Laissez les bons temps rouler (Cajun French for "Let the good times roll".) I like the attitude. Lately, maybe it's the changing of seasons or just watching a few people in my life go through some real life struggles, I really need that inspiration.
Our May hostess, Denise of There’s a Newf in My Soup!, challenged The Daring Cooks to make Gumbo! She provided us with all the recipes we’d need from creole spices, homemade stock and Louisiana white rice, to Drew’s Chicken & Smoked Sausage Gumbo and Seafood Gumbo from My New Orleans: The Cookbook, by John Besh.
(Read as a loud and long Cajun yell) Wwoooo-Hooooo! Doesn't that feel good? Sometimes if I let myself exhale really loudly, like a Hollywood Yoga class, it really releases stress.
If you're a cook, you'll completely understand this: Working in the kitchen on a multi-layered stew with chopping and mixing and several steps to it can be relaxing. It's therapeutic to me. If you don't enjoy cooking, you've probably stopped reading just thinking about that insane remark.
Gumbo is one of those stews (if done somewhere near authentically) that has several layers of prep and cooking. It was this month's Daring Cook's challenge and the biggest challenge about it was finding the time to enjoy the process. Looking back at it, I feel like I exhaled really loudly. The best part was I also got to have an amazing dinner that my whole family absolutely loved. Go for it, laissez les bons temps rouler!
Words to know for Real Good Gumbo:
Roux (roo) - This forms the foundation for good flavor. It's made by heating fat (rendered chicken/duck fat or canola oil), then adding an equal amount of flour to the heated oil. Whisk on med. heat (about 15 minutes) to turn the roux into a dark caramel color full of flavor and natural thickening power. After it's a nice dark color, you add the onions (and change to a wooden spoon for stirring) and let them caramelize and darken the roux further.
Holy Trinity (not that one) - This is a mixture of chopped onions, celery, and green peppers. In Cajun cooking and a lot of mid-southern cooking, this combo forms a base of flavor for many stews, braises and soups. The preparation of classic Cajun/Creole dishes such étouffée, gumbo, and jambalaya all start from the base of this holy trinity. In other cooking a similar mixture is used of chopped onions, celery and carrots and is called Mirepoix (meer pwah) from french cooking and Soffrito (so-Free-toe) in Italian.Okra - These delicately ridged and tapered green pods, sometimes called Ladies’ fingers, are a member of the mallow family and are bursting with tiny seeds as well as the glutinous compounds that make okra such a natural thickener for soups and gumbos. The smaller okra is more tender and sweet. I grew up with boiled okra (an acquired taste, I think) and fried okra (how can that not be great, right?) Filé powder (fee-lay) - In the 1800s, Choctaw Indians traveled in from communities on Lake Pontchartrain to sell this powder at the New Orleans French Market, along with bay leaves and handmade baskets. The Choctaws make filé by drying, then finely pounding, the leaves of the sassafras tree into a powder, then passing it through a hair sieve. The leaves, in the form of filéfilé was used to thicken the stew when okra was not available, but John Besh likes to use both. He cooks the okra in the gumbo and adds a couple dashes of filé, too, at the end. He also likes to pass filé at the table as a seasoning. The word comes from the French word filer, meaning, “to spin thread,” which is a warning not to add filé while the gumbo is still boiling, as it has a tendency to turn stringy.
