I love the sound of the word gumbo. What’s more, I love eating it. And I think you will, too. It’s a Creole stew, so popular in Louisiana, that it’s now the official state dish.
Gumbo’s flavor base is a roux, a flour and fat paste that gets cooked for about 15 minutes, until the flour turns a toasty coffee-with-cream color. Once ready, a so-called “holy trinity” of diced onions, celery and bell peppers gets commingled with the roux and cooked until tender. After that, what you add to a gumbo is pretty much up to you and your mood.
I decided on andouille, a smoked pork sausage, and chicken for this column’s gumbo recipe. Andouille, a mainstay of Cajun and Creole cooking, came to Louisiana with the French, and it’s been a mainstay in Louisiana cooking ever since. If you can’t find it, any smoked sausage you like will work just fine.
Garlic, tomatoes and Worcestershire sauce also become important players in flavoring gumbo along with various spices such as bay leaves, thyme, oregano and cayenne. If you fancy spicy hot foods, just up the heat a notch or two.
One more thing: A rich chicken stock will do wonders for this gumbo’s flavor. Homemade is best. But I’ve also had good luck with well-made bone broths. Many gumbo cooks include okra and/or filé powder (dried and ground sassafras leaves) as ways to thicken the gumbo and add another layer of flavor. I don’t. This gumbo is just packed with taste. All it needs is your hearty appetite. Serve with hot rice.
Chicken and andouille sausage gumbo
Gumbos are a hodgepodge of several cultures, including French, African, Spanish and others. The hallmarks of a gumbo are its roux, a cooked combination of oil and flour, and diced celery, onions and bell peppers. Other additions are up to the cook.
Makes 6 servings.
1 ½ pounds boneless and skinless chicken breast
6 cups water
2 teaspoons table salt
12 ounces andouille sausage or other sausage, such as kielbasa
2 cups diced onion
1 cup diced green bell pepper
1 cup diced red bell pepper
1 cup diced celery
2 tablespoons chopped garlic
½ cup vegetable oil (grapeseed, avocado, sunflower, or corn)
½ cup all-purpose flour
1 can (14 ½ ounces), diced tomatoes
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 to 2 cups chicken stock
3 bay leaves
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried oregano
½ teaspoon cayenne
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 scallions, ends trimmed, sliced
Hot cooked rice
1. Cut the chicken into bite-size chunks, ½-inch or so. Bring the water to the boil with the salt in a medium-size (3-quart) saucepan. Add the chicken, stir, cover the pot, and remove from the heat. Let the chicken stand for 10 minutes to cook. Drain and set aside.
2. Have ready the onion, bell peppers, celery and garlic in a bowl.
3. Slice the sausage ½-inch thick, and put into a large (12-inch) non-stick skillet. Set the pan over medium heat and cook a few minutes to brown the sausage on both sides. The sausage will release some fat as it browns. Remove the sausage to a plate, and pour the fat into a large (5- to 6-quart) stainless steel or enameled cast iron pot. Do not use a black pot because you need to monitor the color of the roux as it cooks.
3. Add the vegetable oil and flour to the pot and whisk until smooth. Set the pot over medium heat and whisk frequently as the roux comes to the boil. At first the color of the roux will be pale yellow. As it cooks it gets browner and browner. After 10 to 15 minutes, the roux will be a dark brown color. You can raise the heat to medium-high, and whisk constantly, until the roux is the color of coffee with cream. But be careful not to burn the roux! You can always adjust the heat as you cook.
4. When the roux is ready, take the pan off heat and add all the vegetables all at once. Stir well with a wooden spoon to coat them with the roux, and return the pan to medium heat. Cook, stirring frequently with the wooden spoon, for 3 minutes. Cover the pot, reduce the heat to medium-low, and cook, stirring 2 or 3 times, until the vegetables are tender, 8 to 10 minutes.
5. Add the sausage, tomatoes and Worcestershire sauce, and cook on medium heat for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add 1 cup of the chicken stock, stir, and see if the gumbo is the consistency you like. It should not be soupy or runny. Add more stock if you feel the gumbo needs it.
6. Stir in the bay leaves, thyme, oregano, cayenne, salt and pepper. Cover the gumbo, and cook over low heat to simmer slowly for 30 minutes. Stir in the chicken, cover the pot, and cook 5 minutes more.
Taste carefully and adjust seasoning. Serve over hot cooked rice, and sprinkle with the scallions.