Sunday, May 29, 2011


Oh frabjous day! I was rummaging through a box of magazines yesterday trying to find something which I never found when I came across an old issue of Fine Cooking sandwiched between some fishing mags. I took this to be a sign and decided I'd better take a look. I'm glad I did, because I stumbled across a wonderful article on gumbo by Poppy Tooker (best name EVER!). As you can imagine, gumbo defined my day today.

The opening lines of Poppy's article are pretty clear: "Throughout food-obsessed South Louisiana there is no single dish more revered and debated than gumbo. Everyone loves it, but that is where any consensus regarding the centuries-old, soupy, stewy concoction ends." What this means is that what follows may offend if you have a different view of gumbo, but if it does, you can blame Fine Cooking.

Basically, gumbo is a stew that is thickend with either okra or filé (ground sassafras leaves). My okra looks like this at the moment (i.e. not ready) so the filé version made the most sense for me.

(And wonder of wonders I had a bottle of filé in my pantry! Destiny!!)

For this recipe, you'll need a pound of sausage (andouille is best, but I had to sub chorizo since Piggy Market was fresh out of andouille), some Louisiana-style hot sauce, a chicken, a green pepper, 3 stalks of celery, a big onion (or two small ones), some garlic, a couple of sprigs of thyme, a couple of bay leaves, green onions for garnish, a cup of four, 1/2 cup of bacon (or other, as if!) fat, and 2 litres of chicken stock.

The first step is to pick an appropriate apron, and get some Cajun tunes on (I went for Beausoleil and Buckwheat Zydeco). The next thing to do is get your chicken stock thawing if you keep it in the freezer like me. I warm the containers in hot water and then dump them in a pot to heat up while I get the rest of the recipe going.

The first cooking task is the get the sausage ready. Slice them lengthwise, and then into half moons. Get these frying in a nice big skillet.

Once they're all browned, remove them to a bowl. Then add 1/2 cup of water to the frying pan to deglaze it. Save this liquid for later.

Now for the chicken. The recipe says to cut it into 8 pieces.

I presume these are the 8 pieces it means: two wings, two drumsticks, two breasts, and two thighs. I also used the back, since I had no space in the freezer and figued I may as well use it now.

Get your biggest, baddest Dutch Oven (i.e. the 7 1/2 quart dark orange bad boy) on the burner and heat your fat. I used bacon grease (apparently the Cajuns used bear grease, but I'm all out), you can also use 1/2 cup of vegetable oil if you like.

Brown the chicken in two batches, giving each piece 3-4 minutes per side. (This Dutch oven is the perfect size for browning 1/2 chicken at a time.)

When they're done, add them to the bowl with the sausage (it was all I could do not to stick my face in there and eat it all up!)

While the chicken is browning, prepare your mirepoix. As you know, mirepoix usually consists of carrot, onion, and celery. According to Poppy Tooker, carrots didn't grow well in Southern Louisiana so folks used green pepper instead as the flavour base for their cooking. So chop your pepper, onion, and celery nice and fine for this Cajun version of the universal flavour base.

Once the chicken is all done, you need to prepare a roux. According to Poppy, the roux is the key to this dish, so it pays to do it right. Gradually pour the cup of flour into the fat in the Dutch oven, and mix it to a smooth paste.

If it lumps up like this, add some more oil until it is nice and smooth... this.

Now get ready to stir. And stir. And stir. Until your roux turns a nice caramel colour. (The recipe recommends a fairly high heat and about 8 minutes for this -- I think I'm more old school, since the recipe also says some people used to use lower heat and sit around and stir for about 40 minutes to get a nice brown roux -- which is about exactly how long I was at it.)

Once the roux is brown enough for you, dump the mirepoix and garlic in there and stir it around for awhile. (I have to warn you that in all my years of cooking, I have never smelled a nicer aroma than Cajun mirepoix hitting a brown roux ... it is heaven!)

Once the onions etc. have softened to your satisfaction, get the stew going by adding the chicken stock, the sausage, the chicken, the bay, the tyme, the deglazing liquid from the sausages, and about a litre of water to top up the Dutch oven.

Bring this to the boil, then lower the heat and let it blup away for about 45 minutes.

Do some dishes now.

Once all that's done, get the chicken out of there and let it cool for a bit.

Then use a couple of forks (and massive willpower) to separate the chicken from the bones and skin, and break it into bite-sized pieces (you need the willpower to avoid eating it all right now).

Return the chicken to the pot, stir a little, and GET READY TO EAT! (Season with salt and pepper to taste first -- I added about 2 teaspoons of salt before I hit the sweet spot.)

To serve, pour the stew over about 1/4 cup of cooked rice. Let your diners add Tobasco to taste, and about 1 teaspoon of filé to each bowl. Filé is a thickener (and also adds flavour), but you can't add it to the whole pot, or it will turn into a stringy mess if you have any leftovers and put it in the fridge. Okra is the thickener used for seafood gumbos, and from what I understand you can even put okra and filé in the same gumbo if you like (although there are people out there who may disapprove of this -- like crossing the streams in Ghostbusters). You're also supposed to add the green onions as a garnish at this point, but I totally forgot.

And there you have it, gumbo filé! It's a great dish! Now all I need to do is whip up a jambalya and a crawfish pie, and I'll be ready to have a real party!

Bon appetit, cher!


  1. Where did you get the Tony Chachere spice? Ottawa? I can only find it in the US.

  2. I think I got it out at Chilly Chiles in Navan. Give 'em a call!