Talk about clichés! Last week, in one of their regular newsletters, AARP really pulled a good one. They had a page devoted to July 4th recipes from all 50 states. Charleston SC had a shrimp boil, Arkansas offered Possum Pie, Florida, of course, offered Key Lime Pie. Now that I list them – Ok, they are all clichés. Naturally, I looked first at Louisiana, my home state and the object of current culinary research. And what do you think AARP put there – Gumbo!
Now, gumbo is a traditional Louisiana dish. But it is mostly common to South Louisiana. The Protestant, American (settled by the British – not the French), and mostly Conservative north of the state has an entirely different foodway culture. Furthermore, making gumbo in the middle of the summer is definitely NOT a Creole/Cajun tradition. Staying cool in the A/C is more our style. A cold beer and shrimp salad are more suited to 90˚ plus heat and 100% humidity.
Anyway, the article got me thinking. I needed some pix of the gumbo process for my upcoming culinary history (should be out in September). I also had some goose and sausage meats in the freezer since New Year’s, so, I thought why not? Here is my Fourth of July rendition of our tradition wintry dish of hot Chicken (and poultry) Gumbo.
Fourth of July Okra Gumbo
- One lb. Okra pods, sliced about ¼ inch thick or 1 can of sliced okra
- One medium Onion, three celery stalks, two small bell peppers, (= the Trinity), two cayenne peppers, about four cloves of garlic
- 3/4 cup of goose grease (of course any cooking oil will do), 3/4 cup flour, enough stock to balance the roux
- Gumbo Filé.
- Salt and Pepper
- For this recipe variation, I used about 2-3 cups of goose meat and andouille, saved (frozen) from our holiday gumbo. 3 chicken thighs, and 2 links (2/3 lb.) Andouille sausage.
Begin the process, by chopping up the seasoning vegetables – “The Trinity” – along with the cayenne peppers and garlic. You will need this ready as FIRST YOU MAKE A ROUX. This is the crucial and essential start to the classical gumbo. The roux is the base that creates a dish somewhere between a soup and a stew. In this case the resulting roux came out as a rich gravy.
Preferably in a heavy iron pot, like a cast iron skillet with high sides; heat up a measure of oil (today the oil was goose grease – again saved refrigerated since the holidays) into which you will stir in an equal measure of flour. After the oil is heated, the skill to making a good roux is to cook it very low and very slow until it has achieved the desired color. Add the flour slowly, and stir, stir, stir. The roux must be constantly stirred to prevent the flour from sticking to the bottom of the pot.
The color of the roux determines the color of the dish. for gumbo you want a rich, deep brown. Have the chopped seasoning vegetables in a bowl ready to add to the roux IMMEDIATELY to stop the cooking.
IF THE ROUX BURNS, THE DISH IS DESTROYED AND YOU HAVE TO START OVER.
Once the roux is thoroughly blended and the desired color is reached, remove it at once from the heat source and stop the cooking by mixing in the chopped vegetables.
It is now time to add the water. For our recipe of the Fourth, I used about 1/2 cup of vegetable stock and 1/2 cup of chicken stock, then about 3 cups of water. Add some salt. Put the pot back on the stove and bring it up to a boil. Add the chicken thighs, the leftover poultry, and the sausage. Bring to a rolling boil and cook for about 5 to 10 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste. Move the pot to your back burner or low-heat burner and let it simmer for at least 2 to 3 hours. Gumbo is one of those dishes that can cook all day. Make sure you check the liquid level and keep it full. You will discover that gumbo also seems to taste better the second day – so you don’t need to eat it all in one sitting. About halfway through the simmer, add the okra*. As the gumbo does it magic, cook a pot of rice (if you have never cooked it, follow the package directions †).
Serve up the gumbo over rice, sprinkled with some Filé, and some French Bread. it can be either the “soup” prior to dinner of dinner itself.
One last note on quantity. The usual roux minimum is one tablespoon each of oil and flour. This amount is used as the base for other more complex sauces. If you are making a big pot of gumbo or stew, or the like, you can use as much as a cup of each oil and flour. TIP: if you want to reduce the “greasiness” of a said sauce or gumbo, go with a ¾ oil to 1 flour ratio and then adjust to your taste as your cooking career goes forward.
* Legend has it that the ngombo (West African word for okra) seeds came to Louisiana woven into the hair of the African females forcibly brought to the New World.
† It is a well-known South Louisiana proverb that “a girl (or even a boy) is not ready to get married until she can cook a pot of rice” 😀