I was going to share a picture of the gumbo I made last night.
Except my friends and I ate it. We ate all of it. I’m sorry about that, but it was delicious, and there weren’t any leftovers for me to take a snapshot this morning. You’ll just have to imagine a hearty, thickened stew studded with okra and andouille sausage, flecked with Creole spices, splashed with Tabasco and served over rice. (Our lack of leftovers may be for the best, though, since mud-colored stews aren’t particularly photogenic. Mine tasted far better than it looked.)
Every Creole cook has her own version of gumbo, a stew which originated in New Orleans and takes it name from the Bantu word gombo, or okra. (Some historians assert the name comes from the Choctaw word kombo, or sassafras; filé powder is made from ground sassafras leaves.) Gumbo’s melting-pot origins are a jumble of influences from the indigenous people, colonists, slaves and immigrants who populated southern Louisiana.
Typically a gumbo will feature poultry, shellfish or smoked sausage in a soup thickened by a roux, okra and/or filé powder. The stew starts with a roux (a 1:1 combination of flour and fat) and a mix of aromatic vegetables referred to in Creole and Cajun cooking as the “holy trinity”: onions, celery and green peppers. Similar to France’s mire-poix (onions, carrots, celery) or a Spanish sofrito (garlic, onion, tomato), it’s the foundation for a multitude of Creole dishes.
Roux has a trajectory: white (just barely cooked), blond, medium (peanut-butter colored) and dark (dark chocolate). The longer you cook, the darker it gets. Cajun recipes tend to go for a mahogany-dark roux, which yields a nutty, toasty flavor but decreases the thickening power; Creole recipes can fall just about anywhere on the spectrum. The amount of time it takes to get your roux to the desired color depends on the temperature and the type of cooking fat you’re using (vegetable oil goes pretty quick, for instance). It’s best to use your eyes rather than strictly follow the timing on the recipe you’re using, including this one.
This gumbo is a mashed-up adaptation of two of celebrated New Orleans chef John Besh‘s recipes. (Besh’s duck and oyster gumbo recipe was featured in a glossy Southern periodical that’s called, no kidding, Garden & Gun. Cognitive dissonance? Only for Yankees.) It’s a substantial, cold-snap weather dish, and in terms of flavor, heft and time commitment, this gumbo is not messing around.
I roasted a duck for the gumbo (I’d never roasted duck before, and that sort of project amounts to entertainment in my universe) which yielded a glorious amount of rich, amber duck fat (yesss!) to use for the roux and added a serious, musky, dark-meaty dimension. Was it worth the trouble? Aside from the duck fat, I’m not so sure. Use roast chicken instead.
There aren’t really any other shortcuts here, though, and that’s sort of the point. Half of the enjoyment should be in the gumbo’s preparation: put on a football game in the background, invite some friends over to help stir, relax and enjoy yourself and your afternoon. Making a big mess of gumbo means you can feed a big mess of friends and family, which generally amounts to a big mess of fun and good times shared.
Chicken and Andouille Gumbo
adapted from John Besh’s My New Orleans: The Cookbook
serves four to six; doubles easily
- 1 med onion, finely chopped
- 1/2 C celery, diced (about 1 1/2 stalks)
- 1 medium green bell pepper, seeded and diced
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1/2 C rendered duck, chicken or bacon fat, or 1/2 C vegetable oil
- 1/2 C all-purpose flour
- about 3 C roast chicken meat, cut into 1″ pieces
- 1 Tbsp Creole seasoning (store-bought or recipe follows)
- 1 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
- 1 1/2 quarts low-sodium or homemade chicken stock (48 oz)
- 1 bay leaf
- 12 oz andouille sausage, chopped (or a mix of andouille and Louisiana-style smoked pork sausage)
- 1 C okra, sliced (fresh or frozen)
- 1/2 # raw shrimp, shelled and deveined (optional)
- filé powder
- salt and pepper
- 3 C cooked rice
Heat fat in a heavy-bottomed pot or cast-iron dutch oven over hight heat. Whisk in flour; mixture will sizzle. Lower heat to moderate. Continue whisking until roux takes on a light golden brown color, about 1/2 hour. (Adjust heat to avoid burning if it cooks too quickly; enameled cast iron can retain a lot of heat.) Keep stirring and let the roux darken to a milk-chocolate color, about 5 minutes.
Stir in the onions and cook until roux takes on a deep, dark chocolate color, about 10 minutes. Add celery, garlic, bell peppers and cook for one minute. Add 1 Tbsp Worcestershire, a bay leaf, 1 Tbsp Creole seasoning and 1 1/2 qts chicken stock. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 45 minutes. Skim fat off the surface and stir every so often.
Add chicken meat, andouille, okra and a few dashes of Tabasco. Simmer for another 45 minutes, skimming any fat and stirring occasionally. Add shrimp and cook until they turn pink and curl in on themselves, about three minutes. Check seasonings and adjust (including Tabasco). Add a few dashes of filé powder and serve with rice and cornbread or biscuits.
John Besh’s Creole Seasoning
- 1 Tbsp celery salt
- 1 1/2 tsp sweet paprika
- 1 1/4 tsp kosher salt
- 1 1/2 tsp ground pepper
- 1 1/2 tsp garlic powder
- 1 1/2 tsp onion powder
- 1 tsp cayenne
- 1/4 tsp ground allspice
Mix. Use on seafood, poultry, meats and popcorn.