Mardi Gras can be celebrated many ways. The King Cake recipe that was posted earlier demonstrates the richness that might be found at a bakery in the French Quarter. What about out in the bayou? How do people let it all out before the self-denial of the Lenten season?
According to Cynthia LeJeune Nobles in New Orleans Cuisine: Fourteen Signature Dishes and Their Histories, in southern Louisiana, gumbo is a central feature of Mardi Gras celebrations. On Mardi Gras, local men wander from house to house and beg for gumbo ingredients in an event known as courir de Mardi Gras. Members of the local community then gather in a central location while the men cook the gumbo. When it is ready, the group eats and dances until midnight, when Lent begins.
Sounds like quite a party. It’s easy to imagine dancing the night away with this hearty, spicy, satisfying gumbo and some cold beverages.
The first step in making gumbo is to make a roux. Roux is fat of some sort and flour, cooked to activate the glutens in the flour so that when they’re simmered in a liquid they unfurl and form a sort of matrix that thickens the liquid. As a rule, the longer you cook a roux before adding liquid, the less the thickening effect. In gumbo, the roux is cooked until is it s deep, chestnut brown, so it’s not so much a thickening agent as a flavoring agent. Instead, the velvety thickness of gumbo comes from two other ingredients: filé powder (dried and ground sassafras leaves) and okra.
Let’s get started.
In a heavy-bottomed pan (the biggest you have), heat one cup of canola oil over medium-high heat. Then add one cup of all-purpose flour. It will begin sizzling when you throw it in, so get ready to stir.
Stir the roux constantly as it cooks and darkens, about fifteen minutes.
Once it reaches a glossy, dark brown, reduce the heat and add two large diced onions. Cook it another ten minutes or so.
Season one pound of chicken parts with creole seasoning (see recipe below for the blend I used). I used boneless, skinless chicken thighs, because after all it is Mardi Gras. Cut the chicken into large bite-sized pieces and add it to the roux to brown for a few minutes.
When the chicken is browned, add a pound of sliced smoked sausage, two ribs of diced celery, two seeded and diced green bell peppers, one seeded and diced tomato, and two minced cloves of garlic. Cook them in the roux for a few minutes and then add three quarts of chicken stock (I had to transfer everything to a bigger pot before I could add all the stock). Bring it to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer it for forty-five minutes.
Add two cups of sliced okra and a pound of andouille sausage. Mix one tablespoon of cornstarch with one tablespoon of water and then add it too (I couldn’t find filé powder on short notice, so I substituted cornstarch–if you can find filé, add it here instead). Add a tablespoon of worcestershire sauce and a few dashes of Tabasco, and adjust the seasonings as needed. Simmer the gumbo another forty-five minutes.
Serve hot gumbo over white rice, and enjoy!
- 1 cup canola oil
- 1 cup flour
- 2 large onions, diced
- 1 pound of chicken parts (such as boneless skinless thighs)
- 2 tablespoons Basic Creole Spices (recipe follows)
- 2 pounds spicy smoked sausage, sliced ½ inch thick
- 2 stalks celery, diced
- 2 green bell peppers, seeded and diced
- 1 tomato, seeded and chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- Leaves from 2 sprigs fresh thyme
- 3 quarts chicken stock
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 pound andouille sausage, chopped
- 2 cups sliced fresh okra
- 1 tablespoon Worcestershire
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Filé powder (substitute 1 Tablespoon cornstarch if you can't find it)
- White rice for serving
- 2 tablespoons celery salt
- 1 tablespoon sweet paprika
- 1 tablespoon coarse sea salt
- 1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon garlic powder
- 1 tablespoon onion powder
- 2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
- 1. Make a roux by heating the chicken fat or oil in a large cast-iron or heavy-bottomed pot over high heat. Whisk the flour into the hot oil. It will immediately begin to sizzle. Reduce the heat to moderate and continue whisking until the roux takes on a deep brown color, about 15 minutes. Add the onions, stirring them into the roux with a wooden spoon. Reduce the heat to medium-low and continue stirring until the roux is a glossy dark brown, about 10 minutes.
- 2. Season the chicken with Creole Spices. Add the chicken to the pot, raise heat to moderate, and cook, turning the pieces until browned, about 10 minutes.
- 3. Add the smoked sausage and stir for a minute before adding the celery, bell peppers, tomatoes, and garlic. Cook, stirring, for about 3 minutes. Add the thyme, Chicken Stock, and bay leaves. Bring the gumbo to a boil, stirring occasionally. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for 45 minutes. Stir occasionally and skim off the fat from the surface of the gumbo every so often.
- 4. Add the andouille, okra, and Worcestershire and season with salt and pepper, several dashes of filé powder, and Tabasco. Simmer for another 45 minutes, continuing to skim the fat off the surface of the gumbo. Remove the bay leaves and serve in bowls over rice. Pass more filé at the table.
- - makes 1/2 cup -
- Mix together the celery salt, paprika, salt, pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, cayenne, and allspice in a bowl. Transfer the spices to a clean container with a tight-fitting lid, cover, and store.