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A Winter’s Worth of Gumbo

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I did it! I made four gallons of chicken and sausage gumbo for the family to eat over the winter. Click here to go straight to the recipe, or read on for the expanded version.

My recipe is adapted from one given to me years ago by my friend Brian Tucker. I was introduced to Brian’s gumbo one day at a potluck lunch following a martial arts event. For some reason I was among the last to reach the buffet line, which by that time had been considerably picked over and now looked something like the desolation of Smaug, with little remaining besides a few raw carrots and some fried chicken breading crumbs. I was tired and hungry and cold, and as I passed empty serving dish after empty serving dish, my sinking feeling got sinking-er and sinking-er. Then I saw it: a slow cooker near the end of the line, still half full of some rich thick meaty dark mixture, with a stack of bowls placed thoughtfully beside it. I ladled myself a bowlful, and as I ate of the warm, delicious stuff, I thought, “God bless whoever made this gumbo.”

I later learned that Brian was the man. I gave him some well-deserved thanks and praise, and he kindly gave me his recipe. I still have Brian’s recipe, a single page printed on both sides with thorough-going, single-spaced prose. Brian is a joyful cook, and his recipe fairly sings with delight. Mine is pretty dry in comparison, prose-wise. I’ve made a few alterations, but the essentials are the same.

Because I like big daunting complex projects, and have a deep freeze, and come from a family that habitually cooks enough to feed an army (though no army ever had it so good), I have doubled Brian’s original recipe. This is a lot of gumbo. I use the same four-gallon stock pot that I use to make my chicken stock (another doubled recipe), and I fill it to the brim. I also add kombu to the stock and use cassava flour for the roux. Japanese seaweed and South American tuber meal may seem out of place in a dish that originates in Louisiana, but I like kombu for its high mineral content and flavor (I put it in my frijoles charros as well), and cassava because it is unrefined and gluten-free.

I also use less cayenne pepper than Brian’s suggested amount. I like spicy foods, but my family is tender-mouthed, so I cook a tamer version and then sprinkle extra cayenne onto my own bowlfuls.

Making gumbo is a big event that requires some planning. It starts two days before with homemade chicken stock. After simmering a full twenty-four hours, the stock spends another day in the fridge so the fat can cool and be removed.

While the stock is chilling, one day before I plan to cook the gumbo, I get all my chopping and dicing out of the way. This takes a hefty chunk of time. Once it’s done, and the prepped vegetables and meats are stowed in the fridge, I get the kitchen tidied up and make sure my big stock pot is ready to go.

I like to do the actual cooking of the gumbo on a cold day. Making a roux is warm work, especially when you’re making twice as much. It can also be messy work, with all that hot oil, so I wore sweats that could stand some spattering. Take reasonable precautions, allow plenty of time, and give the roux your full attention.

A tool that probably helps a lot with roux-making is a sauce whisk. Somehow I never knew about these until after making this batch of gumbo. You have to whisk the hot oil and flour mixture constantly until it reaches the right thickness and color, and the heat rising from the pan gets to be a bit much for the human hand. Switching back and forth between right and left hands, I thought, “There’s probably a tool that makes this easier.” There is. I had in mind a longer-than-usual traditional whisk, but when I visited Gift and Gourmet the next day and explained the problem, I was shown one of these nifty little things instead. The whisking surface is flat, the better to skim along the bottom of a skillet, and the angle of the handle allows the hand to keep clear of the heat. I haven’t tried mine yet, but the design makes a lot of sense.
Chicken and Sausage Gumbo 2 gallons chicken stock 6 c. diced onion 4 c. diced green bell pepper 4 c. sliced celery 4 Tbsp. minced garlic 4-6 lb. smoked sausage, quartered and sliced 4-6 c. cooked cubed chicken (from when you made the chicken stock) 2 1/2 c. peanut oil 3 c. cassava flour 6 bay leaves 2 Tbsp. garlic powder 6 Tbsp. salt 2 tsp. white pepper 2 tsp. black pepper 1 tsp. cayenne pepper 2 tsp. thyme 2 tsp. oregano 2 28-oz. cans diced tomatoes 2 lb. sliced okra
Combine garlic powder, salt, white pepper, black pepper, cayenne pepper, thyme, and oregano in small bowl or mug; set aside. Add bay leaves to stock; bring to boil.

To make roux: Heat peanut oil in large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat until it begins to smoke slightly. Add cassava flour in three or four stages; blend with wire whisk, breaking up lumps and keeping flour moving so it will not burn. Continue cooking on medium-high heat until roux approaches a dark reddish-brown color. Turn temperature down to medium.

When roux turns reddish-brown, add onion, bell pepper, celery, and garlic all at once and stir into roux with spoon. Add about half the spice mixture; continue cooking 2-3 min. over medium heat. Add remaining spice mixture; cook 2-3 min. more. Remove from heat.

Add roux mixture to stock in spoonfuls, stirring between spoonfuls to dissolve completely. Add tomatoes, okra, smoked sausage, and chicken. Bring to low boil. Reduce heat; simmer 30 min.-1 hour.

Serve over brown rice.




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