Monday, March 7, 2011


There are foods we have at certain times of the year, for holidays, for the seasons, for tradition. Of course, you can make them whenever you like, but bringing them out
season to season, year to year, creates a kind of continuity and stability to our lives, wherever we are, whatever else is going on, wherever our lives have taken us. So here’s to a Fat Tuesday, to Mardi Gras, and to the lean Lent to follow.


For a fairly large pot, here’s the strategy, formula, and technique. The proportions are more or less, give or take. Multiply or divide as you wish:

First off, heat up about two quarts of chicken broth, made with chicken bones, onion, celery, parsley, carrots.

Peel and clean about ½ - 1 lb shrimp. Throw the shrimp shells into your chicken broth, and let it simmer on low.

Get all of your vegetables chopped, large or medium dice: 1 onion, 2 celery stalks with leaves, ½ red or green bell pepper. Trim the ends off of ½ lb okra, and slice in ½” slices.
Mince 3 garlic cloves, and slice 3 or 4 green onions.
Set out your herbs and spices: about a teaspoon of fresh thyme, pulled from stems (1/2 tsp dried), 3 T minced parsley, 1 bay leaf, smoked paprika, black pepper, salt, and Creole seasoning. My Creole seasoning is a mix of white pepper, black pepper, cayenne, onion powder, garlic powder, marjoram, and Old Bay seasoning.

Strain shrimp shells from broth and return broth to pot. Keep warm.

Start browning your meat: In a large pot, cook about 1 lb andouille sausage, in or out of the casings. Andouille is best for this, but if you don’t have it, you could use any other kind of smoked sausage or other sausage you like. (For this batch, I didn’t have any andouille on hand this time, so I made an andouille approximation, mixing ½ lb ground pork, ¼ lb pork fat, 1 minced clove garlic, ¼ tsp thyme, ¼ tsp chili with lime (cayenne), ½ tsp black pepper, 1 tsp smoked paprika, a pinch of nutmeg, a pinch of hot pepper flakes, and 1/8 tsp liquid smoke.  This I cooked free-form, no casings. I also added some Portugese sausage, chopped, since I did have that around, and thought it would add a nice smokiness, plus some chicken garlic sausage, cooked in the casings and sliced when cooked.) When the sausage is browned, remove from the pot, leaving the sausage fat in the pot.

Brown 2 chicken breasts, cut into 1” cubes in the same pot. Remove these from the pot, and add chopped onion. Cook for a minute or so then add the celery and red pepper. Cook until vegetables begin to soften. Turn off heat and gently stir in browned sausage, chicken, garlic and okra.
Get a pot of rice started, so it will be ready when the gumbo is done.

Make your roux: In another pan, one with a heavy bottom –I use a cast iron skillet-mix together ¾ c flour and ½ c vegetable or canola oil. Turn the heat on to low and heat slowly, stirring slowly and constantly. Don’t go anywhere else, just stand there and stir. This is why you got everything else ready already, so you can stand there and stir. Listen to some music, talk to yourself, whatever. Really-don’t stop. This is important because you don’t want to burn the little flour particles, you want it to brown evenly. It will seem like it is doing nothing for the longest time, and then it will start to brown quickly. Keep stirring, faster if you need to keep it from scorching. Cook and stir until it turns a nice burnt sienna, like the color of peanut butter or coffee with just a little milk. Turn off heat and continue to stir. Keep in mind that the roux will continue to darken as it sits in the pan.  That should have taken about 20 minutes.

Pour the roux into the pot with the sausage, chicken, and vegetables. Turn heat to medium and stir gently. Ladle in the warm broth a bit at a time, stirring gently to incorporate it as you go. Add bay leaf. Bring to a simmer, and cook on low for another 10 or 15 minutes, until okra is cooked through and the broth has thickened. Add shrimpgreen onion, thyme, and parsley. Add the smoked paprika and Creole seasoning by the teaspoon until it is the right heat for you, anywhere from a teaspoon to a few tablespoons, depending on what you like and how hot the mix is. Cook for a few minutes, until shrimp is just cooked. Salt if needed and serve over cooked rice.

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