There is no dish more characteristic of Mardi Gras and Carnival than gumbo. The official dish of Louisiana has roots going back to the 18th century and is a literal melting pot of cultures, including French, Spanish, German, African, and Native American. If any one food could be considered a national dish, it should be gumbo because it truly represents the multicultural background of America. This week I'm celebrating Mardi Gras with Southern dishes. First and foremost is Louisiana's famous stew.
Gumbo is one of those dishes that is easy to gather around. The aromas are enticing, the dish is very filling, and it's perfect for serving a large family or a crowd of carnival revelers. The art of making gumbo is practically an art or science in Louisiana. There are as many versions of gumbo as there are households, but to narrow it down, there are two main versions, Creole and Cajun. The recipes have slightly different ingredients and different preparations, but each has robust flavor and color. This version is a combination of a bit of both styles and includes my favorite ingredients: chicken, andouille sausage, and okra.
Creole gumbo is tomato-based and is made mainly with seafood whereas Cajun gumbo is spicier, roux-based, and includes a combination of seafood and sausage or ham, or poultry and sausage. The main vegetables in Louisiana cuisine include onions, celery, and bell peppers, which is termed the "holy trinity." Okra is a traditional African addition to gumbo. When cooked, the vegetable releases a gelatinous substance that further thickens the gumbo. Typically gumbo cooks for hours and hours, but my recipe is a quick version since it uses chicken thigh pieces. Get ready to celebrate Mardi Gras with a big pot of gumbo.
8 ounces andouille sausage, sliced lengthwise and cut into half moons
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into 2-inch pieces
fine sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon Cajun seasoning
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
1 large white onion, chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 15-ounce can diced tomatoes
6 cups chicken stock
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 bay leaf
1 pound fresh okra, sliced or frozen sliced okra
1/4 cup chopped parsley
white rice, for serving
Warm a large heavy bottomed pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add about 2 tablespoons of oil. Add sausage and cook until the color is extracted, about 3 minutes. Remove sausage to a bowl. Sear chicken in batches until brown all over. Season with salt, pepper, and Cajun seasoning. Remove chicken to a bowl.
Reduce heat to medium-low. Refresh the pot with a little oil and add butter. Once melted, add flour to create roux. Keep stirring until roux turns a caramel color. Add onion, celery, bell peppers, and garlic. Sauté until soft and translucent, about 10 minutes. Add tomato paste and stir to coat all the ingredients. Add tomatoes with their juices. Let reduce slightly, about 5 minutes. Scrape up any bits from bottom of pot. Add reserved sausage and chicken, oregano, bay leaf, and stock and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer. Cook for 15 to 20 minutes. Add okra and continue to cook until the chicken is cooked through and the okra is tender, about 8 to 10 minutes. Stir in parsley and check seasoning. Serve with rice. Yield: 4 to 6 servings.