One of the major problems with Cajun food is that it is not something that can be done quickly. Like any cuisine that draws heavily upon French culinary traditions, time is an ingredient that is as central to the recipe as pork fat. And in our hurried lives, finding a dish that both satisfies our souls and our schedules can be a challenge. A few years back, a good friend of mine, Karin M., turned me on to an easy and rapid recipe for chicken and andouille gumbo.
I'll digress here a bit and let you know that I make three basic types of gumbo: poultry and sausage, seafood and okra, or z'herbes, which is a vegetarian variation using collards, kale, etc. I don't like to confuse things and put too many competing flavors into the pot, so I stick to these three basic iterations. I will make an exception for duck and oyster gumbo, but unless you can shoot some ducks and dredge some oysters for me, you're kinda outta luck. But don't think that these are hard and fast rules; it's just what works for me. Gumbo is a dish that accommodates pretty much whatever you have on hand, so feel free to exercise a little creative licence. But if you make a fish and tomato and fennel soup, just do me a favor and call it bouillabaisse, not gumbo, OK?
Now that I live in the NC Piedmont, I make poultry and sausage (which is what I call it up here) more than anything else, mostly because of the paucity of quality seafood here. I like to make a big pot of gumbo after Thanksgiving because there are always plenty of turkey carcasses left, and those are perfect for the stockpot. And if there is any one thing that makes a good gumbo, it's a good stock. Well, this year we had duck. And not just any duck, but a citrus and cane syrup glazed duck. As much as I wanted to throw it into the stockpot, I knew that it wouldn't give me the notes I wanted for a gumbo stock.
So we made a quickie gumbo. This is easy and quick, and needs none of the day-long simmering that a normal gumbo requires. That's why Karin calls it her "Lazy Girl Gumbo." Here's what you need:
1 grocery store rotisserie chicken
3 chopped ribs of celery
1 chopped green bell pepper
1 chopped large white or yellow onion
2 chopped cloves of garlic
A package of Andouille, or if you live up here, more likely a package of smoked sausage, sliced into rings or cubes, your preference
2 cartons of chicken stock
Salt, pepper, bay leaf, cayenne, gumbo file'
Chop all your veg and sweat it down in a heavy bottom soup pot in some olive oil. Peel the skin from your rotisserie chicken and feed it to your dog (Thank you, Master! Woof!). Divest the now naked chicken of its meat and discard the carcass, or use the carcass for a new batch of from-scratch stock, if you like to rock it old school. When the veggies are limp, add the sausage and saute until it plumps and takes on a little color.
Meanwhile, have your roux made. You can do this by mixing your oil and flour and cooking it in the oven, or you can do it on the stove top. If you need help making a roux, well, you need to consult someone else. I grew up doing this, so I'm just going to assume a certain level of proficiency here. If you grew up somewhere that roux doesn't figure as a major culinary ingredient, you're beyond my power. Seek professional help. Google is your friend. But know that a dark peanut butter color roux is what you seek here.
Add your chicken meat and stock to the sauteed veggies and sausage, and add the bay leaf, a pinch of cayenne, and a little salt, maybe a few grinds of black pepper. Cover and allow to simmer a half hour.
Ladle about two cups of the broth into a separate saucepan, and whisk in a good three tablespoons of your roux. When roux and broth are well combined and silky, return the mixture to your gumbo, and stir to incorporate. Turn up the heat just a smidge to let the roux cook in. You don't want a gloppy, overly thick mess, but you want a gumbo that has some weight to it, so adjust the level of roux accordingly. This requires a little trial and error, but, hey, great Chefs aren't made in a day, even the ones on TV. If you get things too thick, just add more stock to thin them out. I take my extra roux and put it in a mason jar and refrigerate it, where it can keep for a month or so.
Allow the gumbo to simmer just a bit more, maybe ten minutes, and whisk in a tablespoon of gumbo file'. This is a powder made from the leaves of the sassafrass tree. Depending on your location this may be a difficult ingredient to find. You may need to let your fingers do the walking, and call around to see if you can find it in a grocery near you. If not, you can always order some online, or just smuggle some back to Yankeeland in your luggage when you return from making a drunken ass of yourself on Bourbon Street during Mardi Gras.
Serve with white rice, and some hot french bread (and finding good french bread is the subject of a whole 'nother post, but I've had good luck with Vietnamese bakeries in my AO). This is particularly delicious on a cool fall evening after a long day of yard work , but really tastes good anytime. Enjoy, and if you see her at a Saints or LSU game, tell Karin M. thanks for the great recipe.
While you're cooking this dish, make sure to play this song in the background :)