Anyone who has ever watched much American TV or American movies has herd of Gumbo. I had heard of Gumbo. But I had never seen it, tasted it, let alone tried to make it, so I was thrilled when this month’s daring cooks challenge was revealed as Gumbo. 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.
So, armed with a very long recipe/s I set off to source some chicken and smoked sausage. I went off to the Farm Shop in nearby Alderley Edge for the chicken. I have an opinion on chicken, yes. I don’t like supermarket chicken. In the supermarket most of the chicken is battery farm chicken, and I loathe buying that on principle alone, but also because the poor little chicken breasts of the chickens who have never seen the sunshine and never set foot outside their warehouse are so small, that the supermarkets/suppliers feel the need to inject the tiny chicken breasts with water to plump them up. So on the shelf they look fat and juicy but when you get them home and cook them they shrink ridiculously and end up a quarter of the size that they were when they went into the oven. How its not illegal to do that, when us poor consumers are paying by the weight, I just don’t know.
So at the lovely Alderley Farm Shop they have their chickens running around outside as happy as Larry. And thats nice, how it should be. They can at least be given some semblance of a nice existence before they end up on the barbecue or in the oven. So I purchased a lovely fat whole chicken, thinking I’d use half for the stock and the other half for the Gumbo (which I was halving the recipe for), perfect solution. When I got my prize home I started with the stock. All the veggies were prepared in no time, and then came the task of tackling the chicken.
I have never dismembered a chicken before, but how hard could it be? Really? As it turns out, when you are not as clued up as you could be on chicken anatomy, it can be hard. Nevertheless I took my biggest, baddest knife and attacked the poor chicken the best way I could figure out to do. It was’t pretty, but in the end I had something resembling chicken pieces. And they were lovely pieces, lovely non-water-injected fat breasts. Just how I like them. (That sounds a little wrong doesn’t it? Oh well, you know what I mean)
The stock boiled away on the stove for the afternoon and by the time it came to starting the gumbo it was a rich, golden, chickeny delight. I did all my prep of the veggies and sausage for the Chicken and Sausage Gumbo before I started as the recipe specifically directed, and then I tried not to cringe at the thought of the cholesterol while scooping the goose fat into my lovely red cast iron pan. The fat and flour roux was an experience alright. I have never made a roux with anything but butter before, and this was a whole different kettle of fish. I knew that the roux was meant to turn brown, dark brown even, but I was rather paranoid at the smell of it. It smelled a bit like burning flour. I tried not to be paranoid that I was messing it up horribly, and soldiered on.
I had the Gumbo cooking away for a couple of hours and it was done just as the neighbours arrived for dinner. I had thought that as I had such a huge pot of the stuff the least I could do would be to share it. It wasn’t exactly dinner party elegant or pretty, but dang was it tasty. In addition to the chicken I had used smoked sausage and some lovely fresh chorizo all the way from spain, and that combined with the truly wonderful creole spices created the most delicious, flavourful, wonderful pot of food. I had started dinner with a whole pot of it, and I did not even manage to get a picture of the finished article on the plate before it was gone. All of it. Excellent!
I can’t thank Denise enough for this flavour revelation, and I will certainly be making gumbo again. Today? Maybe 🙂
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 ½ to 4 lbs.), cut into 10 pieces
2 tablespoons (30 ml) (15 gm) (½ oz) Basic Creole Spices (recipe follows), or store-bought Creole spice blend
2 pounds (2 kilograms) spicy smoked sausage, sliced ½ 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 (recipe follows), 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, ½ -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 rice of your choice
1. Prepare homemade chicken stock, if using (recipe below).
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.
Basic Chicken Stock
From My New Orleans: The Cookbook, by John Besh?Original recipe quantities doubled to yield 3 quarts needed for Drew’s Chicken & Smoked Sausage Gumbo
½-cup (120 ml) canola oil (or other vegetable oil)
2 onions, coarsely chopped
2 stalks celery, coarsely chopped
2 carrots, peeled and coarsely chopped
2 leeks, white part only, coarsely chopped
8 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
2 pounds (1 kilogram) leftover roasted chicken bones and carcasses
2 bay leaves
2 sprigs fresh thyme
2 teaspoons (10 ml) (5 gm) black peppercorns (about 1 teaspoon ground pepper)
6 quarts (5½ liters) water
1. Heat the canola oil in a large stockpot over moderate heat. Add the onions, celery, carrots, leeks, and garlic. Stir often, until vegetables are soft but not brown, about 3 minutes.
2. Add the chicken bones and carcasses, the bay leaves, thyme, peppercorns, and water. Increase the heat to high and bring to a boil. Immediately reduce the heat to low and gently simmer, uncovered, skimming any foam that rises to the surface, until the stock has reduced by half, about 2 hours.
3. Strain through a fine sieve into a clean container. Allow the stock to cool, cover and refrigerate, then skim off the fat. Use immediately, for freeze for later use.
Basic Creole Spices
From My New Orleans: The Cookbook, by John Besh?Makes ½ 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?½ teaspoon (2½ ml) (1½ 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.