**The recipe is as given by Daring Cooks, but I cut the recipe in half for a smaller yield and it works wonderfully with plenty for 5 people)
Drew’s Chicken & Smoked Sausage Gumbo
Minimally adapted from My New Orleans: The Cookbook, by John Besh Serves 10-12
1 cup (240 ml) (230 gm) rendered chicken fat, duck fat, or canola oil
1 cup (240 ml) (140 gm) (5 oz) flour
2 large onions, diced
1 chicken (3 1⁄2 to 4 lbs.), cut into 10 pieces
2 tablespoons (30 ml) (15 gm) (1⁄2 oz) Basic Creole Spices (recipe follows), or store-bought Creole spice blend
2 pounds (2 kilograms) spicy smoked sausage, sliced 1⁄2 inch (15mm) thick 2 stalks celery, diced
2 green bell peppers (capsicum), seeded and diced
1 tomato, seeded and chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
Leaves from 2 sprigs of fresh thyme
3 quarts (3 liters) Basic Chicken Stock, or canned chicken stock
2 bay leaves
6 ounces (175 gm) andouille sausage, chopped
2 cups (480 ml) (320 gm) (11 oz) sliced fresh okra, 1⁄2 -inch (15mm) thick slices (or frozen, if fresh is not available)
1 tablespoon (15 ml) Worcestershire sauce
Salt, to taste Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Filé powder, to taste
Tabasco, to taste
4-6 cups (1 – 11⁄2 liters) (650 gm – 950 gm) cooked Basic Louisiana White Rice (recipe follows)
1. Prepare homemade chicken stock, if using.
2. Prepare homemade Basic Creole Spices, if using (recipe below).
3. Season the chicken pieces with about 2 tablespoons of the Creole Spices while you prepare the vegetables.
4. Make sure all of your vegetables are cut, diced, chopped, minced and ready to go before beginning the roux. You must stand at the stove and stir the roux continuously to prevent it from burning.
5. In a large cast-iron or heavy-bottomed pan, heat the chicken fat, duck fat, or canola oil over high heat. Whisk the flour into the hot oil – it will start to sizzle. Reduce the heat to moderate, and continue whisking until the roux becomes deep brown in color, about 15 minutes.
6. Add the onions. Switch to a wooden spoon and stir the onions into the roux. Reduce the heat to medium-low. Continue stirring until the roux becomes a glossy dark brown, about 10 minutes.
7. Add the chicken to the pot; raise the heat to moderate, and cook, turning the pieces until slightly browned, about 10 minutes.
8. Add the sliced smoked sausage and stir for about a minute.
9. Add the celery, bell peppers, tomato, and garlic, and continue stirring for about 3 minutes.
10. Add the thyme, chicken stock, and bay leaves. Bring the gumbo to a boil, stirring occasionally.
11. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, uncovered, for 45 minutes. Stir occasionally, skimming off the fat from the surface of the gumbo every so often.
12. Add the chopped andouille, okra, and Worcestershire. Season with salt and pepper, several dashes of filé powder, and Tabasco, all to taste.
13. Simmer for another 45 minutes, continuing to skim the fat from the surface of the gumbo. Remove the bay leaves and serve in bowls over rice. Pass more filé powder at the table if desired.
Basic Creole Spices
From My New Orleans: The Cookbook, by John Besh Makes 1⁄2 cup
2 tablespoons (30 ml) (33 gm) celery salt
1 tablespoon (15 ml) (7 gm) sweet paprika
1 tablespoon (15 ml) (18 gm) coarse sea salt
1 tablespoon (15 ml) (6 gm) freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon (15 ml) (7 gm) garlic powder
1 tablespoon (15 ml) (7 gm) onion powder
2 teaspoons (10 ml) (4 gm) cayenne pepper
1⁄2 teaspoon (21⁄2 ml) (11⁄2 gm) ground allspice
Mix together all spices in a bowl. Transfer the spices to a clean container with a tight-fitting lid. Store up to six months.
Basic Louisiana White Rice
Adapted from My New Orleans: The Cookbook, by John Besh Servings: About 4 cups
1 tablespoon (30 ml) (30 gm) (1 oz) chicken fat, extra-virgin olive oil, or butter
1 small onion, minced
11⁄2 cups (360 m) ((280 gm) (10 oz) Louisiana (or another long-grain white rice)
3 cups (750 ml) Basic Chicken Stock
1 bay leaf
1-2 pinches salt
1. Put the fat, oil, or butter and the onions into a medium saucepan and sweat the onions over moderate heat until they are translucent, about 5 minutes.
2. Pour the rice into the pan and stir for 2 minutes.
3. Add the chicken stock and bring to a boil.
4. Add the bay leaf and salt.
5. Cover the pan with a lid, reduce the heat to low, and cook for 18 minutes.
6. Remove the pan from the heat, fluff the rice with a fork, and serve.