The Distracted Cook and the Gumbo Adventure

The Daring Kitchen is always full of challenges, and this month was no exception. Imagine my surprise when I saw the challenge for May.

Our May hostess, Denise, of There’s a Newf in My Soup!, challenged The Daring Cooks to make Gumbo! She provided us with all the recipes we’d need, from creole spices, homemade stock, and Louisiana white rice, to Drew’s Chicken & Smoked Sausage Gumbo and Seafood Gumbo from My New Orleans: The Cookbook, by
John Besh.

Of course, there was the option to use a recipe of our own choice for making a Gumbo. Living in the Land of Gumbo almost assures that The Distracted Cook would search out a version from nearby. I decided that it would be great fun to take a recipe from a local cookbook and elevate it to Challenge Status.  Most gumbo recipes follow pretty much the same format: make a roux, add the Trinity, add whatever meat you are using, and then some hot stock. That is pretty much standard, but there are some local variances that make the dish more or less “home food.”  The recipe I decided to use is one I have never cooked before. I wasn’t sure I wanted to do this because it is a tomato based gumbo and I am not particularly fond of tomato based anythings.

The first step was to make a good, brown chicken stock rather than canned. I started out with turkey wings (I know that I said chicken stock, but really, turkey wings are spectacular in this stock) which I roasted in a 350 degree oven for about 45 minutes. Then I threw in some chopped onion, carrot, garlic, and celery and let it continue roasting for another 20 minutes.

After taking it out of the oven and putting it into a large stockpot, I deglazed the pan with water and added that to the pot along with a quart or so of hot water. I let this simmer for about half an hour until it was about the color of caramel.

The last step was to strain it and pour it into a container and put in the refrigerator to cool until I was ready to use it in the gumbo. This is what it looked like when it was all done:

Now on to the gumbo itself. There are as many recipes for gumbo as their are sands on the beach! After checking out about 17 recipes, I just shut my eyes and picked up a book. And that book had the recipe for Chicken and Sausage Gumbo.

As an aside here, I will confess that The Distracted Cook has a really hard time with “prep” for making anything from a recipe. In fact, if you check back here on Tuesday you will see my post about prep and what happens in the ADD kitchen! But for now, we’ll concentrate on the recipe at hand. 
First things first, and that is getting everything ready (aka “prep”) and making sure there is room to get this all done. After I gathered all the ingredients I started organizing the plan of attack. Gumbo is not hard to make, it just takes a while to get it all ready.
Cutting up the andouille sausage and onions were the first things to do, and then the celery, garlic, and bell pepper.

The sausage was browned in the pan and removed, and then the chicken got the same treatment. It almost looked like that chicken was good enough to eat out of the pan and forget the gumbo!

Here’s where the roux comes in — you add some flour to the oil in the pan after you remove the  chicken to a plate.  When the roux reaches the color you like best, you throw in the chopped vegetables and let them wilt (or for those not used to making gumbo, you saute them until they are tender. Around here we just wilt things.)  When you reach this stage it’s time for that chicken stock that you have waiting in a pan after you have heated it to a simmer. Pour the stock into the pan with the roux and then add some canned tomatoes and some chopped okra as well as the chicken and sausage.  Let this simmer on the stovetop for about two hours. During the last 20 minutes or so, add some chopped parsley and green onion tops. How much to add depends on personal taste – we like a lot around here!

After the gumbo is finished cooking you can serve it up, or better yet, refrigerate it until the next day. There is just something about gumbo the second day – it is so much better! Like a fine red wine, it improves with some age on it. The flavors aren’t as sharp, but rather soften and meld together. They become smooth as silk and whisper rather than shout out your name as they call you to the bowl.

The Distracted Cook will have to confess and let it be known that even having prepped and read the recipe through two or three times — she still goofed! But that is the best part about gumbo, and it is one of the first things that you learn in Gumbo-Land. Gumbo is very forgiving as long as you let your taste buds be your guide. If you don’t like tomato so much, just don’t use it or use less than the recipe says to use. And taste, taste, taste as you cook. You’ll know when you get it right!

Denise has also included a recipe for what is called Basic Louisiana White Rice and I must confess, I have never in my lifetime seen this recipe being the basic white rice for Louisiana. I learned to cook rice while growing up in New Orleans. And the way I was taught, and the way most of my friends cook their white rice, is not what this recipe says to do. I was taught to use twice as much water as rice. Put the water into a pan with a tight fitting lid, bring it to a rolling boil, stir the dry rice into the water and put the top on the pan. When the water comes back up to a boil, turn it down to the lowest setting on your stove and let it cook for 15 minutes. Take it off the heat and let it sit until time to serve. Fluff with a fork and you are good to go. No chicken stock, no oil of any kind – just plain ole white rice. I’ll have to give this other recipe a try just to see what I have been missing all these years! What do you think? How do YOU make your basic white rice?

If you want to try some gumbo cooking, there are two wonderful recipes at The Daring Kitchen that you can try right now. And your local bookstore or library is bound to have cookbooks from New Orleans and Louisiana that will show you just how diverse this soup really is. You can make Chicken gumbo, seafood gumbo, greens gumbo, turkey gumbo, as well as combinations of these.

I invite you to join us in the next Daring Kitchen Challenge. Go to the site and sign up — we love having company in the kitchen!