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No city in America is so simultaneously "everywhere" yet unique as New Orleans. Where else do Catholic priests and Voodoo queens bend elbows together in honor of a pall carried by six, white-gloved men while mourners dance to the rhythm of a mobile brass jazz band?
When people think of New Orleans they often think of revelry and Mardi Gras, or of Professor Longhair’s "Tipitina," or what Fats Domino found on Blueberry Hill. Some think of haunted hotels and tin-foil monuments in the cities of the Dead. But I imagine many, like me, think of food.
Jambalaya, barbecued shrimp, oysters, crawfish pie, etouffee, sauce picante--but topping the list iconic dishes is gumbo. This is not surprising because the Crescent City is itself a gumbo, a melting pot of black and white and red simmering together for centuries. The flavors of St. Charles Ave, Bourbon Street, and the French Quarter symbolize this mirepoix, and that dark, muddy river is the roux that brings it all together.
I read a definition of gumbo recently that went something like this: "Gumbo is a soup which may include a variety of meats, thickened with a cooked flour mixture called a roux." I suppose that is technically correct. But it left out all the slide trombones.
A perfect Fall food, gumbo is great for serving crowds. And given the mystique of Cajun and Creole cultures, the dish is surprisingly easy to make. I'd like to share my own recipe that I learned from a bona fide Coon Ass named Richard Richard (last named pronounced ree-shard).
Chicken and Sausage Gumbo
6 cups of Stock
1 lb Smoked sausage (andouille if you can find it)
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup of flour
1 large onion
2 ribs of celery
1/2 of a Bell Pepper
2 cloves of minced garlic
1 bay leaf
1/2 tbs Cajun seasoning
1/2 tbs dried thyme
1/2 tbs of gumbo filé
1/2 cup chopped okra
1/2 tbs Worcestershire sauce
1/2 tbs Louisiana hot sauce (more to taste after it is done)
*optional (1 can of ro-tel)
To be served with either cooked rice or roasted sweet potatoes.
To begin, either boil a whole chicken, or several thighs, reserving the stock. (Or you can use a chicken that has already been cooked like a rotisserie chicken.) Debone and set meat aside.
Next, chop everything that needs chopping. This includes all of your vegetables and your sausage. If your chicken is still in large piece you may want to chop or shred it too.
Brown sausage and set aside.
Now that your meat is standing by, all of your items are chopped, and the stock is patiently waiting, it is time to make the roux. The roux is the only difficult part of making a gumbo, and is also the most important. The flavor of the end product is made at this stage.
To make your roux, add your olive oil to a good heavy bottomed pot (I prefer cast iron) and bring the stove to medium high. As soon as the oil starts to swirl with heat, add the flour and begin whisking constantly. Do not take a break, do not check Twitter, do not stand still.
Keep whisking until the roux is between the color of peanut butter and milk chocolate (this usually takes around half an hour). But you should not see individual bits darker than the whole. If this happens, start over, it is now a burnt offering unto the Lord.
Once you have reached the dark roux stage add the onion, bell pepper and celery and cook between 5-10 minutes until slightly soft. Then add the garlic for 1 minute.
Next, whisk in chicken stock a cup at a time. You will want to use around 6 cups total. Then add everything except the okra and the filé. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook slightly uncovered for an hour and a half.
20 minutes before the gumbo is finished cooking add the chopped okra. Once finished, Remove from heat and add the filé . Serve with rice or roasted sweet potatoes. And there you have it! Chicken and Sausage gumbo!