Laissez Les Bon Temps Roullez!

New Orleans

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.

So in a modest homage to the Crescent City I spent Fat Tuesday drinking imitation Hurricanes at Blue Bayou and then decided to make gumbo for Lost night on Ash Wednesday.

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:

Serves 6–8

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

  1. 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.

  2. Brown sausage. Set aside. Drain oil if needed.



  3. 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.



  4. 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.



  5. Add the onions, celery, bell pepper, garlic, bay leaf and the remaining salt and pepper mix. Cook for 5 minutes.



  6. 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.



  7. Add the okra and strained shrimp stock (if made) and simmer another 30 minutes.



  8. Add shrimp, crab, cayenne, worchestershire and herbs 10 minutes before serving.



  9. Serve over rice. Garnish with chopped scallion tops and red pepper curls (if you’re feeling fancy).