Don't let Mardi Gras pass you by without making up a big pot of gumbo. Even if you don't celebrate Fat Tuesday, it's still a great time to whip up a batch. Gumbo is one of the easiest of all New Orleans favorites and for such a simple recipe it carries an amazing complexity of flavors.
Ask any Cajun who makes the best gumbo, and the answer is usually, "My mamma." For most every pot and every cook, there's a different recipe. Maybe it's something major, like ingredients, or perhaps it's just cooking times or a particular cooking vessel.
The topic of gumbo looms large this time if year, with the best recipes involving several hours standing over a stove or outside fire stirring with, most probably, a special spoon, perhaps carved from a nearby cypress.
At its most basic, what we call gumbo today is a savory stew made with a variety of meats or shellfish combined with an array of vegetables and herbs. From there, all bets are off. Gumbo can be as thin as soup or as thick as porridge. Proteins are most likely andouille sausage and/or seafood, including crab and shrimp. A chicken, stewed till the meat falls from the bone, might be shredded and added to the mix. The stew might be thickened with okra, with filé powder or with a dark roux — or any combination of the three. This just shows the diversity of gumbo, one of the most improvisational foods to travel our Southern foodways.
Cookbooks are full of regional variations, but as Sara Roahen, author of "Gumbo Tales," writes, "It's an intensely esoteric topic whatever style a person grows up eating tends to remain his/her ideal for eternity. If you disagree with that idea, it's clearly because you're impaired in some sad, fundamental way."
So as you consider your pot of gumbo for Fat Tuesday, here's a recipe from "The Dutch Oven Cookbook," by mother-daughter team Sharon Kramis and Julie Kramis Hearne, that embodies the Cajun spirit with a lively, spicy array of colorful ingredients. Laissez les bon temps rouler et bon appetit!
Smoked Sausage, Chicken and Shrimp Gumbo
1 rotisserie chicken (see note)
1/4 cup olive oil
2 1/2 cups chopped onion
4 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
1 cup chopped green pepper
1 cup chopped red bell pepper
1 tablespoon Hungarian paprika
1 stick butter, cut into pieces, plus 1 extra tablespoon for sautéing shrimp
1/2 cup flour
1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes, undrained (preferably fire-roasted tomatoes)
2 1/2 cups chicken broth (preferably homemade)
1 tablespoon Old Bay seasoning
1 tablespoon chili powder
Pinch of cayenne
1 pound andouille sausage (or smoked sausage), cut into 1/2-inch slices
8 ounces shrimp, shelled and deveined
Steamed jasmine rice
Chopped green onion and gumbo filé powder, for garnish
Tabasco sauce, to pass
Remove the skin and bones from the chicken, and cut into 1-inch pieces. Set aside.
Heat the olive oil in a 5 1/2-quart Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onions, garlic, bell peppers and paprika, and cook for several minutes. Remove to a bowl and reserve.
Scrape up any brown particles in the bottom of the pan, then turn down the heat to medium-low. Melt the butter pieces, stirring in the flour to create a roux. Cook the roux for 10 minutes, stirring constantly, until it is the color of peanut butter. Stir in the cooked onion, peppers and garlic. Add the tomatoes with their juice and the chicken broth. Stir until the mixture thickens.
Add the Old Bay seasoning, chili powder, cayenne, sausage and cooked chicken pieces. Simmer, uncovered over low heat for 15-30 minutes. In a separate pan, saute the shrimp in the remaining tablespoon butter until they turn pink. Add to the finished gumbo. Serve gumbo over rice, and sprinkle with green onions and gumbo filé powder. Pass Tabasco sauce at the table.
Note: If you have time, boil your own chicken, and use the delicious broth to make the gumbo.
Now open for lunch
If you want someone else to prepare your Mardi Gras meal, Blue Orleans is now open for lunch at 11 a.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Chef Mike Adams can cook up a pot of gumbo like none other. And his jambalaya and crawfish etouffee are things of wonder with just the right amount of spice. Prices are excellent as well, with most lunch entrees priced from $8 to $10. Blue Orleans is located at 1463 Market Street at the corner of Market and Main.
Contact Anne Braly at email@example.com.