As I’ve said before, Sunday is my cooking day. I sleep a little bit later than on a workday (6:30 instead of 5:30), brew a pot of coffee while I think about what I will be making during the day, and head off to the supermarket. I’m glad that the Shaw’s employees get to sleep a little later, too, since the store opens at 7 instead of the weekday 6. I’m usually one of the first customers there, which means no line at the deli, but also no fish yet on display. It’s a worthwhile trade-off, because I loathe the deli line, and I’m happy to circle back around for my seafood.
Chuck should be home for most of the week, so I buy sliced turkey for his lunches, and plan a few dinners. I haven’t made gumbo in a while, and there is a package of fresh okra in the produce section, so I grab that and pick up some of the other ingredients I will need. When I get home, I think it’s just too hot to stand over the stove making a roux, but dammit, if the New Orleans cooks can do it, so can I. More on this later.
What will we want to eat this week, when it’s too hot and humid to do much cooking? At the market I get chicken breast for Lemon Chicken. Mahi-Mahi, which is excellent to grill (note to self: fill the tanks for the grill). Lentils and parsley for Lentil Salad. Chopped fresh broccoli. Watermelon. The world’s largest beet. I think about making Seared Scallops with Creamed Corn and Candied Bacon, but will get the corn and scallops the day I make that. I grab a few cans of baked beans and a package of hot dogs, in case I don’t feel like cooking one night (VERY good chance of that).
When I get home, it is about 8:15, and not yet too hot in the house. I put away the groceries, feed Luna, and cook the lentils and the beet. Not together. The Lentil Salad is easy and delicious: 1 cup lentils cooked until tender but not falling apart, half a red onion diced fine, three cloves of garlic minced, a whole bunch of flat parsley chopped, salt, pepper, olive oil, champagne vinegar. I usually roast beets, but I think it’s too hot to turn on the oven, so I cook this one on the stove in a little water, then peel and cube it, ready to add to salads. I also prep egg salad, then put waaaay too much mayonnaise in it, so I add two more eggs and another stalk of celery – now we have enough egg salad to feed a large family. Next: Cheater Broccoli Slaw: one bag of pre-chopped broccoli slaw mixed with 1/4 cup Makato Ginger Dressing. That should hold us.
My refrigerator is full, so I move a few things to the basement fridge: eggplants, cucumber, watermelon. This is risky, since I tend to forget things once they land down there. Right now I notice last week’s whole broccoli, with which I intended to make Southern Broccoli Salad. The tips of the flowers are looking a little weary and yellowish – can I still make that salad? It might be better roasted instead.
Now it’s 10:30 and starting to heat up. I wash the dishes I’ve used, start the dishwasher, turn on the A.C., and sit down to think about gumbo.
I made my first gumbo when I was about 14. I had heard of it but never tasted it, and when I found a recipe in a magazine I decided to try it. It was an all-day affair, and by the time it was done I was sick of the very smell. It tasted weird. I was disappointed – all that work, and I didn’t even like it? I’m not sure what I was expecting, but THAT wasn’t it.
Fast forward 30 years or so, and I had gumbo at Commander’s Palace. It was a revelation. Gumbo is a perfect metaphor for New Orleans, the imperfect-perfect melting pot. Dark, rich, complex, heady broth, with silky vegetables and flavorful proteins, and a scoop of rice to soak up all those flavors. It is historic, and slow, and spicy. Hot and satisfying. The taste of it lingers on my tongue and in my memory.
One of the best gumbos I’ve had in recent memory was at a fish market & restaurant in Daphne, Alabama, across the bay from Mobile. We were driving from Pensacola Beach, Fl to New Orleans, and Chuck found this place on Yelp, called Market by the Bay. When we walked in, the apparent owner came up to us and said, “Y’all are new here. Taste the gumbo.” I assured him that we would be ordering it regardless, based on Yelp reviews, but he said no, we should taste it first. He called to one of the servers to dish us up a few samples. The smell was hypnotic, and the taste was sublime. My mouth is watering now thinking of it. It was amazing. We ordered a bowl and an oyster po-boy to split. There were even hushpuppies on the plate, one of my favorite starches. I made moany little happy noises the whole time I ate.
