Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Leftover Chicken #1 - Gumbo

I am thinking of a little recipe series on how to use up chicken. It could be left over or maybe you just saw a great deal on 15 lbs of chicken at Sam's or something. So here is recipe #1:

Paca's Fresh Brewed Gumbolicious

First up, old blog readers, do not fear. This is not a chilibo recipe, in which I try to take the goodness of chili and the wonders of gumbo and mix them together. This is straight up gumbo.

Basically, I made gumbo this weekend and it came out as my best batch. It's a hybrid of three different gumbo recipes. The starting point was the chicken and sausage gumbo recipe out of a recipe book done by the Methodist Church in my old home town in Louisiana as a fundraiser. But the roux recipe in there was a microwave roux, and we have no microwave, and so I looked at a recipe book called Diane II, I think, put out by a cook in West Monroe, Louisiana. I have this last one because she thanks my dad for his pecan oil in the back, and he sent it to me. And then things still didn't seem quite right, so I went to Joy of Cooking for a couple more thoughts. In short, this is going to be one of those "How Men Cook" recipes in which you dump some stuff in until it looks right.

I did everything from scratch here. You can buy pre-made roux, use canned chicken, etc. I should say from the start that the most important thing in a gumbo is the roux. Gumbo just is a roux and a good broth. Virtually everything else is variable. When you get the roux down, then you are set for life. Here we go:

Step 1) Cook the chicken
Put a whole chicken in a big pot. Actually, no, mine was a half chicken. Just put some chicken in a pot.
Cover it in water; for me that was 8 cups. I actually measured.
Add some seasonings that you might want in a yummy chicken broth, like salt, pepper, thyme, carrots, celery, the big leaf whose name i have a mental block on that you can't eat..., etc.
Turn the chicken on and simmer the chicken for 45 minutes. Supposedly, it's important not to overcook.
When the chicken is done, take it out and let cool until you can pull all the chicken off.
Discard bones, fat, skin, etc., unless you have another creative idea.
Keep the remaining broth for the soup. I tried to reduce mine a little, because it was weak. (Reduce means boil some water away.)

Step 2) Make a roux
While the chicken is cooking, start the roux. I did something a bit different this time.
A roux is equal parts fat of some sort and flour which has been browned. I used canola oil and unbleached flour. I've tried butter before, I think. And you could probably do other things. This is clearly the unhealthy part of a gumbo. And so you may want to experiment here one day. What I did different was to heat the oil first and then add flour slowly.
1.5 cups of canola oil heated on medium heat. Don't get too hot because rouxs burn easily and if you burn it, start over.
Slowly add 1.5 cups of flour a bit at a time, stirring as you add and slowly mixing.
Patience time. It can take half an hour to brown a roux or more. Just keep cooking, stirring frequently over a medium heat, until it turns a dark, dark brown. You know a cake is done when you can stick a knife in the middle and it comes out clean, no matter what the directions say, right? Well, the color is the key for the roux. Mahogany brown but don't burn.

Step 3) Prep work
While the roux and chicken are cooking, chop up
a large onion
2 or 3 green onions / scallions
Most recipes also use a bell pepper; I did not, but only because I didn't have one.
Crush 2 or 3 garlic cloves. (Crush a garlic clove by putting it on the cutting board and placing the flat of your big knife against it. Then smash the other side of the knife with your hand. The peel will then come off easily.)
A package of link sausage. - 1lb. (I used Hillshire Farms light smoked sausage. Clearly, you should use andouille, but that's only available in Hawaii for outrageous prices.)
Frozen okra. I used about half a package of frozen, cut okra which is a little more than a cup. Obviously, if you have whole okra, slice them into about half-inch pieces.

Step 4) Timing issues
Soon you will need the broth, so if your chicken isn't done yet, slow the roux down. You want to at this point have a chicken cooling on a plate, the roux turning the perfect brown color, and all the ingredients sitting around. Act as needed.

