Chicken & Sausage Gumbo

Hands up, who likes okra? <cricket, cricket> I thought so. Me either. I mean, it looks like something the Star Trek crew would have spray-painted orange and pretended was exotic, alien fruit; it’s skin is hairy and kind of spiky; fresh okra seems to get limp and slimy after 10 minutes in the fridge; and let’s not even talk about the snot that oozes out once we slice it, hmm? Yet, despite my lack of love for the spiky green vegetable, to me, gumbo just isn’t gumbo without okra. And since I don’t really like okra any other way, when it arrives in our CSA bag, Tai starts licking his chops because he knows that gumbo is not far behind.

I’m not French. I’m not Canadian. I’m not from the South. As a born-and-bred northeastern Yankee with Irish, Scottish & Finnish heritage, I can lay no claims to “authenticity” in the fine art of gumbo-craft. I did, however, learn my mad roux skillz at the elbow of my Louisiana-bayou-born-and-bred friend Bobby Robicheaux, who used to brew up a big batch every year for his annual crawfish boil in Boston. And call me a country girl, but I like a deep, dark, chocolate-colored roux: it takes time, but lends so much depth of flavor to the gumbo. So, for me, gumbo = 1) okra, 2) deep, dark roux, 3) the Holy Trinity of onion, bell pepper and celery, and 4) time. Lots of time.

Gumbo takes time. There is lots of chopping, lots of stirring, lots of simmering. This is not a Tuesday night dinner recipe, it is a rainy, grey Saturday afternoon recipe (much like today, coincidentally). Gumbo takes time: but most things worth having do, don’t they? I’m sure there is some 30-minute gumbo recipe out there, and I’m equally sure it’s awful: some sort of thin, meat-and-vegetable stew posing as real gumbo. But gumbo takes time. The stirring, the tasting and adjusting, the love: it’s all palpable in the recipe. It’s as real as the meat and vegetables, as important as the okra or filé. This must be why most traditional gumbo recipes out there are huge (my version is approximately 1/6th the yield of gumbo du monde): because if you put that much love into a recipe, you want to share it with friends & loved ones. Lots of them.

So, do me a favor: make gumbo. Spend the day chopping and stirring, tasting and simmering. Add okra, or not; make a blond roux, a peanut butter roux, or no roux at all; add seafood, or chicken, or sausage, or all of the above. Make it yours. Then invite your favorite people to share it with you. Life is short: carpe gumbo.

Adapted (heavily) from Gumbo Du Monde by Chuck Taggart at Gumbo Pages

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Chicken & Sausage Gumbo

INGREDIENTS

Meat

  • 1 and 1/2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken meat, cut into 1-inch chunks (I used breasts, but most people prefer dark meat in a stew like this)
  • 1 lb cured sausage, preferably andouille (I used linguica; hardly authentic, but it’s what I had)
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil (I used sunflower)

Roux

  • 1/3 cup + 1 tbsp whole wheat pastry flour (or AP flour)
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil (I used 2 tbsp of the sausage grease, then filled the remainder of the measuring cup with local sunflower oil)

Stock

  • 4 cups chicken stock, homemade (storebought stock will yield a flat, overly salty gumbo: I think homemade stock is vital here)

Vegetables

  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 3 ribs celery, with leaves if possible, sliced
  • 2 bell peppers, any color, diced
  • 1 bunch scallions, white & light green parts sliced (reserve dark green for garnish)
  • 1 small head garlic (about 6 – 8 cloves), peeled & minced
  • 1 red jalapeno, with seeds & ribs, minced
  • 1/2 lb okra, sliced
  • 3 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped

Spices

  • 2 tsp Cajun seasoning (a mix of paprika, salt, celery, sugar, garlic, black pepper, onion, oregano, red pepper, caraway, dill, turmeric, cumin, bay, mace, cardamom, basil, marjoram, rosemary, and thyme)
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 tsp celery salt
  • 1/2 tsp dried basil
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/4 tsp dried thyme
  • 1 dried bay leaf
  • salt & freshly ground black pepper

For serving

  • long grain white rice, cooked
  • sliced green scallion and/or fresh parsley, for garnish
  • filé powder (homemade if you are a gumbo bad-ass!)
  • Tabasco

