Chicken Gumbo

Nothing says Mardi Gras better than a bowl of steaming seafood gumbo served over rice. Traditionally made with smoked ham, jumbo shrimp, okra and a hint of Cajun seasoning for a spicy kick, no Mardi Gras party would be complete without it.

There are about as many different recipes for gumbo as there are cooks in New Orleans, and it’s not surprising for me to come across a bevy of recipes for it every year at this time.

The most recent one to come to my attention is one from Linda Gassenheimer of the Miami Herald in her Quick Fix column. It’s a quick version of her husband’s Aunt Helen Rose’s Chicken Gumbo recipe.

This dish improves with age, Gassenheimer says, so if you have time, make extra and freeze for another quick dinner.

Chicken Gumbo
Vegetable oil spray
¾ pound skinless chicken breast with bones, cut into several pieces (can substitute pheasant)
¼ pound okra, thinly sliced (about 1 cup)
1 cup frozen chopped/diced onion
1 cup frozen/diced green bell pepper
1 celery stalk, sliced (½ cup)
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 tablespoons flour
2½ cups water
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 cup canned diced tomatoes, drained
½ cup frozen lima beans
4 large cooked shelled shrimp (¼ pound)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Worcestershire sauce
Hot pepper sauce
Heat a large nonstick sauce pan over medium-high heat and spray with vegetable spray. Brown chicken on all sides, about 2 to 3 minutes. Remove chicken and set aside. Add okra, onion, bell pepper, celery and garlic to the pan. Saute 3 minutes. Remove vegetables and set aside. Add oil, then flour. Blend well and cook slowly until flour is a rich brown color. Add water, little by little, stirring to remove any lumps. Bring to a simmer. Add cayenne and tomatoes and return vegetables to the pan. Mix well and add lima beans and chicken. Cover and simmer 8 to 10 minutes. A meat thermometer should read 165 degrees. Add shrimp, cover and remove from heat to warm shrimp. Serve over brown rice with Worcestershire and hot pepper sauce on the side.
Yield: Serves 2.
Approximate nutritional analysis per serving: 454 calories, 26 percent of calories from fat, 13.2 grams fat (1.8 grams saturated, 6.5 grams monounsaturated), 167 milligrams cholesterol, 46.2 grams protein, 39.4 grams carbohydrates, 8.6 grams fiber, 479 milligrams sodium.

Go-To Gumbo

Okra is one of those vegetables that doesn’t get a lot of respect from people who live north of the Mason-Dixon line. “Slimy” is how some people describe it.

But when you combine these lovely little pods with something like tomatoes, that effect is diminished, and okra’s seedy yet soft texture shines.

I’ve been growing okra for a more than a half-dozen years and never have regretted it. I just love sauteeing okra with other fresh garden veggies. But perhaps my favorite dish that takes advantage of okra is gumbo, a Louisiana and New Orleans mainstay.

I just finished putting together my first pot of gumbo in more than a year and can’t wait to give it a try. Besides the okra, it contains onions, peppers and tomatoes from my garden as well as shrimp and andouille sausage.

I can’t think of a better way to dress up a bowl of rice.

Go-To Gumbo
1 pound medium shrimp in their shells
5 cups water
1 small yellow onion, quartered
2 sprigs parsley
2 sprigs fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
1 large, sweet onion, coarsely chopped
2 stalks celery, coarsely chopped
1 green pepper, coarsely chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
¼ cup flour
1 28-ounce can plum tomatoes in tomato puree, drained, liquid reserved, and tomatoes coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon dried oregano
½ teaspoon dried thyme leaves
1/8 teaspoon ground red pepper
1 pound smoked andouille sausage, cut into chunks
½ pound okra, fresh or frozen, cut into ½-inch lengths
Hot pepper sauce
2 cups cooked white rice
Working under cold running water, strip shells off shrimp and reserve. Devein shrimp, rinse, drain and refrigerate.
Boil: Tumble shrimp shells into a medium saucepan. Add the water, yellow onion, parsley, thyme sprigs and bay leaf. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, partially cover and simmer until flavorful, about 45 minutes. Strain out and discard solids. Keep shrimp stock warm. (You should have about 3 cups.)
Pile up the chopped onion, celery, green pepper and garlic in a bowl. Keep these supplies at the ready.
Melt butter in a large Dutch oven. Add flour and cook, whisking, over medium-low heat until peanut-butter colored, about 10 to 20 minutes. Making roux takes patience.
Tumble in the chopped vegetables, cooling the roux. Cook, stirring, over medium heat until soft, about 10 minutes. Stir in tomatoes along with 1/3 cup of the reserved tomato puree. Stir in hot shrimp stock. Season with salt, oregano, thyme leaves and red pepper. Add sausage and simmer for 20 minutes. Add okra and simmer another 10 minutes. Add shrimp and simmer until just cooked through, 3 minutes.
Scoop hot rice into each bowl. Inundate with gumbo. Splash with pepper sauce, if you like it hot.
Yield: Serves 6.

