CHICAGO - When it comes to gumbo, the darker, the better.
At Fifolet Cajun and Cocktails in Wicker Park, the kitchen prides itself on hearty one-pot dishes. This simpler fare reflects the way Cajuns have always cooked, unlike fancier Creole dishes inspired by the French.
That means the pressure is on to serve a perfect gumbo. Like many Cajun dishes, gumbo begins with a roux.
"As simple as flour and butter, just has to be done very carefully and constantly stirring so they don't burn it," said Fifolet owner Baris Yuksel.
After five to ten minutes of constantly stirring, the roux looks blonde. After 20 minutes, it becomes brick-colored, and the cook has to stir constantly to prevent burning.
40 minutes in, the roux become chocolate-colored.
"Essentially it is believed the darker the roux the better," said Yuksel.
Chili flakes and bay leaves go in first, followed by the Holy Trinity - chopped white onions, peppers and celery.
There is more vigorous stirring, and fresh chopped garlic, cherry tomatoes and spices are added. Chicken stock helps bring everything together, and finally, okra.
The gumbo must stew slowly for up to an hour or more before it's topped with seafood and andouille sausage for a hearty starter. Fifolet also makes a second, gluten-free gumbo with duck instead of seafood.
Fifolet's jambalaya is similarly complex, building flavors with a gradual escalation of Cajun spice. Shrimp, andouille, catfish and blue crab are fortified with herb butter and chicken stock. Once it boils, rice is added and cooked even longer.
The jambalaya is topped with a drizzle of yellow pepper sauce and a few shakes of smoked paprika. Served with a bracing Hurricane made with two kinds of rum and fresh passion fruit juice, the bold flavors are hard to beat on a chilly night.
"No two restaurants serve the same dish, and that can be said also when you go to New Orleans, every restaurant has its own little spin on it," Yuksel said.
A lot of Cajun and Creole restaurants in Chicago tend to hold back on the spice, but Fifolet does not. The flavors there are similar to restaurants in the Big Easy.
Fifolet Cajun & Cocktails
1942 W Division St.
In Steve's Extra Course Video, he checks out Fifolet's take on the classic combo of beignets showered in powdered sugar and café au lait.
Extra Course: Fifolet Cajun & Cocktails