Yumbo Gumbo

Yet another reminder of rule number 1 in Dave’s kitchen:  what Lolly wants, Lolly gets.

Today Lolly says “I want a rich soup that has okra — absolutely must have okra — and maybe some Andouille sausage, and ooh yeah, I really like a rich, creamy sauce…”  To which I responded, “You want a gumbo.”

Lolly answered, “Gumbo.  Yeah, that’s the ticket.”  To which I responded:  “But that will take hours to make.  Can’t I just do a jambalaya instead — most of the same ingredients, half the time.”

Lolly answered, in a crestfallen tone, “Yeah, okay, I guess.”  To which I, the ever insightful interpreter of Lolly responded, “Gumbo it is.”

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Here are your ingredients to serve 8 hungry souls with a yummy gumbo they are unlikely to forget anytime soon:

  • 1 tsp. white pepper
  • 1 tsp. black pepper
  • 1 tsp. paprika
  • 3 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 1/4 lb. boneless chicken breast
  • 2 oz. + 6 oz. vegetable oil
  • 6 oz. flour, plus extra for dusting
  • 12 oz. onions, chopped
  • 12 oz. celery, chopped
  • 8 oz. green bell pepper, diced
  • 2 tsp. minced garlic
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 quarts chicken stock
  • 12 oz. Andouille sausage, sliced
  • 6 oz. okra, sliced
  • 8 oz. medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • Cooked rice and sliced scallions for garnish

To make this properly you’ll need a good four hours counting prep time, but it’s worth the effort.

Start by mixing the white pepper, black pepper and paprika until well blended.  Cut the chicken breast into bite-sized chunks, season with 1 tsp. of the pepper mixture and 1 tsp. of the salt, then dust with flour.  In a large soup pot, heat 2 oz. of the oil and sauté the chicken until browned.  Remove the chicken and set it aside for the moment, reserving the oil in the pot.

Now comes the fun part — making the roux.  This is the flavor backbone of a good gumbo but also takes patience.  Add  the other 6 oz. of oil to the pot and heat it up over medium flame.  Whisk in the flour until it forms a paste — and then use a wooden spoon to stir that [bleep]ing mess for the next 45 minutes to an hour until it gradually turns a rich brown color.  Don’t you dare take your eyes off of it.  As roux cooks the starches in the flour break down and it becomes less pasty and more sauce-like.  The depth of flavor increases along with the likelihood of burning the darker it gets.  If it burns, fuggeddaboudit — that burned taste will permeate your dish and there’s no way to get rid of it.  Trust me, I speak from experience.  So keep on stirring and don’t let it burn.

When your roux reaches the color you want, or in my case, when I am convinced it’s about to burn, toss in the onion, peppers, celery and garlic.  Stir thoroughly and cook for a couple minutes, then add the stock, bay leaves and the rest of your salt and pepper mixture.  Bring it up to a simmer, and let it cook for about an hour, or even better, an hour and a half, to blend the flavors, stirring occasionally.  Next, add the chicken and Andouille, and simmer it for another hour.

At this point we’re almost home.  In a separate skillet, heat up some more oil and sauté the sliced okra until tender and somewhat dried out — if you add raw okra straight into your gumbo it will be slimy.  Nobody likes slimy.  So add your cooked okra to the gumbo, then use the same skillet to sauté the shrimp for a couple minutes in a little more oil, and toss that into the mix too.  Cook for about 10 more minutes, stir in the cayenne and tweak your seasonings if needed.

And bada bing, you’re done.  Garnish each serving with a couple tablespoons of cooked rice and a sprinkle of sliced scallions, then sit back and watch with smug satisfaction as the oohs and aahs begin to roll in.  We munched this bad puppy down with a big happy grin on our faces — and found ourselves saying over again “Dang, that’s good.”  I hope you’ll try it and enjoy it just as much as we did.  Until next time:  Eat well, my friends!

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