Now that AC has cooled the room and the ice water I’m drinking has cooled my innards, I gather my ingredients. I have chicken, home-made chicken stock, fresh okra, creole seasoning, celery, onion, peppers – Crap! I forgot to buy sausage! Instead of andouille, I prefer Portuguese chorizo, made locally in Fall River. So I venture back out into the heat and humidity to pick it up.
My gumbo recipe is based on this: http://neworleanscuisine.blogspot.com/2005/03/chicken-andouille-gumbo-recipe.html The blog is wonderful. I’m sorry to say I don’t know the blogger’s name or gender, but I think of him as a him. Check out “First You Start With a Roux…” before attempting the gumbo. http://neworleanscuisine.blogspot.com/2005/02/first-you-start-with-roux.html I love that he instructs us to open a beer, and sip it slowly while making the roux – don’t rush either the beer or the roux.
One of my goals in making gumbo is to have it as dark as I can make it. I’ve had gumbo in New Orleans that is darker than mine, and I can’t quite figure out how to get it there. Now that I make gumbo regularly, I compare every bowl of it eaten in the Gulf South to my own. That gumbo in Alabama was the color of DARK chocolate. The blogger says to cook the roux for about half an hour? I go at least 45 minutes. It’s beautiful, it’s flavorful and rich, but it isn’t chocolate brown. Damn it. I haven’t mastered that dark brown, but mine is pretty good. It’s even pretty great.
Ellen’s Chicken & Sausage Gumbo
Having all the ingredients chopped and measured before beginning is a good idea. I don’t always do it, but I always regret when I don’t.
- 1 cold bottle of beer – my preference is Abita, but it’s hard to find in Lil’ Rhody
- 1/4 cup butter
- 1/4 cup vegetable oil
- 3/4 cup all purpose flour
- 2 tablespoons creole seasoning – I use Tony Chachere’s
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme
- about three quarters of a cup of each, chopped: onion, green (or mixed) bell pepper, celery – The Holy Trinity of New Orleans cooking
- 3 or 4 cloves of garlic, minced
- 1 cup sliced okra, either fresh or frozen.
- 4 boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into bite-sized pieces
- 1 whole Portuguese hot chorizo, about half a pound, cut into bite-sized pieces. You can use Andouille if you prefer.
- 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
- 3.5 cups chicken stock
Open the beer and take a sip. Place the butter and oil in a large heavy pot over medium heat. Sip the beer. When the butter melts, sprinkle the flour over the top. Have another sip of beer. Whisk the flour and fats together until incorporated, then shake off the whisk and switch to a wooden spoon. Cook over medium heat for at least half an hour, probably more like 45 minutes, until the color of milk chocolate. Remember to sip your beer slowly, and stir your roux slowly. At all costs, avoid getting splashed with the roux – it is what Chef Paul Prudhomme called Cajun Napalm. It is important to stir regularly, if not continuously, but slowly. If you stir too vigorously, it will be a long, long time cooking as the fast stir cools it down. If you neglect it, the flour will burn and your roux will be ruined.
When your roux is at least as dark as this, add the Holy Trinity, the creole seasoning, the garlic, and the thyme. Stir to coat completely, then cook until the vegetables have begun to soften. Add the okra and the chicken, stir to coat completely, and cook until the chicken is opaque. Add the remaining ingredients. Stir, bring to a boil, and reduce to a simmer. Simmer for at least a couple hours, stirring occasionally. If the gumbo appears too thick, you can add more chicken stock. I never have this problem – I always add too much and then swear.
Serve in a bowl or soup plate with a scoop of hot rice – I prefer white, but brown works too.
If you decide to try this recipe, and you get your roux darker than mine, please let me know how you did it.