Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Traditional New Orleans Gumbo

My winter break has officially started, which means plenty of relaxing, gift shopping and of course, cooking! My parent's kitchen pantry is a godsend for college students like myself. No need to run to Whole Foods and spend $10 on that obscure seasoning, or cross my fingers that there's still enough flour to make a batch of birthday cupcakes. My mom is an excellent cook and uses our kitchen often, so rest assured it is well-stocked when I return home. I just finished my last semester of classes until September and will be returning to work at Johnson & Johnson for my third internship (called co-op) this January. I had an amazing experience last round and am looking forward to my new office, position and coworkers. It's strange how much I prefer working full-time to classes... I will probably kick myself for this later when I don't have a choice.

On my drive home from school, I listened to an APM podcast, The Splendid Table. You can download them for free on iTunes, and I would say it's a must for any foodie. I got really into podcasts on my last co-op when my coworker and roommate introduced me to Radiolab, and ever since I search the web for interesting listens to accompany me on long drives. I'll be living in Boston next semester to stay close to friends, but in return I'm facing over an hour commute every day. (Yikes.) I plan to become an expert in podcasts by the end of my six months at J&J, and will definitely revisit Splendid Table. The episode I discovered on my drive was all about New Orleans cuisine, hence the desire to create my own version of traditional Creole-style gumbo!

I did a lot of research for this recipe. I wanted to create a truly authentic rendition of New Orleans gumbo, and learned a thing or two about southern cooking in the process. Every traditional gumbo recipe begins with roux, a French concoction and thickening agent made of flour and fat or oil. I chose to use vegetable oil because it is used in most New Orleans restaurants and is more difficult to burn than butter. The roux can be cooked shorter or longer to achieve a "city" taste, popular in New Orleans, or a Creole-inspired country flavor. I chose an in between consistency which created a smoky but not overpowering taste. I also mixed a typical chicken and sausage gumbo with seafood by adding a little shrimp, because given the option, one should always add shrimp. Naturally.

And finally, the pièce de résistance, filé powder! I had never heard of it, but it's simply dried ground sassafras that is traditionally sprinkled over gumbo before eating. It was difficult to find at the major grocery store near me, but this one-time buy will last for years of homemade gumbo creations. Another note: many recipes I saw required cayenne pepper or pepper sauce, but simmering the andouille sausage in the broth gave my gumbo almost too much spice, and this is coming from a girl who loves spicy things. If you plan to recreate this recipe feel free to give it an extra kick, but you've been warned...

Traditional New Orleans Gumbo
Serves: 6  Prep: 1 hour, 30 minutes  Total: 3 hours

1 cup flour
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 yellow onion, diced
5 garlic cloves, diced
2 celery stalks, diced
1 green pepper, diced
1 cup okra, sliced
14 oz canned diced tomatoes
3 1/2 cups chicken broth
1 lb boneless, skinless chicken thighs
1 lb andouille sausage
3/4 lb shrimp, peeled and deveined, cooked or uncooked
2 tbs parsley
2 tbs tyhme
2 tbs Worcestershire sauce
1 tbs paprika
2 bay leaves
Salt and pepper to taste
Filé powder to taste
3 cups white rice

Prior to making the roux, dice the onion, garlic, celery and green pepper and slice the okra. Set aside.
Making the roux: Combine the vegetable oil and flour in a large pot and mix well. Cook on low to medium-low heat for 30 minutes, stirring every minute or so until the color resembles melted milk chocolate and develops a nutty smell. (Roux can be cooked for less or more time to achieve desired flavor.)
Add the chopped vegetables to the roux, cover and cook on medium-low heat for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
While the vegetables are cooking, lightly salt and pepper the chicken thighs and bake at 375 degrees for 20-25 minutes or until cooked through. If shrimp are uncooked, lightly oil a frying pan and cook on medium heat for 4 minutes on each side until pink and cooked through. Chop the andouille sausage, cooked shrimp and cooked chicken into large chunks.
When vegetables are softened, add the diced tomatoes and chicken broth and let simmer uncovered on medium heat for 5 minutes. Add the remaining ingredients and simmer uncovered for 30 minutes to an hour, stirring occasionally.
Cook rice as directed and serve a heaping pile of gumbo on top of one serving of rice. Sprinkle with filé seasoning and enjoy!


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