The kids are coming over this Sunday. Last week, Miriam and Chris requested gumbo with okra, a signature Louisiana dish. I used to live in Gretna, across the river from the Big Easy, so I became very fond of Louisiana cuisine.
Chris insisted that it was not gumbo without okra. Jan and I have childhood traumas around okra—neither of our mothers really knew how to cook it properly. But there are apparently ways to cook it without it being “slimy.”
The use of okra actually makes it Creole gumbo—I have discussed the differences between Creole and Cajun food in an earlier post. The Creole cooks had access to a wide variety of ingredients not available to their cousins in the swamp. The key elements that make a dish Creole are: The use of chilies (from the Caribbean); okra (from Africa); tomatoes (from the Northeast); and a butter based roux (cows do not swim— well—and are prone to hoof rot in wet areas).
According to Wikipedia gumbos can be either meat or seafood, but not both—Andouille sausage is not counted as a “meat” apparently; No! Iz a zeazoning. Real Louisiana cooks on the internet, on the other hand, do not seem to have any problems with combining chicken and shrimp in a gumbo. Although I would prefer to use the more flavorful dark meat chicken—legs and thighs—my diners prefer chicken breasts. So, I have decided on using wings and white meat for this dish.
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. Finally, both groups use roux, cooked oil/butter and flour, as a thickener.
Creole dishes tend to have more flavorful and complex spices and ingredients. They make their roux with butter and they only cook it to a light or medium tan color. This thickens the dish without adding much in the way of a distinctive flavor to distract from the other ingredients and spices.
Note: Cajun roux is made with oil or lard and is cooked to a dark chocolate brown or even a black color. For Cajun gumbo, the roux can be the major flavor component. These are not hard and fast rules. You will find Creole dishes with a dark oil roux and Cajun dishes with a lighter butter roux.
After Dinner Note: I had a bit of troubles with the roux sticking to the bottom of the pot after I added it. Keep the pot well stirred and scrape the bottom carefully. Fortunately, it came out smoky flavorful, not burnt. My family sure liked it, everyone had seconds and there was barely two servings for leftover lunches.
Karl’s Creole Chicken Gumbo
Karl’s Creole Spice Blend
½ Tbs. sweet paprika
½ tsp. onion powder
½ tsp. garlic powder
½ tsp. dried oregano leaves
½ tsp. dried sweet basil
½ tsp. dried thyme leaves
½ tsp. black pepper
¼ tsp. white pepper
¼ tsp. celery seed
¼ tsp. cayenne
6 Tbs. butter, separate uses
2 Andouille sausage (about 6 oz.)
1½ lb. chicken wings (about 6 wings)
¾ lb. okra, stemmed and chopped coarsely
5 green onions, sliced finely, white and green parts separate
1 small yellow onion
1 small green pepper
1 large stalk celery
1 tsp. Kosher salt
8 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbs. tomato paste
2 lb. beefsteak tomatoes, peeled and diced (about three)
4 Tbs. flour, A.P.
32 oz. low sodium chicken broth
2 bay leaves
2 Tbs. Louisiana hot sauce
1 Tbs. Worcestershire sauce
3 chicken breasts
3 Tbs. curly-leafed parsley, minced
1-2 Tbs. filé powder (optional)
2 cups cooked white rice
1. Measure all of the spices into a small bowl and whisk them to combine well.
2. Slice the sausages into half inch pieces. Set the sausage aside in a small bowl.
3. Disjoint the chicken wings.
Tip: The wing tip (the first joint) has almost no meat on it, but the skin when browned will add flavor. There are some who treat this bit like chicken feet, just skin with no meat, but good transporters of sauce.
4. Chop the green onions finely and put the white parts in one bowl and the green parts in a second bowl.
5. 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.
6. Blanch the tomatoes, remove the skin and coarsely chop them. Set them aside.
7. Mince the garlic and set it aside.
8. Mince the parsley and put it with the green parts of the green onions.
9. In a small pot or skillet, melt four tablespoons of butter over a medium heat. When the butter has stopped foaming, stir in an equal amount of flour to make the roux. Stir constantly until the roux becomes a medium dark tan, about 10-15 minutes.
Tip: 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, toss it and start again.
10. Add a tablespoon of butter in a cast iron pot and fry the sausage until well browned. Remove to a bowl when done.
11. Without cleaning the pot, add the chicken wings and fry until well browned.
Tip: As each piece reaches perfection transfer it to the bowl with the sausage.
12. Again without cleaning the pot, add the chopped okra and stir fry it until all of the sliminess is cooked off, about 15 minutes over medium high heat. When done transfer the okra to the bowl with the sausage and chicken wings.
13. Add a tablespoon of butter to the pot and sauté the contents of the bowl with onions, celery and green pepper, 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!”
14. 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.
15. Mix the garlic into the rest of the vegetables and pull them to the side of the pot again. Sprinkle the spice mix over the hole in the center and toast it for one minute. Stir it into the vegetables to blend it in
16. Pull the vegetables to the side of the pot a third time and add the tomato paste to the hole in the center. Cook it, stirring constantly, until it has started to darken, about 3-4 minutes.
17. Add the chopped tomatoes to the pot and use the released moisture to deglaze the pot.
18. When the tomatoes are starting to break down and stick to the bottom of the pot, about ten minutes, add a cup of the chicken broth and continue stirring the pot.
19. Stir the roux into the vegetables.
Tip: You want to make sure the roux is blended into the vegetables and broth, not clumping on the bottom of the pot.
20. Continue adding the chicken broth, a coup at a time, until you have mixed it all in and the contents of the pot are smooth.
Tip: If necessary, mash any lumps of roux against the side of the pot to break them up.
21. Add the Andouille sausage, the chicken wings, the okra, the bay leaves, Louisiana hot sauce, and Worcestershire sauce. Stir and scrape the bottom of the pot to mix the stew well.
Tip: You do not want any of the sauce bits to stick to the bottom of the pot and burn.
22. Push the raw chicken breasts into the stew and cover the pot.
23. Bring the pot to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer, covered, for 30 minutes to one hour.
Tip: Stir the pot occasionally, being sure to scrape the bottom, to ensure that the stew is not sticking and scorching.
Note: This is a good time to start cooking your rice.
24. Remove the chicken breasts and shred them into bite sized pieces with a pair of forks.
25. Return the chicken breasts and stir in the remaining vegetables (the green parts of the onion and the parsley).
Tip: If the stew still seems too thin you may add 1=2 tablespoons of filé powder and let it simmer for five minutes more. If the stew is too thick add some water.
26. Serve the gumbo over steamed white rice.
Tip: You may serve a salad and bread on the side, but this is really a one dish meal.
Note: I actually used brown rice, that I had pre-soaked for two hours before steaming—un-Louisianan, but I have to watch the white rice with my diabetes.