Step 5) Add vegetables when roux is dark brown
I added half the onion, the green onion, and the garlic to the roux directly, before any broth goes in. This will depend in part on how thick your roux is. If not too thick, it will all go in. If seems lumpy, add a bit of broth and stir it in.
Cook the vegies just a few minutes. Don't let them burn or get fried or anything. You can always cool your roux down with more vegies or a little broth.

Step 6) Add the chicken broth
How much? The million dollar question. One recipe had 3 cups of roux and 2-3 cups of broth. Another had like one cup of roux and, like, 12 cups of broth. I think I went with 3 cups of roux (as above) and about 8 cups of broth. I would suggest adding the small amount, 3-4 cups and then seeing what it looks like. Is it thick and stewy? Add more. Is it a nice brown soup? Probably about right.
Add the broth a bit at a time. A half a cup or a cup installments. Integrate each amount with the roux and vegies and wait until it's boiling again; then add the next amount.
At one point, I decided my homemade broth was a little weak and so I added a can of storebought chicken broth.
Dump in the last of the onion and the okra.
Not tons of spices. The roux and the broth and the onion are the main flavors. I added some garlic powder, some more black pepper, the leafs you can't eat whose name escapes me (yes, I could walk to my cabinet and see) and, the classic spice for this, 2 tsps of file gumbo (which is from sasaffras I believe). If you can't find file in your store, the gumbo will be okay without it, but it's tradition, damn it!

Step 7) Brown the sausage in a skillet just for a few minutes.
I don't know how important this is, but that's what the recipe had me do. It will all be stewed together in moments.
If you never had a chance to pull the chicken off yet, do it now and tear into soup size pieces.

Step 8) Dump the meats in the simmering gumbo
Take all the chicken you pulled off earlier and the light browned sausage and dump it in a pot.

Step 9) Simmer for about half an hour.

Step 10) Ideally, wait until the next day if you can. Stews are always better a couple days later.

Step 11) Eating day
Cook up enough rice so that you can put a nice scoop in the center of a soup bowl for everyone.
Heat the gumbo back up, if you did wait for a day.
Spoon gumbo over the rice and serve.

Step 12) Spice level
I never mentioned hotness above. N's not a big spicy food person and so I didn't add anything to the gumbo itself. I simply put my Vietnamese hot sauce in at the table. Other good choices are Tabasco of course, or straight cayenne pepper. Letting each person decide how hot they want to go and providing options on the table seems to work for us. People with more experience might know if letting the cayenne stew with everything else in the pot is better or not.

This all did take some time. Maybe 2 hours and some? But it makes enough for 8-10 people, or in our case, 3 people for about 3-4 meals. The roux is the high maintenance item. If you buy that, then you save time. A lot of people are swearing by microwave rouxs, too. You could do storebought broth or bouillion cubes and canned chicken, etc.

Gumbo is a very flexible dish. It can be a tasty way to use up whatever odds and ends you have in the kitchen, or it can be a gourmet feature item. I remember once several years ago when I was rooming with the llama. He invited a woman over for a romantic dinner and wanted to impress her. I don't remember all the details, but we prowled the Nashville Farmer's market for real crawfish and shrimp and all this stuff for the world's best gumbo. I think he spent around $100 getting that meal's ingredients. Unfortunately, I never tasted any of it, as I had to do the roommate thing and make myself scarce. In a best-selling recipe book, this story would end with a bit about how I now go to visit the happy couple who still make delicious gumbo on their anniversary or something. Alas, it as not meant to be. Perhaps, he should have tried the dirty rice recipe, instead.



Robin S. said...

The roux is the hard part. Like you said, it burns so easily.

I've never made gumbo, (at least I don't think I have, anyway!)but i've donw lots of stew and meat dishes that required a roux. Up in the northern South, we just called it thick gravy, or sauce. Melt butter, add flour, salt and pepper, and maybe a tad of milk or meat juice, and simmer in an iron skillet - is how we did it.

But you're right- it's easy to burn the bottom and ruin it if you're not careful.

Church Lady said...

This sounds delicious!
Robin, think I should tag Paca with my failed recipe exchange?

Ello said...

That sounds yummy! I'm going to try it out one of these day. Thanks for the recipe!

Robin S. said...

Absolutely, CL- sign him up!