A Frugal Aroma

gumbo-bowl-with-rice-and-green-onionsWhen my chicken andouille gumbo was simmering on the stove a couple of days ago I had one of those deja vu moments that sometimes waft over me unexpectedly. It felt as though I was back in my mother’s house and she was creating a kind of stew from the vegetables and leftovers that she had on hand. The aroma of chicken, onions, green pepper, and tomatoes brought back unmistaken memories of the mash up hash that Mama regularly created in her effort to use every single scrap of food stuff that we had. Her budget was always tight and we were always hungry like most kids. She became masterful at blending all sorts of things into delightful soups that filled our bellies and kept odds and ends from prior meals from going to waste. She had a natural talent for knowing how to create taste tempting flavors and never used a cookbook to make her delightful dishes. She simply had a sixth sense about cooking and rarely made anything that we disliked while rarely threw anything in the trash.

Mama never made gumbo but she used many of the same ingredients that are found in the many varieties of the Cajun recipes that originated for the same reasons that her cooking did, to use what was on hand to create culinary delights. Gumbo, stew, soup, hash are all the poor man’s answer to hunger. As a little old man once told me when I was about to toss a tiny crab back into the ocean, “Everyting makes da gumbo. Don’t trow dat away.” 

I suppose that my childhood eating experiences made me a prime candidate for enjoying the delightful mashup of flavors in gumbo but I needed a few lessons before I had mastered the techniques for consistently making a yummy fusion of flavors. I quickly learned that the secret of cooking well lies as much in the prep time as it does in the actual process that occurs on the stove. I have become almost fanatical in my insistence on doing things in a particular way to control the consistency of my final product. So here is my drill for making Chicken Andouille Gumbo with a tip of the hat to The Gumbo Shop in New Orleans for providing me with the basis of the recipe that I have tweaked a bit here and there.

You will need:

1 whole uncooked chicken (Don’t attempt to cut corners by purchasing a baked chicken and using canned chicken stock. I did that once and while the gumbo was edible it did not have the same burst of flavor that comes from cooking a whole chicken from scratch and creating a broth from that process.)

3 quarts of water (or enough to cover the chicken)

1 lb. of okra (frozen and already cut works best and is easier to find)

2 tbls. of oil for cooking the okra

1/2 cup of oil for making the roux

1/2 cup of flour

1 medium onion

1 green bell pepper

1 stalk of celery

16 oz. of diced canned tomatoes (You will not find a 16 oz. can so you will need to save any leftover tomatoes for another day.)

1 package of Andouille sausage

1 bay leaf

1 tsp. of thyme

1 tsp. of basil

1/2 tsp. of sage

1/2 tsp. black pepper

1/2 tsp. white pepper

1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper

2 tsp. salt

Take the gizzards and liver from inside the chicken carcass then cook the chicken in three quarts of water. I usually do this the day before I plan to make the gumbo so that I will be able to clean the chicken from the bones when it is no longer hot. Save the broth and cut the chicken meat into small pieces. Store both in the refrigerator. Discard the bones and the skin.

The following day measure all of the ingredients and have them at the ready in bowls. Chop the onions, green bell pepper, celery and Andouille sausage (make 1/4 inch rounds). If you are using fresh okra slice it into 1/2 inch rounds.

I use a heavy skillet for browning the okra. First place 2 tablespoons of oil in the skillet and saute the okra for 10 to 15 minutes or until the ropiness is mostly gone. Set the okra aside.

Next I use a large Dutch oven type pot to create the roux. First turn the heat to medium and put in 1/2 cup of oil and let it get a little bit hot. Then pour in the flour and begin stirring constantly. You must watch the mixture carefully during this process. After a time the ingredients will become bubbly and you will smell something akin to popcorn. It won’t take long after that for the roux to begin to achieve the lovely dark brown color that you are seeking. Be careful not to burn the mixture or it will affect the taste of your gumbo.

Once you have a nice brown color with the roux add the onions, green pepper and celery and mix them in. Let them saute until they are tender being certain to stir them during the process. It is okay to let them stick to the bottom of the pan as they cook but scrape the residue with a spoon if that happens because it will create a good flavor in the mix. Don’t let the vegetables burn.

Once the vegetables are tender add the tomatoes, sausage and okra. Stir the new ingredients into the mixture and cook for about 15 minutes. Then add all of the spices and mix well. Finally Pour in about 8 cups of the chicken stock that you made the day before. (I usually heat it just a bit before I need it so that it won’t be cold when I put it into the gumbo mixture.)

Bring the ingredients to a boil and then lower the heat and simmer for one hour stirring about every fifteen minutes. Finally add the cut up chicken and more stock if you need to thin down the broth. Simmer for 15 more minutes.

Serve with rice, a nice green salad and French bread. It is especially yummy on a cold day and much milder than seafood gumbo for those who don’t like their food to be too spicy.