We’re counting ourselves lucky to be spending the winter here in California where temperatures are quite mild. Having said that, the last few days have seen a drop with really chilly mornings and evenings. When the weather gets nippy, there’s nothing better than a warming bowl of stew and that’s exactly why I made a large pot of gumbo last evening.
We had our first taste of gumbo on our trip through the southern states last year, in New Orleans to be specific. Since then, it’s been on my list of must try recipes. It took living in the US to find all the right ingredients to make this dish and am happy I tried it out. After last evening, gumbo is now officially on our must-have-often list of recipes.
Made using the holy trinity of southern cooking – pepper, onion and celery along with a roux from flour and oil, this dish is perfect for this time of the year.
I found this recipe from the versatile ‘Simply Recipes’ blog to be the best one to follow. It is a bit time consuming considering that it takes about 2-3 hours but most of it is hands off time. Definitely something to do on an idle cold weekend
The roux made with flour and fat (oil and butter in my case) combined with the okra give the dish a nice silky texture, quite different from any other stew. The best part is that this recipe is entirely customisable and you can throw in any kind of meat and sausage combination you fancy as long as you get the roux right.
Chicken, Sausage & Okra Gumbo (original recipe from the ‘Simply Recipes’ blog)
Ingredients (I scaled this down from the original but these measurements will still yield enough to feed 4-5)
2-3 slices streaky bacon chopped into bite sized pieces
400g (about 1lb) chicken thighs on the bone, skin on
around 284g (10oz) andouille sausage or any other sausage of your choice
1/2 cup flour
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 medium green pepper diced
2 celery ribs diced
1 medium red onion diced
2-3 garlic cloves minced
1 tbsp tomato paste
500ml (about 1/2 quart) chicken stock
1-2tbsp cajun spice mix
200g (around 1/2lb) okra cut crosswise into thick rounds
2 small spring onions diced
Place a large heavy bottomed pan such as a casserole on medium heat. Add the bacon slices and cook until it’s golden and crispy. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on kitchen paper. This along with the spring onions will be used as garnish when serving the finished dish.
Add the chicken thighs skin side down and let it stay there for 3-4 minutes so that it turns golden brown and renders some of its fat. Season the meat side that’s facing up with salt and then turn the thighs over so this side browns as well. Remove and set aside.
Add the sausages and let it brown evenly. Remove and set aside.
Now add the 1/4 cup oil to the pan that should have a decent amount of fat from the bacon, chicken and sausages. A word of caution here – if like mine, your pan is not heavy duty enough and there’s a chance of the fat burning, then it may be a better idea to carry out the first steps in a separate heavy frying pan and then transfer the fat to a larger pot. Otherwise, just use a large knob of butter along with the oil to start on the roux.
To make the roux, first turn the heat to low, then add the flour to the oil+fat mixture in the pan. Keep stirring for the first 2-3 minutes continuously until it forms a homogenous mixture. Increase the heat just a notch and let it cook for a good 20-25 minutes stirring occasionally until it turns dark. You can make it as dark as you like as long as the roux doesn’t burn. I waited until my roux was a light caramel colour to go on to the next step.
While making the roux, add the stock and water to a pan and warm it on a low heat.
Once the roux has the desired colour, add the pepper, onion and celery along with garlic. Cook for 2-3 minutes. Then add the tomato paste. Cook for another couple of minutes. Ladle in the stock+water mixture, one ladle at a time into the pan. At first, the mixture becomes very thick but keep adding the liquid slowly until it all loosens up again. Add enough liquid to allow the stew to cook slowly for a couple of hours. Add the cajun spice mix – the exact amount is entirely customisable according to your taste. Season with salt.
Now add the chicken thighs to the pot and let it simmer on a low heat for about 1.5 hours after which, the thighs should have cooked through and become soft and tender. Remove the chicken from the pot and place it on a chopping board to cool down for a few minutes.
Chop the sausages into thick discs and add this to the stew along with the okra.
Once the chicken thighs are cool enough to handle, shred the meat from the bones, discard the bones and add the meat back to the stew. I discarded the skin but you may chop this up and add it to the stew as well.
Give everything a stir and cook it down for another hour or until the stew has reached a desirable consistency.
Ladle some steaming hot gumbo onto a plate or into a bowl. Garnish with some spring onions and bacon pieces and serve with rice or crusty bread.
Truly warming and satisfying, this is something you definitely have to try out for a lovely comforting meal with friends and family.