving into a dark cloud, and simmers the mixture with homemade smoked pork sausage. The recipe is inexact, but it’s never complete without adding a few friends around to chat while waiting for the duck to fall off the bone.
If gumbo is a social dish, then Jo’s is a fais-do-do that is equal parts supper club, ad hoc dance hall, and celebration of the hunt. When he’s making a gumbo, he’s not just cooking food, he’s cooking up a party. “Cooking is a social event for me. Even if there was no food or music, the people would have a good time,” he says. He spends so much time hunting, prepping, cooking, and entertaining that he and his chief partner in crime Jay Miller are newlyweds on their wedding day: around for the party, but never getting to eat.
Eating gumbo is beside the point, however. With great company the gumbo lasts all night, long after every last morsel is eaten. Food may have been the bait, but the party balloons well into the evening, often into the crisp and dim winter mornings. When Jo makes gumbo, he is making time for his friends and family. His is not just the duck and sausage in savory juice. It’s fiddles on the front porch harmonizing traditional Cajun melodies. It’s dancing till dawn. Making a gumbo is just another way of passing a good time.
– 3 Wild Wood Ducks, Cleaned
– I lb Homemade Smoked Pork Sausage
– 2 Large Yellow Onions
– 1 Green Bell Pepper
– 1 Yellow Bell Pepper
– 1 Red Bell Pepper
– 1 Whole Garlic
– 8 c Water, Chicken Broth or Stock
– 1/2 c Bruneaux’s Bon Cajun Seasoning
* Bruneaux’s Bon Cajun Seasoning is recommended because of its low salt
content allowing you to add your own salt to the gumbo for better flavor
– 2 c Flour
– 2 c Vegetable oil
Mix equal parts flour and vegetable oil in a 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 and a half. Once you have reached the color of roux you desire take the cast iron skillet off the heat, continuing to stir until the skillet cools. Once the skillet has cooled set aside for later.
Preheat the oven to 350° in preparation for roasting the garlic.
Season the cleaned wild wood ducks with Bruneaux’s Bon Cajun Seasoning.
Chop yellow onions, green, red and yellow bell peppers to preferred thickness.
Break up garlic clove into pieces and place in a small roasting pan for about 45 minutes in the oven.
Brown the seasoned wild wood ducks on all sides at a medium heat in a cast iron pot until just past golden brown, as you would do if you were browning meat to make a gravy.
Once the wild wood ducks are browned to satisfaction, add chopped yellow onions, green, red and yellow bell peppers into the cast iron pot and cook for three to five minutes.
Add water, chicken broth or stock to the cast iron pot.
Once water has come to a boil add roux to the cast iron pot until it reaches your desired color and thickness.
Remove roasted garlic from the oven, peel the skins off and add to the cast iron pot.
Cut homemade smoked pork sausage into ¼ inch medallions and add to the cast iron pot 45 minutes to an hour before serving so sausage is plump and moist when served.
Gumbo should continue to cook until the wild wood duck meat is nearly falling off the bone.
Make sure gumbo is seasoned to taste. Add salt and Bruneaux’s Bon Cajun Seasoning as needed. Other seasonings to add if desired would be herb de provence, garlic powder, onion powder and/or sea salt.
At this point if the dish needs to be thickened add more roux to the cast iron pot and dissolve.
Serve over rice.
Eat, smile, laugh and share good times with the beautiful people you love.
Lafayette native Christiaan Mader has been eating gumbo for over thirty years, twenty-eight of which he’s managed do so without any help from his mom. When not waxing pompously about food and what should be in it, he’s writing and recording songs for his critically acclaimed band Brass Bed, a fixture of the south Louisiana music scene. He’s 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/.