Turkey and Sausage Gumbo

You can never have too many cookbooks. That’s one of my mottos. And you never can have too many cookbooks that are about making soup.

Recently, I became interested in a cookbook titled “New Orleans Classic Gumbos and Soup” (Pelican 2009). It’s the creation of Kit Wohl, an artist and author of seven cookbooks (soon to be eight) celebrating classic New Orleans cuisine, who has worked with chefs, restaurants and hotels across the United States. (Her second book, “New Orleans Classic Desserts,” is now in its fifth printing. The “P&J Oyster Cookbook” pays tribute to the city’s first family of oysters and their recipes.)

The cookbook highlights the spectacular versatility and comfort offered by New Orleans’ gumbos, soups, and bisques, drawing deserved attention to the Crescent City and its unique and inimitable culinary offerings.

“When you get right down to it,” Wohl writes in “Gumbos,” “there’s nothing more New Orleans than a terrific bowl of seafood gumbo.”

And with the holiday season just around the corner, “New Orleans Classic Gumbos and Soups” (a Gourmet magazine cookbook of the month) offers recipes suited for large group entertaining, not to mention a wide variety of heart-warming, hearty and comforting dishes as the chill of the fall starts to set in.

The following recipe for Turkey and Sausage Gumbo is contained in the cookbook and looks like it might be perfect for Thanksgiving leftovers.

It’s never too early to think ahead. That’s another of my mottos.

Turkey and Sausage Gumbo
1 whole turkey carcass
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups corn oil, to make roux
2 large yellow onions, chopped
3 green bell peppers, chopped
4 celery stalks, chopped
2 cans your favorite local beer or an equal amount of stock or water
3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
¼ cup Tabasco or Crystal hot sauce
1 tablespoon corn oil, to saute ausage
1 pound smoked sausage, thinly sliced and then cut crosswise into half-moons
2 tablespoons minced garlic
1½ gallons chicken and turkey broth, homemade or canned (This should include the liquid in which the turkey carcass was cooked.)
1 tablespoon dried basil
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon dried thyme
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
Cooked rice, for serving
Cut the turkey carcass in half and, in a large pot, simmer the halves in water to cover until the remaining meat falls off the bones.
Drain and reserve the cooking water. Remove the meat from the bones and discard the bones. Shred the meat. (If this does not yield 2 to 3 cups of turkey, add any poultry meat.)
In a heavy saucepan, make the roux by heating the 2 cups of corn oil over medium heat, adding the flour and cooking, stirring frequently, until the roux reaches the color of milk chocolate. Be careful not to let it scorch. (Completing the roux will take anywhere from 30 to 45 minutes. Cooking slowly on low heat is the secret to succeeding with roux.)
Add the chopped onions, peppers and celery to the roux. (This will temporarily stop the cooking process.) Cook the roux until the vegetables are tender, stirring constantly. As the vegetables cook, their sugar will be released and the roux will darken even more as the liquid evaporates. Stir in the beer (or stock or water), the Worcestershire and the hot sauce.
In a large Dutch oven or the original soup pot, saute the sausage and garlic in 1 tablespoon of oil until the garlic is translucent and soft. Carefully add the roux mixture to the pot, stirring. (It will spit and sputter.)
Add the turkey broth and stir in the basil, oregano, thyme and cayenne pepper. Simmer, covered, for 1 hour, then add the shredded turkey and cook for 20 minutes more. Taste for seasoning and add more salt and pepper as desired.
Yield: Serves 16 to 20.

Gumbo — A Mardi Gras Tradition

These days, New Orleans is the place to be. After all, the Saints just won the Super Bowl, and Fat Tuesday is just around the corner.

A friend of mine, Marion, commented on my column about Mardi Gras food in today’s (Feb. 10) Herald www.grandforksherald.com/event/tag/group/Features/tag/food/ and said her daughter has made several trips to the Big Easy over the years. And everytime, she took a cooking class.

She also said that her daughter often gets mail-order spicy sausage from New Orleans for some of the dishes she learned how to make in the classes. Marion said she couldn’t remember the name of the sausage, but when I mentioned andouille, she acknowledged that’s what it was.

