Gumbo! Gumbo! Gumbo!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Despite having never actually been there, I love the south. I love the food, I love the attitude, the history, the music, the soul in the south. I don't think there is any place in America that has more soul than the south. And this is coming from a Southern California girl born and raised, who was a Yankee for a few years. And again, me never having actually phsycially gone to the south...ever.

But I know it. How? Because of the food.

My favorite kind of food is one where I can taste the history, the soul of people who made it. I want to taste their tears, their laughter, their journey in that food. I want each bite to take me back and transport me to a different time. And no other cuisine in America that I've ever tried can do that, except for southern food. In particular, gumbo.

Gumbo has its history extending far out from Louisianna. It's a thick stew, using The Trinity as the flavor base, then flavored with different proteins (usually fowl of some type, andouille sausage, and shellfish), spiced with cayenne pepper, garlic, and other aromatics, and thickend with roux. It often uses okra as both a vegetable and thickener. In fact, the name gumbo comes from the West African tribe, The Bantu's, name for okra, which is "ki ngombo." The roux and Trinity come from France (the Trinity being the American version of the miripox), and is largely based on the French fish stew, bouillabaise. The African slaves brought their use of okra, spicy peppers like cayenne, and other ingredients and merged it with the French settlers who contributed the Trinity part and use of proteins, and after a few years of mingling incredible cuisines called Cajun and Creole were born. And amazing dishes like gumbo.

Gumbo is literally a Throw It All In The Pot type of meal. The only rule is you have to use a roux and you have to use The Trinity. There are hundreds of various flavor combinations, using a variety of different ingredients. Even the color and flavor of the roux can yield twenty different gumbos. They even have a special gumbo for Lent, using only vegetables and fresh herbs.

Everyone's got their own family gumbo. Each neighborhood has their own gumbo. Each restaurant specializes in their own version of the flavorful stew. It's one of those things that you will never tire of eating, because each bowl comes with its own story.

My friend Lisa recently surprised me with a package of homemade andouille sausage last week, so of course the first thing I had to make was a pot of gumbo. I don't have any pictures to share with you, because it was eaten that fast in our house. This recipe is based on a super basic gumbo recipe from Emeril Lagasse. It hits all the basic flavor marks of gumbo and is a great introduction into the world of Creole and Cajun cooking. You need to invest some time in it, pop open a beer and love that roux into existence. Here's a link for Roux from a previous posting, explaining the different stages of roux and some tips on making it. And another piece of advice: make sure you prep and cut all of your ingredients before starting; that roux will literally require you to stand next to it -- you will not have time to leave and chop up an onion!

Chicken, Andouille, Shrimp and Okra Gumbo with White Rice
1 Tbsp + 1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 lb andouille sausage, cut crosswise 1/2-inch thick pieces
2 large chicken breasts, trimmed and cubed
1 Tbsp Creole seasoning (recommend: Tony Chechere's or Emeril's Bayou Blast)
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups chopped onions
1 cup chopped celery
1 cup chopped bell peppers
1 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp cayenne
3 bay leaves
9 cups chicken stock or canned low-sodium chicken broth
1 cup frozen chopped okra
1 lb shrimp, peeled and deveined and tails removed if desired
1/2 cup chopped green onions
2 Tbsp chopped parsley leaves
1 Tbsp file powder
White Rice, recipe follows
Hot sauce

In a large enameled cast iron Dutch oven or large pot, heat 1 tablespoon of the vegetable oil over medium-high heat. Add the sausage and cook until well browned, about 8 minutes. Remove the sausage with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Set aside.

Season the chicken with the Creole seasoning and add in batches to the fat remaining in the pan. Cook over medium-high heat until well browned, 5 to 6 minutes. Remove the chicken from the pan, let cool, and then refrigerate until ready to use. Don't worry if the chicken isn't cooked all the way through yet -- it will finish cooking in the broth soon.

Add remaining 1/2 cup oil and all of the flour all at once into the same Dutch oven, right over the oil from the sausage and chicken. Cook over medium heat, stirring slowly and constantly for 20 to 25 minutes, to make a dark brown roux, the color of chocolate.

[amount of bay leave you use will also depend on how small they are; here they were smaller so I used 5]

Add the onions, celery, and bell peppers all at once and cook, stirring, until wilted, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the reserved sausage, salt, cayenne, and bay leaves, stir, and cook for 2 minutes. Stirring, slowly add the chicken stock, and cook, stirring, until well combined. Bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook, uncovered and stirring occasionally, for 1 hour.

Add the reserved chicken to the pot and simmer for 45 minutes, skimming off any fat that rises to the surface. Add the okra and shrimp together all at once, and cook another 5 minutes. You can add the okra frozen; no need to defrost it first.

Remove the pot from the heat. Taste and adjust flavors with more creole seasoning and cayenne to taste. Stir in the green onions, parsley, and file powder.

Spoon rice into the bottom of deep bowls or large cups and ladle the gumbo on top. Serve, passing hot sauce on the side.

White Rice
2 cups long-grain white rice
4 cups water, chicken stock, or canned low-sodium chicken broth
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 bay leaf

In a 2-quart saucepan, combine the rice, water, butter, salt, and bay leaf and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer until all the liquid is absorbed, about 20 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and let sit, covered and undisturbed, for 5 minutes.

Uncover and fluff the rice with a fork. Discard the bay leaf and serve.

Emeril's ESSENCE Creole Seasoning (also referred to as Bayou Blast):
2 1/2 tablespoons paprika
2 tablespoons salt
2 tablespoons garlic powder
1 tablespoon black pepper
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 tablespoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon dried thyme

Combine all ingredients thoroughly. Yield: 2/3 cup

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