New Orleans holds a special place in my heart. Before the storm, it was the one place that my boyfriend (a die-hard Chicagoan) and I both agreed on as a possible place to move to. Many people have assured me that if we had moved there we would’ve felt differently. “It’s too small, too poor, too dirty, too crime-filled, and much, much too hot.” And it is. But I love the heat—there’s a still a Southern heart in this Yankee urbanite facade—and I love that it’s so old. The crime is, I think, an over-sensationalized reality that requires awareness, but is perhaps a part of the city’s appeal. There’s a dark, sweaty, dangerous undercurrent to New Orleans, and something in that speaks to me.
Then there’s the food. I love Southern food in general, but I especially love New Orleans food. I never cared for raw oysters until I had them at Uglesich’s. I will never forget the delectable sample of Mr. B’s Shrimp and Grits that I had at the Tennesee Williams Festival. And there is absolutely nothing like an order of Beignets and a Cafe au Lait at Cafe du Monde at 5am, languishing in the predawn August humidity before heading off to bed.
I’ve never made gumbo. In all honesty, I haven’t really even eaten much gumbo. But the New Orleans theme was somewhat last minute, and I wanted to keep things relatively simple: Gumbo, a Cajun-inspired salad, and Bananas Foster. So I did a little research (my favorite site: The Gumbo Pages) and came up with the following recipe:
1 pound andouille sausage, sliced, cut in half circles
1 tablespoon cajun seasoning
2 pounds chicken thighs, skin on (or skinless chicken breast, medium dice, can be used if desired)
4 ounces flour
4 ounces vegetable oil
1 onion, medium dice
2 stalks celery, medium dice
1 green bell peppers, medium dice
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 bay leaf
2 quarts chicken stock
1/4 pound okra, sliced 1/2" thick
1 pound shrimp, peeled (reserve shells to make a stock if available)
1 package canned crab meat
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste
1 teaspoon worcestershire sauce, or to taste
fresh herbs (thyme, oregano, parsley)
2 cups long-grain white rice, cooked
sliced scallion tops red pepper curls for garnish
- Simmer shrimp shells with 1 cup of the stock, along with some chopped onion and a couple of stalks of celery if desired. Skim and strain before adding to gumbo.
- Brown sausage. Set aside. Drain oil if needed.
- Season the chicken with cajun seasoning, salt and pepper. Sear until well browned, and finish in a 350 degree oven. Set aside. Strain oil into a clean pan.
- Add 8 oz. vegetable oil. Over medium heat, add 8 oz. flour while stirring with a whisk to make a roux. Cook the roux very slowly over medium heat, stirring often, until it becomes a copper-brown color, approximately 45 minutes to 1 hour.
- Add the onions, celery, bell pepper, garlic, bay leaf and the remaining salt and pepper mix. Cook for 5 minutes.
- Add the stock, seasonings, chicken and sausage. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook for about one hour, skimming fat off the top as needed.
- Add the okra and strained shrimp stock (if made) and simmer another 30 minutes.
- Add shrimp, crab, cayenne, worchestershire and herbs 10 minutes before serving.
- Serve over rice. Garnish with chopped scallion tops and red pepper curls (if you’re feeling fancy).