METHODS

  1. Brown meat. In a large skillet, brown the sausages over medium-high heat (add the oil for lean, cured sausages to aid in browning). Remove sausage to a clean plate. Liberally sprinkle chicken pieces with salt, pepper and Cajun spice. Brown lightly in the sausage grease (add oil if needed), without crowding the pan; cook in batches if necessary. Do not cook all the way through; remove to the sausage plate when lightly browned on the outside. Strain sausage grease into a clean bowl.
  2. Make roux. In a large, heavy-bottomed Dutch oven, cook the flour and vegetable oil (using any leftover sausage grease as part of the oil) over medium to medium-low heat, stirring constantly. Continue to cook, stirring constantly, until roux becomes smooth, silky and a deep chocolate brown, about 30 minutes (or longer at lower heat). Monitor the roux carefully as you stir: if you smell the flour burning, lower the heat; if you see black flecks in the roux, it is burnt, throw it out and start over. When the roux reaches the right color, add the onion, bell pepper and celery to the roux, turn off the heat, and keep stirring until the roux cools down.
  3. Assemble & cook the gumbo. To the roux & vegetables, add stock, meat (with any juices accumulated on the plate), white & pale green scallions, garlic, jalapeno and spices. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, partially covered,  for about 45 minutes. Add the okra and cook for another 30 minutes, partially covered. Add fresh parsley (add any seafood now if using). Taste and adjust seasonings. Remove cover and simmer an additional 15 minutes or longer to thicken the sauce. Taste and adjust seasonings one more time.
  4. Serve hot over rice, garnished with scallions, parsley and a dusting of filé powder.

Serves 12.

OPTIONS

  1. Practically endless. Use a blond roux, or no roux at all, omit okra and sub in filé powder, add seafood, lose the chicken, make gumbo z’herbes. Make it yours.

STORE

Like all stews, gumbo thickens and improves over time. Store for up to 1 week refrigerated.

SEASON

Okra is in season in late summer to early Fall. With frozen okra & peppers, you could make this dish all year long.

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30 comments

  1. Fie! Fie! Okra is divine, okra is a perfect food, okra is beyond asparagus and morels…well, I’m southern, so cut me a little slack. Here’s the thing…if you wash whole young pods, dredge them in salted and peppered cornmeal, then fry them in hot pork drippings and drain them on paper towels, you will love okra. Even better, cut the pods into half-inches, dredge the same way, and fry in really hot drippings, and you’ve got an appetizer that will disappear as fast as you can cook it.

    • I always thought the Doomsday machine looked exactly like a Bugle (remember Bugles? Those extra-salty, extra-crispy junk food snacks? Do they still make those I wonder?). Sadly, Bugles were probably easier to come by than okra….

  2. Michelle

    Great post, but gotta say, I love okra! I always get a bit upset when people put it down. It tells me they are completely unaware of this fine vegetable’s versatility. In India they call it bhindi, stuff it with spices, or curry it, and make it the star of many vegetarian dishes. Here in the south, I’d rather eat fried okra than fried green tomatoes, and I love it raw, fresh from the garden! Google it sometime, and see what you find, please! And this is a great gumbo recipe!

  3. Dianna

    My kind of recipe. Thanks for the inspiration. Every few years I grow a little okra in my garden. It is a beautiful weird plant, just like its seed pod. And I LOVE the Doomsday machine photo Marcy posted; it does look like okra.

  4. did you not hear my roar beside the crickets’ chirps? I love okra and cannot believe you get it in your csa! I have tried miserably to grow it three times and thought it just couldn’t be done in the northeast! as Michelle states above, bhindi is divine in indian food – they cook it like no other. I suppose one person’s gumbo is another cat’s curry… meowantslocalokra!

  5. OK, okra lovers, OK! I give! :) What I should have said was: I love okra IN gumbo, but just haven’t found any other way to like it. (I’m guessing deep-fried crunchy okra would, yes, be good; because what isn’t good deep-fried and crunchy?)

    I’ve had Indian okra a few different ways and in fact even from some fabulous India-born cooks; but no love. It’s a texture thing.

