We spent last weekend in New Orleans at the Jazz & Heritage Festival, and, as always, ate like skinny pigs on Sunday. The people who live in Louisiana have an almost religious respect for the integrity of their culinary culture, and eating the food they have prepared is as close as I get to a spiritual experience. We ate incredible food at the Fest, and we dined at some great New Orleans spots [this place is AMAZING], but we were also lucky enough to be invited to a local’s home in Metairie, where Joe & Nicole treated us to some fantastic gumbo and a typically generous helping of Louisiana hospitality. Thanks, Joe & Nicole, for the dinner, and for the inspiration to try to replicate Joe’s gumbo.
This dish is kitchen alchemy at its best. You start with fresh vegetables, oil, flour, and meat, and you end up with ambrosia. No, not the kind with marshmallows.
Andouille & Chicken Gumbo
1-1/2 lb boneless, skinless chicken thighs
1 quart chicken stock
3 quarts cold water
1-1/2 lbs smoked andouille sausage
2-2/3 cups peanut oil
2-2/3 cups flour
1 large white onion, chopped small (about 2 cups)
6 celery ribs, chopped small (about 1 cup)
1 large green pepper, chopped small (about 2 cups)
8 large garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons thyme
2 teaspoons oregano
3 tablespoons filé
1/2 teaspoon cayenne
1 teaspoon salt
Combine chicken thighs, stock and water in large stockpot. Bring to boil, reduce heat, and simmer, uncovered, 15 minutes. Remove chicken from pot and allow to cool, then chop into bites. Keep stock in pot warm.
Chop sausage into bites (I like half moons), and sauté in large nonstick skillet over high heat until brown, about 10 minutes. Using slotted spoon, transfer sausage to two triple stacks of paper towels to drain, blotting well to soak up as much grease as possible.
Make sure you have all the vegetables chopped and combine them with the spices & filé in a large bowl.
OK, now here’s the slightly tricky part. [For all of you experienced with rouxs, just go make it; mahogany is what you want.] For everybody else, draw near. Heat oil in heavy-bottomed saucepan or French over over medium heat until hot but not smoking. Add flour and whisk to combine. Lower heat to medium-low and whisk constantly until dark brown, about 1 hour.
Getting the flame right under the roux pot involves a few variables: type of pot, type of stove, how much you’re stirring (constantly, I hope!). What you want is a low flame, but not so low that the flour doesn’t cook. At the beginning, you should see tiny bubbles rising from the bottom of the pan. After about a half an hour, the bubbles should be gone, but you should see a small amount of smoke (not the steam, but real smoke) rising from the roux. This is OK, as long as it doesn’t become a cloud. If you see flakes of brown or black in the roux and it smells burnt, that’s because it is. You have to throw it out & start again.
After about 30-40 minutes, you should have a roux that is the color of peanut butter. This is a perfectly serviceable roux, and you could go right ahead and move onto the next step of adding the vegetables. But what you’re really aiming for is what aficionados call a “mahogany” roux, which is about the color of wet brownie mix.
When your roux is where you want it, put the stock pot with the stock in it on high heat, and pour the vegetables into the roux and cook for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Adding the vegetables will darken the roux a little bit, and if you’ve taken it all the way to mahogany, it may look almost black. This is good.
When the stock is boiling, pour the roux into the stock (careful: the roux pot will be very hot). Stir to combine, lower heat slightly, and simmer for 1 to 1-1/2 hours. Taste for salt, add a generous grinding of black pepper, and serve over white rice.