Archive for February 7th, 2012

A piece of French bread
With which to wipe my bowl,
Good for the body, good for the soul.
It’s a little like religion
And a lot like sex.
You should never know
When you’re gonna get it next.
At midnight in the Quarter or noon in Thibodeaux
I will play for gumbo
Yes, I will play for gumbo.
  –  Jimmy Buffett, “I Will Play for Gumbo

In my Imbolc column I promised you my recipe for gumbo, and my husband took some pictures while I was preparing it that day so I could illustrate the finer points.  It’s not especially difficult or complicated, but there are a few terms and techniques with which people who aren’t from south Louisiana might be unfamiliar.  This is actually my second sister’s recipe; she and I are the best cooks in the family, but while I’m a generalist she is a specialist:  I cook many things very well, but she cooks a smaller number of things extremely well.  So when I somehow managed to misplace my old recipe eight or nine years ago, I called her to replace it and she gave me this one, which she had perfected over years of repeated preparation.

First of all, gumbo (for those who don’t know) is a thick soup of French Creole origin; like many Creole dishes it is a fusion of African and French elements.  There are many kinds of gumbo, but the three most common are shrimp and okra gumbo, seafood gumbo, and chicken and andouille gumbo.  Okra is a pod eaten as a vegetable, and andouille is a kind of sausage; since I dislike okra intensely I never make gumbo with it, and seafood gumbo has no specific ingredients (one uses whatever crustacean or mollusk is available).  This recipe is for chicken and andouille gumbo, which is both the easiest for a beginner and (in my opinion) the tastiest.

Let’s start with a few terms.  Andouille (ahn-DOO-wee) is a smoked, coarse-ground pork sausage spiced with pepper and garlic.  It is extremely important that you NOT confuse it with the French andouillette, which is a tripe sausage with a powerful odor and a taste politely described as “earthy”.  If you can’t find andouille where you live, see if they’re selling anything as “Cajun sausage”, and if that fails ask the butcher for a firm, spicy pork sausage; it will probably be close enough to work once it’s all cooked in the gumbo.  The firmness is important; the andouille is skinned before cooking, so a too-soft sausage will crumble and that’s not what you want.  My sister and I are so picky about it that we only buy it from one particular butcher, Bailey’s Andouille in LaPlace, Louisiana (about 30 miles west of New Orleans).  LaPlace styles itself “the Andouille Capital of the World” and Bailey’s is the best store there.  And they do ship, so American readers can get the real thing for just a few dollars more.

Next, there’s the matter of roux (pronounced “roo”).  Every Louisiana girl worth her salt can make a roux, but for some reason this useful culinary technique is less common outside the Deep South so I’ll tell you how to make one:  in a saucepan over medium heat, combine equal quantities of cooking oil and white flour and stir with a wooden spoon until the mixture is smooth and all lumps are gone (usually less than a minute).  That’s it.  Simple, isn’t it?  What I just described is a “white roux”; the only difference between it and a “brown roux” is that one keeps cooking the latter until it turns brown, stirring constantly.  The only two secrets to making a proper roux are 1) don’t be in a hurry; and 2) don’t be lazy.  If you turn the heat above medium or stop stirring, you’ll burn it and will be forced to start again.  Roux is a thickening agent; it’s the first component of many gravies and also thick Creole soups (like gumbo).  White roux is good for milk gravy or cheese sauces, brown roux is used for brown gravy, and a very dark roux (see recipe below) is for gumbo.  As a rule of thumb, each tablespoon (15 ml) of flour will thicken ½ cup (120 ml) of thin fluid such as broth or ¾ cup (180 ml) of a thick fluid like milk.  Those proportions don’t hold for gumbo, which is obviously thinner than gravy.

Finally, the Creole spice mixture; I use Tony Chachere’s Original Creole Seasoning, which is available in most American grocery stores and on their website.  You can probably use any Creole or “Cajun” seasoning mixture, though.  Now without further ado, the recipe itself!

Chicken and Andouille Gumbo a la Maggie’s Little Sister

One whole chicken or 8 parts (legs and thighs are best), skinned
1 # (450g) andouille, skinned and cut into small pieces
1 cup (240 ml) all-purpose flour
1 cup (240 ml) vegetable oil
1 large white or yellow onion
2 green onions
Creole spice mixture
Cooked rice

1)  On the day before the gumbo is to be served (if at all possible), skin the chicken and cook it in 1 gallon (about 3.9 liters) of water with 1 tablespoon (15 ml) of the spice mixture.  Don’t be tempted to leave the skin on the chicken; it makes the finished gumbo far too greasy (I always fry the skins up in a skillet later and give them to the dogs as a treat).  With the pot covered, you can use a fairly low heat; cook the chicken until the meat entirely falls off of the bones, checking about every half-hour and removing the bones as they come free.  Let the pot cool, then strain the broth and store it in a clean, covered glass jar (like a pickle jar), adding water if necessary to bring it back to 1 gallon.  Remove any remaining bones and gristle from the chicken and put it into a (separate) covered container; store both broth and chicken in the refrigerator overnight.  You could actually do this step two or three days in advance if you like.

2)  When you’re ready to make the gumbo, skin the andouille and cut it into small pieces.  Then chop the onions (chop the white or yellow onion as finely as you can, but the green onion bits should be large enough to be identifiable).

3)  In a large, heavy skillet, combine the flour and oil and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until the mixture turns a rich brown (see photo); this takes about 30 minutes.  The cooked roux will exude a strong, characteristic aroma which you will always be able to recognize thereafter.  Once the roux is brown enough add both types of onions and sauté for a minute or two, then add the andouille and cook it until the meat is hot (about four more minutes).

4)  Transfer the entire contents of the skillet to a large pot, then add the broth, the cooked chicken and 1 tablespoon (15 ml) of the spice mixture.  Cook and stir the mixture over low heat until well-combined (about 10 minutes; you’ll be able to tell when it’s mixed enough), then cover and cook over low heat for about two hours, stirring occasionally.  The gumbo’s appearance won’t change much after the initial stirring, but the aroma will grow stronger and richer.

5)  Serve the gumbo over cooked rice.  You don’t want a tremendous amount of rice; for a large (main course) bowl of gumbo, use less than ½ cup (120 ml) of cooked rice.  Refrigerate leftovers, and if possible reheat them on the stovetop rather than in the microwave.

And that’s it.  The most important thing is the roux; once that’s done the rest is really just stirring and waiting.  If you have any questions, just ask them in the comments.  Bon appétit!

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