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.
People, I was so stoked to see this challenge come up back in chilly, drizzly April. Given all the travel and general spring madness, however, I was a little remiss in actually getting around to it until just this past week. By then, the weather had warmed up considerably, and we were getting some consistently sunny skies. Nonetheless, I’d rate this one a total success. The Boy was not as excited about this as he was about, for example, the kefta, but I have some ideas (step one: up the heat) to make it more to his palate.
With that said, I will say that this is a pretty time- and labour-intensive dish — definitely not something to whip up on a busy weeknight. First up, there was the roux. This came as a surprise to me, because I’m a newb, and associate roux pretty much exclusively with cream sauces. Secondly, I’d never heard of stirring a roux around till it nearly burns. Check it out (photos are roughly every 3 minutes) :
Do you see that dangerously dark-looking one at the end? By that point, while you might be expecting a sort of smoky, burnt-y smell from the pot, what you actually got was a surprisingly caramel-y sort of nutty, earthy smell. That’s the base of your gumbo. Delicious start, neh?
Then, we get to the veggie components. Folks, this was my first-ever encounter with okra, and after washing the distinctly, uh, mucine residue off my cutting board post-prep, I understand its reputation as a slimy veg. That said, however, I found that it did thicken up the stew noticeably without adding any sliminess or bitterness to it. (I didn’t actually try any raw, but it sure smelled bitter.) In fact, I have to say that in my next attempt, I’d put more in, as I ended up wishing my gumbo had a slightly less soupy consistency.
(I had taken a picture of the seasoned chicken but try as I might, I simply can not make raw chicken look good. I can’t even get it to look not-gross. So, yeah, no raw-but-seasoned chicken shots here.)
I want to take a little side-step and talk for a bit about the Louisiana White Rice that was recommended as a “side” for the gumbo. Now, as flavourful and delicious as the gumbo was, I wouldn’t be true to my starch-loving heart if I didn’t admit that honestly? My favourite part of this challenge was the rice. It was sooooo good (if ever there was a dish to use that homemade stock you’ve been hoarding in the freezer, this is it!) that I honestly feel its deliciousness is wasted when served with the spicy, umami-y gumbo.
As someone who can appreciate good white rice (cooked in water), eating this rice on its own was a delight. I’d recommend people make it, just… give it a chance and don’t serve it with something with flavours so strong they’ll overpower it.
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
1½ 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.
Okay, with that said, back to the gumbo! I need to mention that although I halved the recipe when I made it, I still ended up with a good 5 or 6 litres of the stuff, so be prepared to feed many (or have leftovers!). The actual cooking itself is very straight-forward; the hard part is standing around stirring it while waiting for that 1.5 hours to tick by, already, so you can get to the eating part…
Drew’s Chicken & Smoked Sausage Gumbo
Minimally adapted from My New Orleans: The Cookbook, by John Besh
1 cup rendered chicken fat, duck fat, or canola oil (I used canola)
1 cup flour
2 large onions, diced
1 chicken (3 ½ to 4 lbs.), cut into 10 pieces (I cheated and used a mess of chicken thighs)
2 tablespoons Basic Creole Spices (recipe follows)
2 pounds spicy smoked sausage, sliced ½ inch thick (I used chorizo)
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) chicken stock
2 bay leaves
6 oz andouille sausage, chopped (I couldn’t find any, so I omitted these)
2 cups sliced okra, sliced ½ -inch thick slices (fresh or frozen)
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
Salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Filé powder, to taste (Again, couldn’t find, so omitted. I am curious about it though!)
Tabasco, to taste
4-6 cups cooked Basic Louisiana White Rice (see above)
1. Prepare homemade chicken stock, if using.
2. Prepare homemade Basic Creole Spices, if using.
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.
So what would I change? Next time I would fry the veggies on their own (as opposed to all tumbled about with the chicken) before incorporating, and I wouldn’t skip throwing in some bones. (I’m wondering if the gelatiney bones would also help give the gumbo a little more body.)
One of the things that impressed me most about this meal was how much the flavour of the meat came through in the broth. In my next attempt, I’d want to load in the game meat (which generally tends to be more flavourful), and as a couple of the inspired folks in the fora did, I’d want to roast (or maybe smoke?) my bird before throwing it in the pot. My current thinking is smoked or roasted fowl (could be small duck or chicken), along with elk sausage (and something spicy as well) and rabbit meat. Do you guys have any thoughts or suggestions? All tastiness welcomed! (And this challenge definitely qualifies — thanks again for hosting, Denise!)
Yes, yes, I know. There’s more to New Orleans than Mardi Gras (or gumbo). Nonetheless, I thought the beads would inject a quick decorative hit. After all, doesn’t everything taste better when it’s a party?
Lastly, before I forget, the spice mix recipe (again, halved when I made it):
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