Tuesday marks the beginning of the world famous Mardi Gras celebrations in New Orleans, Louisiana that will continue for two weeks and end on Shrove Tuesday, which is the day before Ash Wednesday.
As a child I lived in suburb of New Orleans called Metairie, LA right off of Lake Pontchartrain, and I have the most wonderful memories of my family there. My parents worked hard and financially I don’t believe it was the easiest time for them, but as a kid I didn’t realize those things. I just knew that we always had so much fun together, I loved playing with the neighborhood kids, we had everything that we needed, and I was happy. One of the things my older sister and I used to do was walk to a grocery store close to our house to fill water jugs. Yep, you heard correct… we walked to get clean water.
Unfortunately, Louisiana is below sea level, and it isn’t always advisable to drink the water from the tap. Beside doesn’t purified water just taste better?
Back then I think it was 1980-ish and people didn’t have home water purifiers like Brita. If you had water delivered to your home it was a big water cooler like you see at offices, plus I think at that time they were very expensive.
So you’re options were to buy jugs of water at the grocery store, boil you water like a cavewoman, or use the water purifying machines out front of the grocery stores with your empty water jugs. We obviously picked the latter.
Plus a bonus for me was that we lived right next door to a shopping center! This allowed my sister and I to have quick adventures walking to the store. Well, I’m not sure they were for her, but they were for me.
Those years in Louisiana left a big impression on me, especially the food and the culture.
A few years later I found a cookbook of my parent’s that I just fell in love with. It’s called La Bonne Cuisine: Cooking New Orleans Style. I loved sitting on the floor and reading all the recipes. The first recipe I ever followed as a kid was a recipe from that cookbook!
Since then I think the spirit of New Orleans hasn’t ever left me. I love cooking Southern American cuisine, and New Orleans cooking is a big part of that.
Here is my recipe for gumbo. It’s simple, easy to master, and offers a lot of flavor. In my opinion it’s a true Cajun recipe that I think anyone from New Orleans would agree.
Gumbo’s backbone: Roux
Roux in French cooking is a thickening agent in sauces that is half fat and half flour. For Cajun cooking a Roux is used to add a richness in color and flavor to stews and soups. It also is great for any type of gravy you want to make.
The different colors of Roux.
When making gumbo the color I tend to use varies between a dark peanut butter to a copper penny. To achieve darker colors takes patience with consistent care and observation, as the flour can burn quickly and ruin the base for your soup.
I took pictures while making my Roux to show the transition.
I finally settled on this color.
At this point my goal is to stop the cooking process. I don’t want to burn my Roux. Believe me… burnt Roux is not forgiving! It tastes awful, and you’ll have to start all over. It’s the pits!
The first thing I do is add my vegetables and chicken. I love the sizzle I hear when they hit the pan. It really emphasizes how hot the oil in the Roux is, but at the same time starts lowering the temperature.
Once the temperature has reduced and the Roux has incorporated with the vegetables and chicken slowly add your liquid to the pot and mix well. This step is called tempering, when you slowly add cold ingredients to hot or vice versa. This will also keep your soup from having lumps, plus protect you from adding liquid to hot oil directly and potentially causing the oil to bubble and pop!
Another thing… depending on what type of gumbo you’re making will change the type of fat you use and the color of your Roux. This chicken and sausage gumbo used vegetable oil since oil doesn’t burn at higher temperatures. If I was making a seafood gumbo I would make a “white Roux” using butter. Butter does brown easily so the cooking time is drastically reduced and the butter adds a much lighter flavor and color.
Chicken & Andouille Sausage Gumbo
- 1/3 cup flour, all purpose
- 1/3 cup cooking oil, vegetable or canola
- 1 large onion, chopped (about 2 cups)
- 10 green onions, sliced (about 1 1/2 cups)
- 4-6 celery stalks, chopped (about 2 cups)
- 2 bell peppers, chopped (about 2 cups)
- 3 large garlic cloves, minced
- 8 cups chicken, shredded
- 8 cups of chicken broth
- 1/4 cup dried parsley
- 2 teaspoons cajun seasoning
- 2 teaspoons black pepper
- 16 oz Andouille sausage, sliced
- 16 oz frozen cut okra
- Salt to taste
- Optional: 2 teaspoons of file powder
- Optional: garnish with sliced green onions
- Step 1 In a large pot over low to medium low heat add the oil. As the oil starts to heat up gradually whisk in the flour until they’re both well incorporated. Continue stirring until the desired color is reached. Usually 20+ minutes. Be careful not to burn the flour.
- Step 2 Add the celery, onions, green onions, garlic, peppers, and chicken to the pot and mix well. Allow the vegetable and chicken mixture to cook for about 15 minutes stirring occasionally.
- Step 3 Gradually stir in the chicken broth, and mix in the Cajun seasoning, parsley, and black pepper.
- Step 4 Bring to a simmer, and place the lid onto the pan. Continue simmering while stirring occasionally for the next 1 1/2 hours.
- Step 5 Add the Andouille sausage, cut okra, and file to the pot. Simmer for another 15 minutes. Check and adjust seasoning if it’s needed.
- Step 6 Serve over rice and garnish with green onions.
- Step 7 Enjoy!