Miriam was working in Rome this week and she was coming back through Chicago. Needless to say, it took her two days to get back and she is exhausted. As a result, the kids are not coming over this Sunday for dinner. Instead of my usual feast, I will be making a gumbo, a Louisiana signature dish.
I used to live in Gretna, across the river from the Big Easy, so I became very fond of Louisiana cuisine. In those days, Cajun food was not to be found in most restaurants. Unless you had a Cajun friend, you were probably eating a Creole gumbo.
Although the cuisines are very similar, they are not the same. The Cajuns who lived in the swamps and back country did not have access to the imported food stuffs that were available to the Creoles of the city. You will not find tomatoes or generally okra in a Cajun dish. The Cajuns simply had to make do with less.
Louisiana cooks use three major ingredients to thicken their dishes. Okra used mainly by the Creole cooks. Filé powder, the ground leaves of the native sassafras tree, is used mainly by the Cajuns. Unlike tomatoes, these are not exclusive, you will find Creole dishes with filé and Cajun dishes with okra, but they will tend to use less of these ingredients. Finally, both groups use roux, cooked oil and flour, as a thickener. However, even in this there is a major distinction between Creole and Cajun dishes in the use of butter and lard respectively.
Note: Filé, two syllables, accent on the second (fee-LAY).
Okra is an African vegetable and is, in fact, the gumbo of gumbo. Once you have tried okra you will have an opinion about it—you will love it or you will hate it. My family falls into the later camp. I tend to thicken my Louisiana stews with filé to make filé gumbos.
I started this dish making a Creole gumbo, minus the okra. Just before I started cooking, I was reading about dark roux and I decided to go more Cajun. I had already blended my spices, so I could not take out the basil, white pepper and celery seeds to make it a Cajun seasoning blend. I could, however, leave out the tomatoes. This is not really a Creole or Cajun gumbo, but it is still a Louisiana gumbo.
Note: Many gumbo recipes I looked at on-line were for mass quantities. In Louisiana, gumbo is a party dish. You make a huge pot and invite the neighbors for beer, gumbo and Zydeco. In this recipe, I have tried to make only enough for four hungry people.
Karl’s Filé Gumbo (Andouille, Chicken & Shrimp)
Karl’s Creole Spice Blend
. (* leave this spice out for a Cajun Spice Blend)
1 Tbs. sweet paprika
1 tsp. onion powder
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. dried oregano leaves
*1 tsp. dried sweet basil
1 tsp. dried thyme leaves
1 tsp. black pepper
*1 tsp. white pepper
*1 tsp. celery seed
½ tsp. cayenne
1 Andouille sausage (about 3 oz.)
2 chicken thighs
1 lb. medium shrimp
2 green onions, sliced finely, white and green parts separate
1 small yellow onion
1 small green pepper
1 large stalk celery
8 cloves garlic, minced
1 red chili, minced
2 tsp. vegetable oil
4 Tbs. butter (or lard/bacon grease for Cajun)
4 Tbs. flour, A.P.
32 oz. fish stock
2 bay leaves
½ Tbs. Worcestershire sauce
2 Tbs. filé powder
2 cups cooked white rice
1. Mix the spices in a small bowl.
2. Quarter the sausage lengthwise and chop it into small pieces. Set the sausage aside in a small bowl.
3. Cut the chicken thighs into small bite sized pieces and sprinkle a teaspoon of the spice blend over them. Mix well and let them marinate, refrigerated, for at least 30 minutes.
Note: I am using only two chicken thighs. If you are feeding more people you can increase the amounts of all of the meats.
4. If necessary, shell and de-vein the shrimp and sprinkle a teaspoon of the spice blend over them. Mix well and let then marinate, refrigerated, for at least 30 minutes.
Note: If you have shrimp shells, put them in a medium pot with the fish stock. Simmer for 30 minutes and strain out the shells. I am starting with a store bought fish stock, but I figure why waste the extra flavor fresh shrimp shells would add. If you are making your own stock, you would want to use more than just a few shrimp shells—fish bones, crab shells, celery and onions, etc.
5. Chop the green onions finely and put the white parts in one bowl and the green parts in a second bowl.
6. Chop the yellow onion, green pepper and celery into a quarter inch dice and put them with the white parts of the green onions.
Note: The combination of yellow onion, green pepper and celery is “the holy trinity” of Louisiana cuisines. Many of their dishes start with sautéing this set of vegetables.
7. Mince the garlic and set it aside.
8. Mince the chilies and put them with the green parts of the green onions.
9. Add the vegetable oil to a Dutch oven, or soup pot, over medium high heat and brown the Andouille sausage. When well browned, return the sausage to the bowl.
10. Without cleaning the pot, lightly brown the chicken pieces. Remove them to the bowl with the sausage.
11. Without cleaning the pot, sauté the contents of the bowl with the white parts of the green onion, until the onions are starting to pick up some color.
Tip: Some cooks suggest removing the flavorful grease left by the sausage and replacing it with “healthy” oils. My motto is: “Never Throw Away Flavor!” Use less of the tasteless oil at the beginning and keep the good stuff.
12. Pull the vegetables to the edges of the pot and add the garlic to the hole in the center. Sauté the garlic until it is fragrant, about 30 seconds.
13. Mix the garlic into the rest of the vegetables and transfer them back to their bowl.
14. Again without cleaning the pot, melt the butter (lard/bacon grease ) over a medium heat. When the oil has stopped foaming, stir in the flour to make the roux.
Tip: Stir constantly until the roux becomes a medium dark tan, about 8-10 minutes, for a Creole gumbo. For a Cajun gumbo, reduce the heat after 10 minutes and continue cooking the roux until it is a dark, coppery color, about 20-30 minutes. If is better to keep the temperature low and cook the roux for a long time, than it is to use a fast, high heat and burn it. If it burns, black flecks start appearing in your roux, toss it and start again.
15. Add a cup of hot fish stock and continue stirring the pot.
Tip: According to some, adding cold stock to the roux will “break it,” causing the flour to separate from the oil. You want to make sure the roux is blended into the stock, not clumping on the bottom of the pot.
16. Continue adding the stock, until you have mixed it all in and the contents of the pot are smooth.
Tip: If necessary, mash any lumps against the side of the pot to break them up.
17. Add the Andouille sausage and chicken pieces, the contents of the white onion bowl (the holy trinity), the bay leaves, and Worcestershire sauce.
18. Sprinkle the remaining spice mix over the stew and stir to blend it in.
19. Bring the pot to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered, for 30 minutes to one hour.
Note: This is a good time to start cooking your rice.
Tip: Stir the pot occasionally, being sure to scrape the bottom, to ensure that the stew is not sticking and scorching.
20. Stir in the remaining bowl of vegetables (the green onion and chilies).
21. After five minutes, stir in the shrimp and the filé powder. Stir the stew fairly frequently for five minutes.
Tip: Do not let the pot boil after you have added the filé as it will turn stringy. If the stew seems too thin you may add more of the filé powder. If it is too thick add some water.
22. Serve the gumbo over steamed white rice.
Note: You may serve a salad and bread on the side, but this is really a one dish meal.