Andouille is one of the key ingredients in gumbo, which is a mainstay of the Mardi Gras season. Usually, it also contains either some poultry (often chicken) and/or seafoood (shrimp).

I’ve made gumbo over the years, but it’s probably not as good as those you can get in New Orleans restaurants. But as far as I’m concerned, it’s a start.

Most people have heard of gumbo but really haven’t experienced it unless they’ve been to Louisiana. Down there, it’s more than a dish that’s served over rice. It’s a lot about history and the influences of Creole and Cajun cultures.

Here’s a chicken and sausage gumbo recipe that’s pretty close to what you might find in New Orleans. I’m thinking about making it this weekend and saving some to bring to work Tuesday, the last day of Mardi Gras.

I can’t think of a better way to get into the Lenten spirit.

Chicken and Sausage Gumbo
4 to 6 pounds bone-in chicken pieces (we used 6 thighs and 4 legs)
About 1 pound smoked sausage or andouille
1 medium onion, diced
½ green bell pepper, cored and diced
2 stalks celery, diced
2 large cloves garlic, minced
8 cups chicken broth
½ cup vegetable oil
½ cup all-purpose flour
Sliced fresh or frozen, thawed okra, if desired
½ to 1½ teaspoons cayenne pepper, or to taste
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
3 to 4 diced green onion, white and green parts
Hot, cooked rice
Remove and discard the skin and large fat deposits from the chicken. Slice the sausage into thin rounds. Dice the vegetables and set aside.
Heat the oil in a large, heavy pot over medium-high heat. (Use a cast-iron skillet to brown the meat and vegetables and add them to a deep pot. It’s easier to see the color of the roux in a shallow skillet.) Add the chicken in batches so you don’t crowd the pan and brown slowly on both sides, about 10 minutes. Remove and set aside. Add the sausage and cook, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned. Remove and set aside.
Place the chicken broth in a pot and heat until simmering. Reduce heat and keep warm.
Cool the oil slightly and pour into a heatproof glass measuring cup. Add ½ cup back to the skillet or pot. Add ½ cup flour and stir well with a wooden spoon, scraping up browned bits. Over medium to medium-low heat, cook the mixture slowly, stirring constantly, about 20 minutes or until it is very deep brown but not burned.
Add the celery, onion and bell pepper to the browned fat. (Be careful: The roux is very hot, and the vegetables may make it spatter.) Cook, stirring, 5 to 8 minutes, until the onion is getting translucent and softened. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, 2 or 3 minutes, until fragrant.
Slowly add 1 to 2 cups of warm broth, stirring. (If you’re using a skillet to make the base, add it to a large pot with the chicken and sausage now, then stir in the remaining stock.) Stir in the rest of the stock and add the chicken and sausage. Stir in the cayenne pepper, salt and pepper to taste.
Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, about 2 hours, until the chicken is very tender but hasn’t fallen off the bone. Place a mound of rice in a serving bowl and spoon the gumbo around the rice. Sprinkle with green onion.
Yield: Serves 6 to 8.

Muffaletta

A friend of mine is heading down to New Orleans this week. I can’t wait until she returns and tells me about the food adventures that she experienced. I’m sure they will be the highlight of her trip.

I’m a bit envious. I’ve never been to New Orelans but some day hope to make it, especially to try the local cuisine. To me, New Orleans is all about food. Some of my favorite dishes (gumbo, jambalya, seafood boil, po’ boy) are indigenous to this city that’s at the mouth of the Mississippi River.

Another dish that I’d like to try that has its roots there is the muffaletta, a round, hollowed bread that usually is stuffed with ricotta and layered with ham or cappicola, mortadella, salami, mozzarella and provolone cheeses and is served with a signature garlicky green olive and marinated vegetable salad. The muffuletta is said to have originated at the Central Grocery on Decatur Street in the French Quarter in 1906.

Here’s a recipe for the sandwich and salad, which will have to do for me until I make it to Naw’lins.

