This weekend we made Chicken Andouille Gumbo inspired from a trip to New Orleans. The recipe is based on one from the “The Gumbo Shop“, in New Orleans
We picked up the recipe courtesy of the Spice House in Chicago and we were using some of the spice blends that we bought in their shop, in particular the Gumbo File Powder (essentially Organic Powdered Sassafras Leaves) and some of their King Creole Louisiana-style seasoning as well
The Spice House King-Creole Louisiana-Style seasoning is a spice blend hand mixed from: salt, paprika, high bulk garlic, onion, black and red pepper, Greek oregano, thyme
The key step was making the roux. This was supposed to require 20 uninterrupted minutes. We Combined 1/2 cup oil and 1/2 cup flour in a solid pan and then Cooked over a medium-low heat while stirring constantly until it turned a dark brown colour. I am not sure if this went ‘dark brown’ enough, all I can say is that it is quite a dicy affair I had plenty of burn marks on my hands from the splashes of molten hot roux. It was worth the pain in the end.
In between hand burning we got the ‘Holy Trinity’ prepared; ‘onion, celery, bell pepper’ and a fair bit of garlic.
To be more exact
2 cups of diced onion
1 cup green bell pepper, chopped
1/2 cup celery, chopped
1 teaspoon garlic, finely chopped
The next cooking stage was a little less traditional in that we mixed the holy trinity with the roux. The recipe indicate to ‘sauté until vegetables are tender‘ and advises to ‘allow the vegetables to stick to the bottom of the pan a bit, then scrape them off with a metal spoon or spatula. This allows the sugar in the onions to carmelize, rendering a great depth of flavor.‘
Following that you add in tomatoes, a bay leaf, thyme, basil, cayenne pepper and salt, stir to cook for a few minutes then added chicken stock. We are then advised to ‘Simmer for about 1 1/2 hours with pot loosely covered, stirring occasionally.’
Amazingly the pan contents cook down gradually and reduces into a thick and rich sauce or gravy. Into the pan we added sliced cooked Andouille sausage and cooked jointed chicken pieces. The Filé powder gets sprinkled in towards the end to add thickness and an almost indiscernible texture and flavour. It is hard to describe but all I will say is that the file powder will be missed if not included and it will not be the same dish.
It might seem like a lot of work at the beginning to make this Gumbo, but it is really quite easy and it is well worth the effort. It is as close to some of the Gumbo’s I have eaten in New Orleans and it is miles away from anything I have been offered in a restaurant masquerading as genuine gumbo elsewhere. The sauce has a real good gentle kick to it, not a chilli spice hit, or an Indian spice hit. No that Creole spicing is in a world of its own. The sauce is thickened by the file and that totally changes the mouth feel of the dish as well. They say that the final flavours and texture is really affected by the cooking time. ‘The longer the roux is cooked before being added to the gumbo, the darker it becomes and the more prevalent the roux flavour will be. However the more the roux is darkened the less thickening power it will have.’ In this recipe we are using both the French technique creating the roux with flour and oil, plus the creole addition of the File powder. One step further would have been to add the okra which again adds more thickness to the dish. I got talking to a Creole cook while I was in the French Quarter regarding the merits and method of using the File powder. Some say to just add it at the end, some say to add some while cooking at the start, she actually advised to do both, but to be careful and just sprinkle a little at the end. Interesting stuff (well for me anyways).
If you cant make it to Louisiana to find the genuine article, or you are just curious to try something close to authentic, then I would really implore you to give this recipe a go. If nothing else I hope it will inspire you to make that journey to Creole Central.