TWIN FALLS — Nancy Koonce's first gumbo was a disaster.
Yours doesn’t have to be.
Koonce’s former husband laughed. Her children told her not to make it again.
But now Koonce can bring the roux to the brink and back again.
Koonce grew up in Twin Falls but lived in Sulpher, La., for 29 years. Now she's back here and as a certified public accountant.
Her ex-husband had a large family that got together often and made lots of Cajun food.
"I learned to cook and try not to talk funny," Koonce said.
Koonce's first gumbo didn’t come out right because she burned the roux. It floated to the surface of her gumbo in black flakes.
When it comes to making gumbo, the roux is everything. Roux is flour and fat cooked together to thicken sauces.
Here are some tips to making your sure your first gumbo is a success.
1. Do not be afraid. Roux is perfect when it’s on the verge of becoming burned.
2. How will you know? The roux will be the color of chocolate. Koonce estimates it should take 20 minutes to get to this color.
3. Use a heavy pot. This will help disperse the heat evenly. You will want to keep the temperature at medium and stir constantly the entire time.
4. Smoke is a good sign. "It will start smoking," Koonce said. "That's OK, just keep stirring. That's the secret."
5. How much smoke is good smoke? The oil from the roux will just start to come to the surface when it’s complete.
6. Then just add water and the rest of the ingredients and let it cook.
7. You can make small adjustments to the recipe such as switching out protein for seafood options like shrimp, duck or oysters. Koonce doesn’t recommend substituting beef in the recipe.
8. Don’t omit these ingredients: Celery, bell peppers and onions are considered the trinity of Cajun cooking.
9. If you want to make your gumbo spicier, you can add cayenne or Tabasco sauce. Koonce said she went through a phase where she tried to make everything she cooked fat-free. That doesn't work with Cajun cuisine. It loses all its flavor.
When Koonce moved back to Twin Falls in 2003, she would hold a Mardi Gras party, but it got so big that she quit hosting it. She recently cooked Cajun food for co-workers at Ataraxis Accounting and Advisory.
Receptionist Claudia Johns said the first time she tried Koonce’s crawfish pie. Ahe liked it, which surprised her.
“I don't think I'd try crawfish pie on my own but really liked it,” Johns said. “People make tuna casserole and it’s disgusting. Warm fish is disgusting.”
Johns said the crawfish pie didn’t have a fishy taste and was similar to a quiche with its flaky crust. She also enjoyed Koonce’s gumbo.
“It’s good,” she said. “It’s not really a soup and not really a stew. It’s not really hot, it’s flavorful. I don't mind trying something new. Nancy doesn't make anything bad.”
Except that one time she made tomato sorbet.
“We still tease her about it,” Johns said. “It was a bad idea.”