A few years ago, best friends Meg and Dale and I went to New Orleans. It wasn’t our first trip together, but it might have been the most fun. We stayed in the Bourbon Orleans — allegedly haunted, and the goings-on in our week there pretty much made believers out of us. Things not just misplaced but moved to places we never would have put them, funky noises, telephones that wouldn’t work (the hotel put in a new phone every single morning we were there; we’d get one or two calls, then nothing) . . .
We spent most of that trip in the Quarter — like every other trip to NO I’ve ever made. I know there’s a city outside the Quarter; I’ve visited a few places and driven miles through it; but it’s those few square miles that draw me there. I’ve gone a dozen or more times, done the same things, walked the same streets, eaten in the same restaurants, sat on the same benches, and loved every minute of it.
The one really new thing we did on that trip — one I fully intend to do again on every return trip — was take a cooking class. It was a blast. The chef — I believe his name was Michael — made gumbo for us that was just incredible. He and his lovely assistant Meg (woot woot!) made pralines for us for dessert (his recipe, her work), and they were great, too. (Though maybe not as good as mine, she says modestly.)
I tried to make the gumbo after that trip. Ugh. The basis of gumbo is a roux — fat (in this recipe, oil) and flour cooked until they reach a particular color. The darker the color, the richer the flavor. There are primarily three levels: blond, medium and very dark. (Learn more about roux here.)
Now, I admit, I have never had any success at making gravy. (Well, once. Without having to use a blender to take out the lumps. No kidding.) After enough failures, I gave up trying, then BF Susan, who makes wonderful cream gravy, told me my problem: I’m too impatient. I don’t want to stand forever stirring and watching, so I turn the heat too high and the gravy gets yucky.
After Meg treated me to her version of this recipe on our retreat last month, it was so good that I had two choices: persuade her to make and deliver it to me every month or try it again. Since she’s happy as a tick in Texas, I opted for #2. I used a cast-iron Dutch oven, kept the heat low and stirred stirred stirred. By the time I added the trinity (onions, celery and bell pepper), my roux was a beautiful dark brown, and the gumbo was wonderful!
Confession: I knew when I made my shopping list that I was looking for andouille, but due to some disconnect in my brain, I got boudin instead (a pork/rice/vegetable sausage) — nowhere near the same thing. I used it anyway. I sliced the boudin and tossed it in, and it fell apart, lending its wonderful flavors to the gumbo and providing a nice little bit of rice. It may have been a mistake this time, but I’ve added it to my recipe.
CHICKEN AND BOUDIN GUMBO
First you make a roux . . .
1/4 cup peanut oil
2 chicken breasts, cut into small chunks
1/2 pound andouille or smoked sausage (optional)
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup peanut oil
1/2 cup flour
1 1/2 cups chopped onion
1/2 cup chopped celery
1/2 cup chopped green pepper
1-2 cloves garlic, sliced
1/2 pound boudin, cut in thick slices
2 cups chicken broth
crabmeat or shrimp (optional)
1/2 cup chopped green onions
1. Heat the 1/4 cup oil over medium heat in a heavy Dutch oven. Season chicken and brown in oil. Add sausage and cook until plump, then remove both from the pan.
2. Now you make a roux . . . Remove excess oil from the pan, then add the 1/2 cup oil and the flour. Cook over low heat, stirring very often (like every minute or two) until it reaches the desired color. (Mine was between caramel and cocoa in color and took probably about 45 minutes.)
3. Add onions, celery, green pepper and garlic, and cook, stirring frequently, about ten minutes.
4. Return the chicken and sausage to the pot. Add the boudin.
5. Gradually stir in chicken broth, about 1/4 cup at a time. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer and cover. Cook for fifty minutes, checking periodically.
6. Add crabmeat and shrimp, if using, then stir in green onions. Cover again and cook an additional ten minutes.
Wonderful served over rice and with cornbread.