COOK: Creole-Spiced Gumbo
My childhood diet was a mostly bland trio of meat, potatoes and canned vegetables (sorry mom!). Though I grew up on the Great Lakes, my family didn't eat fish and the spiciest thing we consumed was chili. At the age of 20, I moved to Texas (via Colorado and Alaska), settling on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, and over the next ten years, my taste buds fell in love with fresh seafood, spicy Tex-Mex and Cajun cuisines.
One year, I attended a traditional Cajun wedding in a tiny town in Louisiana and tasted seafood gumbo for the first time. I loved the smoky thick stew filled with shrimp, fish and crab. But the chunks of okra were another story! It’s mandatory in gumbo say the cooks in the south. In fact, gumbo means okra.
Okra is a member of the Malvaceae family and its cousins include mallow (think marshmallow), cotton, hibiscus and cocoa. Botanically, okra are the seedpods of this tropical plant and their insides are best described as slimy. This mucilaginous property contributes to the thickening of the hearty gumbo. I can’t get past the texture, so I avoid the vegetable. If you are an okra fan, you can add fresh or frozen and thawed okra to this recipe to make a true gumbo.
Creole seasoning and gumbo file are critical components of a gumbo recipe. You can make your own Creole seasoning blend using the recipe below. File powder is the powdered leaf of the sassafras plant (Sassafras albidum), adding a mild earthy taste while assisting in the thickening of the stew. You may find file powder in your grocery store but if not you can order it online.
I organized my freezer a bit, looking for items that needed to be used or tossed. I found a small container of wild-caught tiger shrimp from Alaska, some cooked chicken and purchased the Andouille (pronounced ahn-DOO-we) sausage at my local grocery. If you can’t find Andouille, you can substitute a smoked sausage. This recipe is flexible so add what you want but the Creole seasoning and file powder are what makes this a true gumbo. Oh and that slimy seedpod, too.
CREOLE SPICED GUMBO
Serves 6-8 Prep time: 30 minutes Cook time: 60 minutes
½ - 1 lb Andouille sausage, sliced (a smoked sausage that originated in France and is most often associated with Louisiana Creole cuisine)
½ - 1 lb diced or shredded chicken
½ - 1 lb shrimp, white fish or crabmeat
5- 6 cups chicken broth
1-2 cups tomatoes, diced (fresh or canned)
1 large onion, chopped
1.5 cup celery, chopped
1 cup green pepper, chopped
1 cup red pepper, chopped
2 large garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon each: basil, oregano & parsley
1 - 2 tablespoons Creole seasoning (see recipe below)
2 bay leaves
2 teaspoons gumbo file - (added after cooking and removed from heat)
Rice or riced cauliflower and top with chopped chives.
Roux: ½ cup of avocado or olive oil & ½ cup flour
In Dutch oven, add a bit of oil and brown the sliced sausage. Remove, add more oil and cook the diced chicken until done. Remove from pot and set aside.
The recipe starts with a roux: in a large dutch oven, heat the oil over medium heat and sprinkle the flour over the hot oil, whisking continually until blended and changes to a light brown color. Do not burn or abandon the roux while cooking! If it does burn, throw out and start again.
Add the onion, celery, green & red peppers, garlic and cook in roux for 5 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes including juices. Stir in half of the chicken broth and blend with roux. Add remaining broth.
Stir in basil, oregano, parsley, creole seasoning, Worcestershire, and bay leaves.
Add sausage and chicken. Cover and simmer for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Add raw peeled shrimp (or fish/crab) and cook for 15 minutes.
Remove the stew from heat and add the file powder, stirring to blend.
Serve over rice or riced cauliflower. Top with chopped chives or green onion.
CREOLE SEASONING BLEND
5 tablespoons paprika (I use smoked paprika)
2 tablespoons garlic powder
2 tablespoons onion powder
2 tablespoons salt
1 tablespoon ground cayenne powder
1 tablespoon ground black pepper
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon dried thyme
1 tablespoon dried basil
Blend together and store in an airtight glass jar, away from heat.