Muffaletta
FOR THE OLIVE SALAD:
1 7-ounce jar pimiento-stuffed olives, sliced
1 6-ounce jar marinated vegetables
3 whole roasted pimientos, diced
3 to 6 cherry peppers or pepperoncini (optional)
2 cloves of garlic, minced fine
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons liquid from olive jar
1 teaspoon dried oregano
½ teaspoon cracked black pepper
FOR THE SANDWICH:
1 round loaf Italian bread
Olive oil
¼ pound each of sliced cappicola or ham, Genoa salami, mortadella, provolone and mozzarella cheeses
Shredded lettuce and sliced tomato (optional)
Combine all the olive salad ingredients in a glass bowl, cover tightly and refrigerate overnight.
Split the bread in half horizontally. Remove excess bread if desired. Brush both cut sides with olive oil. Layer meats and cheeses on the bottom half. Top with olive salad, then the top of the bread. If desired, wrap in foil and heat 25 minutes in a 300-degree oven. Open and add lettuce and tomato if desired. Press top back on lightly and slice into eighths.
Yield: Serves 8.
Approximate nutritional analysis per serving: 362 calories, 58 percent of calories from fat, 23.4 grams fat (8.5 grams saturated, 11.2 grams monounsaturated), 44.1 milligrams cholesterol, 18.8 grams protein, 19.4 grams carbohydrates, 1.5 grams fiber, 1,616 milligrams sodium.

Go Gumbo

It’s been kind of a funny summer temperature-wise. Just about everyone has noticed, particularly gardeners.

A lot of fresh vegetables that we’d be eating by now are just starting to ripen. A good case in point has been my okra. Generally, I’d have been eating mine for several weeks, but the cool weather has held it back.

Anyone who’s from the South, particularly Louisiana and the Gulf Coast region — or if you’ve watched one of Emeril Lagasse’s food shows on TV — knows about okra. It’s considered a delicacy down there.

One of my favorite ways to use okra is in stew or soup that’s called gumbo. Gumbo consists primarily of a stock, meat and/or shellfish, a thickener and the vegetable "holy trinity" of celery, bell peppers and onion and traditionally is served over rice. Gumbos also are broadly divided between the use of okra and file powder as a thickening agent.

I’ve made gumbo using both, but my preference is with okra. I recently tried a recipe from my Fanny Farmer cookbook for New Chicken Gumbo Soup. It was wonderful. The only snafu was that instead of using a cup of cooked rice I used a cup of raw rice. I didn’t realize this until I mixed the rice into the soup. Nonetheless, it was delicious.

Here’s that recipe, along with another gumbo that features shrimp and smoked sausage.

New Chicken Gumbo Soup
2 tablespoons butter
1 onion, chopped fine
2 stalks celery, chopped fine
4 cups chicken broth
½ cup green pepper, chopped fine
2 cups okra, sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1½ cups canned tomatoes, with juice
Salt
Pinch of cayenne pepper, or to taste
2 cups diced raw chicken meat
1 cup cooked rice
Melt the butter in a large soup pot, add the onion and celery and cook, stirring for about 5 minutes, until golden. Stir in the broth, green pepper, okra, garlic and tomatoes. Bring to a boil, then simmer for about 30 minutes. Add salt to taste, the cayenne pepper, chicken and rice, and cook for 2 more minutes. Taste and correct seasonings.

New Orleans to Go Gumbo
1 pound medium shrimp in their shells
5 cups water
1 small yellow onion, quartered
2 sprigs parsley
2 sprigs fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
1 large, sweet onion, coarsely chopped
2 stalks celery, coarsely chopped
1 green pepper, coarsely chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
¼ cup flour
1 28-ounce can plum tomatoes in tomato puree, drained, liquid reserved, and tomatoes coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon dried oregano
½ teaspoon dried thyme leaves
1/8 teaspoon ground red pepper
1 pound smoked andouille sausage, cut into chunks
½ pound okra, fresh or frozen, cut into ½-inch lengths
Hot pepper sauce
2 cups cooked white rice
Working under cold running water, strip shells off shrimp and reserve. Devein shrimp, rinse, drain and refrigerate.
Tumble shrimp shells into a medium saucepan. Add the water, yellow onion, parsley, thyme sprigs and bay leaf. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, partially cover and simmer until flavorful, about 45 minutes. Strain out and discard solids. Keep shrimp stock warm. (You should have about 3 cups.)
Pile up the chopped onion, celery, green pepper and garlic in a bowl.
Melt butter in a large Dutch oven. Add flour and cook, whisking, over medium-low heat until peanut-butter colored, about 10 to 12 minutes.
Tumble in the chopped vegetables, cooling the roux. Cook, stirring, over medium heat until soft, about 10 minutes.
Stir in tomatoes along with 1/3 cup of the reserved tomato puree. Stir in hot shrimp stock. Season with salt, oregano, thyme leaves and red pepper. Add sausage and simmer for 20 minutes. Add okra and simmer another 10 minutes. Add shrimp and simmer until just cooked through, 3 minutes.
Scoop hot rice into each bowl. Inundate with gumbo. Splash with pepper sauce, if you like it hot.
Yield: Serves 6.