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Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Justin Wilson: Chicken and Sausage Gumbo

Mardi Gras is coming up next Tuesday, and M. P. and I have already planned our menu, which is a little out of the ordinary for Cajun feasting, but still with a French flavor.  More on that later; meanwhile, here's the late, great Justin Wilson showing and telling you how to make a classic chicken and sausage gumbo - which some folks like your Head Trucker consider "heaven in a bowl."

Bear in mind that no two Cajuns make gumbo exactly the same way, so if you go looking for a recipe, you will find an infinite variety.  But this will do to get you started if you've never made gumbo before.

Update, 7:15 p.m.: Here's "6 Authentic Gumbo Recipes" from Southern Living, in case anyone wants to have a try with one of them.

And your Head Trucker will say that the secret to a good gumbo - or to a good anything - is to make a perfectly smooth roux (half cooking oil (not olive oil) or drippings, and half flour) by cooking it on highest heat, stirring constantly with a long-handled whisk or wooden spoon for the 5 or 10 minutes it takes to turn it a deep, dark brown, just like melted chocolate, an operation that takes nerve but is just essential for good eating.  (Modern-day recipes that say cook on low heat and stand there stirring constantly for 30-45 minutes are for the birds - nobody has an arm that strong, anyway.  Some Cajuns just mix the oil and flour and pour it into a baking pan and cook it in the oven. And down in Acadiana, you can simply buy it in a jar at the grocery store, ready to go into the gumbo.)

At that point, and not a second later - you'll know when you get there - throw in all your chopped vegetables (onion, bell pepper, celery - the "Holy Trinity") at once and take the pan off the fire. The addition of the veggies stops the roux from cooking and burning. Keep stirring, but not as furiously, over low heat until the veggies soften, then turn the fire up a bit, and add chicken stock, not plain water. After adding the meats and everything comes to a boil, simmer for an hour.

I also prefer to add 2 or 3 cups of chopped okra (yummmmmm!) in the cooking instead of using filé powder when it is served (it's okay, but changes the taste a bit).  Wine is not necessary.

If the roux smells burned, it is burned. Just throw it out and start over.

You can make it all in a cast-iron dutch oven - preferably with a handle on one side - or you can make the roux in a skillet first, then put it and everything else into a stock pot to simmer. As Justin said, it will be even better the second day - if you can stand to wait that long!

You Yankee boys can't get andouille up Nawth, so just buy a pound of regular smoked sausage, which will do just fine.  If you want to be all nice and neat about it, you could bone the chicken before adding it to the gumbo, if you can't stand to fish whole pieces out at the dinner table.  But it is more fun that way. You could also cheat by simply picking up a rotisserie chicken at the deli instead of frying it yourself - but shhhh! don't tell anyone I told you that.

And serve over fluffy, hot, fresh-cooked rice - do NOT eat gumbo all by itself like soup.  It's the law!

P. S. -- Be very, very sparing with any hot seasonings you put in. Very. Contrary to every "Cajun" meal you've ever had in a restaurant, real Cajun food is not hot as hell. Instead, you set hot sauce or pepper flakes on the table so each diner can add as much or as little as he likes. Trust me on this, guys.

Actually, all the seasonings you need are contained in Tony Chachere's Cajun Seasoning, which comes in a green can. If it's not in the stores where you live, you must send away for it.

And there is a difference between Cajun gumbo and Creole gumbo - the former is the country dish, the latter is the city dish. Look it up if you like, but the important thing is, don't argue with people about which is "right." Everybody's mama did it her own way. So if you didn't learn from your mama, just experiment and make the kind of gumbo you like best. And then savor it with friends and good cheer, as all home cooking should be shared.

Buttered French bread or garlic toast is the only accompaniment you need. But if you simply must have an antipasto, I suggest bacon and spinach. What, you never had that? Oh just fry up a skillet of bacon, as much as you like, and when it is done, take the bacon out and throw the baby spinach leaves in the grease with the fire still going, and stir them around a minute until all wilted. Then crumble the bacon into the spinach. Lovely stuff - can be a meal by itself. For an extra zing, saute some chopped onion with the bacon.


Frank said...

Looks good. I'll have to give it a try.

Russ Manley said...

It is totally scrumptious, but I don't do it the same way Justin does. For one thing, I suggest using chicken stock instead of water. Wine is optional. And I use the "Holy Trinity": chopped onion, bell pepper, and celery.

But try it and see how you like it. It's really a poor man's meal, designed to use up any scraps of meat on hand - but shore is good, I tell you what.

Russ Manley said...

Okay, I've just updated the post with suggestions and links for you and others who want to try your hand at making gumbo. Let me know how it works out for you.

Frank said...

We can get andouille sausage here in most large supermarkets. I will definitely plan on trying this; I've never made a dark roux, only the very light roux for béchamel, so I will challenge myself to try it without ruining it.

Frank said...

PS We visited my sister when she was in New Orleans years ago and I just had to make King Cake almost every year since.

You've seen my posts about King Cake on my Dinner's Ready Blog

Russ Manley said...

Oh yes I do remember your King Cake posts. It's such fun, isn't it. I think M.P. is coming up with a new twist on the idea for next week's feast, so I hope to report more on that later.

Good luck with your roux, which is the key to all good Cajun cooking. Of course, you can always make simple gravy that way too (as with biscuits, fried chicken, etc.) - just use half milk and half water, and stop when it's about medium-brown.

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