Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Gumbo warms the soul

Although anytime is gumbo time in my house, I know a lot of people like it best in the winter. Gumbo is often associated with seafood, and indeed that version is delicious, but really, all kinds of things can make a good gumbo, and Cajuns are adept at using whatever is on hand ("We were so poor that all we had for gumbo was an egg." "You had an egg! An egg would have been so good.").

So here's a recipe I use often, adapted from "Chef Paul Prudhomme's Louisiana Kitchen." Enjoy!

Chicken & Smoked Sausage Gumbo
adapted from Chef Paul Prudhomme’s version
10 servings

Use chicken, duck, sausage, beef, seafood and vegetables, depending on what's available in your area.

3 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs, all visible fat removed, diced into 1 inch chunks
2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons Cajun spice (see below)
1 cup finely diced onions
1 cup finely diced green bell peppers
3/4 cup finely diced celery
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
Vegetable oil for frying
7 cups chicken stock
1/2 pound andouille smoked sausage, diced (or kielbasa, and add a 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper)
1 teaspoon minced fresh garlic
2 bay leaves
10 teaspoons file gumbo
2 1/2 cups hot cooked white rice
Sprinkle the chicken evenly with 2 tablespoons of the Cajun spice and rub it in well. Let stand at room temperature while you dice the vegetables.
Combine the onions, bell peppers and celery in a bowl and set aside.
Combine the remaining spice with the flour in a paper or plastic bag. Add the seasoned chicken pieces and shake until the chicken is well coated. Reserve 1/2 cup of the seasoned flour. Heat 1/2 cup of oil in a large, heavy skillet and fry the chicken until the crust is brown on both sides and the meat is cooked, about 5 to 8 minutes. You may have to fry the chicken in batches. Drain on paper towels.
Return the pan to medium high heat and gradually whisk in the reserved 1/2 cup seasoned flour. Cook, whisking constantly, until the roux is dark red-brown, being careful not to let it scorch or splash on your skin. Remove the pan from the heat and immediately add the vegetables, stirring constantly until the roux stops getting darker. Place the pan over low heat and cook, stirring constantly and scraping the pan bottom well, until the vegetables are soft, about 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, bring the stock to a boil in a 5-quart saucepan or Dutch oven. Add the vegetable mixture by spoonfuls to the boiling stock, stirring between each addition until the roux is dissolved. Return to a boil, stirring and scraping the pan bottom often. Reduce the heat to low, stir in the sausage, garlic, and bay leaves and simmer uncovered for 45 minutes, stirring often toward the end of the cooking time.
When the gumbo has cooked for 45 minutes, stir in the chicken and when the chicken is hot, serve immediately. Mound 1/4 cup cooked rice and a teaspoon of file in the center of a low soup bowl, and ladle 3/4 cup of gumbo around the rice.

Cajun spice
1 1/2 tablespoons kosher salt
2 teaspoons sweet or smoked paprika
1 teaspoon white pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons garlic powder
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
3/4 teaspoon thyme leaves
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon oregano leaves

Blend all in a spice grinder. Use within a year.

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