By Angela Denstad Stigeler
It’s a testament to the graciousness of the people of New Orleans that, when I made a casual inquiry the other day about some Cajun culinary specialties, a former Louisiana native rewarded me with the use of not one, but four cookbooks from her personal collection. While much more information than this columnist can absorb in a weekend, it was none-the-less a very welcome immersion into the cuisine of a city known for its indulgences.
Having spent some time in the Crescent City, I had in mind a few tastes I wanted to revisit. Chief among them (notwithstanding those pralines from a shop somewhere on Decatur Street) was a good, authentic New Orleans gumbo. Shrimp, chicken, sausage, seafood—I wanted them all. So I ended up putting together a little melting pot of what I could find,* in good New Orleans fashion. The culinary history of that city is remarkably rich and diverse, and unique enough to allow for individual variation–just look at the vast array of hot sauces and seasonibg mixes that all claim to be the authentic taste of New Orleans. If you’ve never had a good gumbo, you can use the following recipe as your guide. Despite the long ingredient list, it’s simple enough to make for the upcoming “Fat Tuesday.” And for an easier taste of The Big Easy, stop by Good Times this Saturday for an all-out Mardi Gras feast!
Chicken, Sausage and Shrimp Gumbo
1 pound skinless, boneless chicken breasts, diced
½ pound andouille or lean smoked sausage, sliced
½ cup vegetable oil
¾ cup flour
2 cups chopped onions
1 cup chopped celery
1 cup chopped bell pepper
1 teaspoon Creole seasoning blend (optional)
1 tablespoon minced fresh garlic
1 teaspoon fresh thyme
¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper (optional)
6 cups chicken stock
1 (14.5 ounce) can diced tomatoes
2 bay leaves
1 pound medium shrimp, peeled
3 cups sliced okra (if frozen, thaw before use)
½ cup fresh parsley chopped
Hot sauce, to taste
Plain boiled white rice, for serving
In a large heavy soup pot coated with 1 tablespoon oil, sauté chicken and sausage on medium high heat until brown on all sides. Remove and set aside.
Place the oil and flour in the pot, stir well and brown to make a roux. When the flour is browned to the color of an old copper penny, add the chopped onion, celery, and bell pepper. Sauté over low heat for 8-10 minutes. Add the Creole seasoning, garlic, thyme and red pepper, sautéing until fragrant, about another minute. Gradually add the chicken stock, stirring constantly until blended. Return the chicken and sausage to the pot, along with the diced tomatoes with their juice and the bay leaves. Cover and simmer on low heat for 30 minutes. Remove the lid and cook 30 minutes more, stirring occasionally.
Add the shrimp, okra and parsley and continue to cook on low heat uncovered for 15 minutes. To serve, place about 1/3 cup rice in a deep bowl and top with a generous cupful of gumbo. Pass the hot sauce separately and season to taste.
*Okra, while not easy to find, was an essential for me. If you don’t care for it, you can add some filé powder or a cornstarch slurry near the end of the cooking time to thicken the soup.