    And Tigs: I do think it is very hard to grow here. You don’t see much, if any, at local farmer’s markets and we generally only get one or two small bunches at the very end of the CSA. (This year’s total ‘haul’ was a 1/2 lb). I think many farmers do not bother to grow it because it is not a fan favorite and clearly hard to grow in this climate. I asked one of the farmers at the market yesterday (as I was going to try to freeze some for winter gumbo) and he said he had some a few weeks ago, but irene destroyed it.

    I will keep my eyes peeled… but I fear my gumbo days are over until next year. :(

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  7. Another recipe that tells you about 30 minutes to make the roux. It usually takes me up to 2 hours to get my roux dark and done. Very low heat in cast iron is what I do. The rest sounds good, but again like you said. Doing it right takes time. I am from Chicago by the way, but married a southerner who loves his gumbo. ,

    • The first few times I made a roux, it took well over an hour: once I gained more confidence, I could raise the heat and cook it faster. Also, I think a lot depends on how wide a pan you use; with a small batch of roux in a 12-inch cast iron Dutch oven, it darkens fairly quickly. But, I’m sure a very low heat and a 2-hour cooking time adds flavor; it’s all up to what you like.

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  9. telesma

    I’m Cajun. The recipe looks fairly authentic. Four things you should be aware of, though.

    One, looking at your pics, I’d say there should be more broth than that. Gumbo is a soup, not a stew.

    Two, I don’t know anyone who puts raw okra in a gumbo. Everyone I know cooks it down with onions and tomatoes first to cut the slime before adding it to the pot. My grandparents would smother big batches of okra and freeze it in packages just to add to gumbo, and my mom cans stewed okra for the same reason. My inlaws just smother it fresh every time, they put it on right before they make the roux. You just saute some onions then add sliced okra and a can of diced or whole tomatoes, put the lid on it and simmer it down for a half an hour or so, until the okra is soft. The acid in the tomatoes cuts the slime.

    Third, re the sausage, you can use whatever you want. Most of my life all the Cajuns I know have used regular smoked sausage, using andouille is more of a Cajun renaissance thing. It used to not be that easily available. You couldn’t buy it at the grocery store until probably the last 10 or 15 years, you had to make your own or make a special trip to a boucherie, which not everyone did. On top of that, you can put any meat you want in a gumbo, in any combination. The only thing that’s consistent is most people put some kind of smoky thing like smoked sausage or ham or tasso or andouille in with whatever else they’re using, to give it that smoky flavor. Everything else is up to you. Beef and venison are not common, but totally random combinations of everything else are. I even know people who put whole boiled eggs in it right before serving.

    Fourth, a lot of Cajuns are “everything but the kitchen sink” cooks when it comes to herbs and spices, but the only herbs a gumbo really needs are bay leaf and thyme, with the chopped green onion and/or parsley over the top at the end, and they are the most common herbs you’ll find in old recipes. They grow down here, I think indiginously, or maybe they came with the Acadian settlers. Basil and oregano, not so much. I think they’re more of a New Orleans thing than a Cajun thing.

    Otherwise? Good job. :D

    • Huh; I’ve never heard of pre-cooking the okra before adding to the gumbo. Well, if we get any local okra this year (last year was pretty much an okra fail here in the Northeast), I’ll have to try the smother method for putting some up. Thanks for the tips!

    • As to the amount of broth: I do like a thick gumbo, more stew than soup. But I’m sure it’s more brothy than the pictures show; it’s pretty difficult to take an appetizing picture of a thick, brown broth. :)

  10. telesma

    Also….roux should be slow cooked, it should take longer than a half an hour. A trick to get around all the stirring is to make it in the oven. The lady at Deepsouthdish.com has instructions for that somewhere on her site. You can also make larger batches of roux and freeze it or keep it in the refrigerator for a few weeks to save yourself time.

    • Angie

      @telesma: THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU! My boyfriend requested my gumbo for his visit this weekend and I ALWAYS get burned by my roux! Thank you for mentioning the oven roux!

  11. telesma

    Oh, and re fried okra – that’s the only way I like it outside of a gumbo. I especially dislike pickled okra. Slimy, hairy, and vinegary. The vinegar doesn’t get a chance to cut the slime because the okra is whole. Ick.

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