Story last updated at 11/27/2013 - 2:18 pm
It’s been my experience that when a friend invites you to her home to share a recipe you should go. This is especially true if that friend is from Louisiana and offers to teach you authentic Cajun cooking. Not only do you go, you block out the rest of your day for that cooking lesson. This was my Saturday a week or so ago. My co-worker and friend Elizabeth hails from Louisiana, a state made famous for its culture, gentility and food. I was thrilled when I got the invitation!
Although I, too, was raised in the southern states, I never had the opportunity to live in Louisiana nor learn to cook Cajun food. I love the rich and spicy flavors and they layer together to culminate in a food symphony.
When I arrived at Elizabeth’s home, I was told her husband Michael would be my teacher for the day. How fortunate these two are, they both cook – really well. This is Utopia to me. Michael had pre-cooked the chicken, which does take some time, but the rest of the process was me cooking this amazing recipe first hand. I was further told that we would be making gumbo. Insert happy dance! Gumbo is so delicious and, to my amazement, so easy to make. But, I caution all, follow the process. It’s not tedious; it’s meticulous and done in stages. I found it fun and comforting to know that once I was done with one step, I continue on to the next one. Like a puzzle, each piece connecting to the next creating a masterpiece.
The crux of the recipe is the roux. Roux is the flour/fat mixture that creates the base for a soup or gravy. Usually I mix a 1:1 ratio of flour and butter and cook it a minute or two to get the raw flour taste out. Not this roux. This roux is a process and takes time. About 20 minutes. The best part was watching the transformation of the roux from a light brown, to a caramel, to a peanut butter color, to dark brown to almost chocolate. It’s incredible to watch. The whole time I was asking “Is it done?” Michael would calmly reply “No.” “How about now?” “No, keep stirring.” This isn’t instant food, folks. It’s good food. It takes time and patience, and quite a bit of stirring.
I also learned about a new ingredient called Cajun filé (feel – ay). It’s made from sassafras and adds a whole new level of flavor. Apparently, it is used in the making of root beer. Strange, I know. Trust me, don’t leave this out. The ingredients are somewhat specific for gumbo, but given that it was made in a Juneau kitchen I am confident the ingredients can be purchased here.
Cooking with Michael and Elizabeth was a treat. They’ve been married a long time and are absolutely hilarious. They tease each other like my parents do and it made me feel like I was at home. Both were charming and relaxed and after eating a great meal, we watched a movie. What a perfect evening.
This week I present a dish that takes time to cook and that’s time well spent. It’s full of flavor, includes new ingredients and tastes divine: Chicken and Sausage Gumbo.
CHICKEN AND SAUSAGE GUMBO
Capt. Michael “RD” Arnett
3-4 pound whole chicken, cut up
1 teaspoon Konriko (or other Canjun seasoning)
½ cup chopped celery
½ large onion chopped
6 regular cans of chicken broth (enough to cover the chicken)
Bring to a boil on high heat and reduce to low-medium heat. Simmer until chicken is cooked through and tender, about 45 minutes to an hour. Remove chicken from broth and set aside to cool. Once it is cool enough to touch remove skin, bones and other fats and set meat aside. Remove stock from heat to cool. You will need this later.
1 large onion, chopped
1 whole bell pepper, chopped
1 cup celery, chopped
5 fat cloves of garlic, chopped
1 package smoked sausage
¾ cups olive oil
¼ cup butter
1 cup flour
1 tablespoon filé
2 small bags frozen, cut okra
1 teaspoon granulated garlic
2 tablespoons Konriko
1 can Rotel original recipe tomatoes (do not drain)
1 teaspoon white pepper
½ teaspoon ground red pepper
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
Kitchen Bouquet (optional)
3 green onions for garnish
In a large heavy-duty stockpot, heat oil and butter over medium heat. Sprinkle in flour. Stir to a smooth mixture and cook until roux is very dark brown, stirring constantly. If the flour burns, start over. Reduce heat if necessary. Add a tablespoon of filé.
Cut smoked sausage, cut into ¼ lengths, then cut into pieces.
When roux has reached dark peanut butter stage, add 1/3 of the cut sausage. Stir and add okra. The roux will immediately turn a dark chocolate brown color. This is good. Stir and stir some more. The goal is to remove the stringy, slimy consistency of the okra. It will cook out, but stirring is essential. Add all the chopped vegetables and continue to stir.
Season with 2 tablespoons of Konriko. Let mixture cook for 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Add one can Rotel original recipe tomatoes, with liquid. Stir into mixture and cook 2-3 minutes. Add the cooled stock from the chicken boiling mixture (fat removed) – it’s important to cool the stock, as hot stock added to a roux mixture makes the roux separate, which you don’t want. Add a teaspoon of granulated garlic. Add a teaspoon of white pepper and some fresh ground black pepper. Add a teaspoon of cayenne pepper, and a tablespoon of Worcestershire sauce.
Next, add the chicken and stir. If it’s not “dark enough,” add a tablespoon of kitchen bouquet.
Degrease the soup by putting paper towels over the top, let the grease soak in, and pull out and discard. Add the rest of the sliced, halved sausage. Bring mixture to a boil, turn to simmer, cover and cook for 20 minutes, at least.
Serve with rice, which is cooked separately.
To serve, put rice in bowl, sprinkle with filé, then ladle gumbo over the top. Garnish with green onions.
Hint from pro: do not let guests take second helpings, as they will become very full and uncomfortable!
Kelly Moore, a.k.a. Midgi, writes and cooks from Juneau. Visit her blog, www.mealswithmidgi.com, for additional stories and recipes. She may be reached at midgi@