Cajun Chicken and Sausage Gumbo
While I was trying to decide what to do with the chouriço sausage I bought at the BBC Good Food Show, a spam message (appropriate neologism!) arrived from a cookbook hustler, offering me a collection of authentic Cajun recipes he’d learned at his mother’s elbow. As an inducement, he included, ABSOLUTELY FREE, his recipe for Cajun Chicken and Sausage Gumbo. Although emasculated for effeminate sissy Caucasian palates, it included authentic touches such as a warning that YOU MUST KEEP STIRRING OR THE FLOUR WILL BURN. And so I consulted other authorities, went shopping, and installed myself in the kitchen for the rest of the morning. The amended result was as good a basic gumbo as I’ve eaten. It’s even better the next day, cold, which is my ultimate criterion for everything, including marriage.
Cajun Chicken And Sausage Gumbo
Start with a FREE RANGE CHICKEN
FOR THE STOCK:
Skin and bone the chicken. Set the meat aside. In a thick-bottomed kettle or pressure cooker, brown the skin and bones in a little OLIVE OIL. Add sliced ONION, CARROT, and a couple of sliced ribs of CELERY. Fry until limp. Add SALT to help extract the juices from the meat, HERBS to taste, and about a quart and a half of WATER. Simmer covered for an hour, or pressure-cook for twenty minutes. Strain; skim off the fat or pour off through a separator.
FOR THE GUMBO:
While the stock is simmering, chop an ONION, a GREEN SWEET (BELL) PEPPER, and 3 ribs of CELERY. Cut up the CHICKEN MEAT into large bite-sized pieces. In a Dutch oven or similar heavy casserole, fry them lightly in 1/2 CUP OLIVE OIL, together with 1 LB SLICEDSTRONG SAUSAGE, SMOKY OR GARLIC. (If it’s been skinned, the chicken won’t brown without overcooking.) Remove from the oil; get it all out and be certain none is stuck to the bottom--it will give you trouble at the next stage. Add 3/4 CUP FLOUR little by little, stirring constantly. You should have a paste the consistency of heavy cream; if it starts to solidify into lumps, add a little more oil. You should be able to mix any uncooked flour continually to the bottom. Continue cooking and stirring until the mixture turns golden brown (not black!). This should be a long slow process--some cooks deliberately take as long as half an hour. Add the chopped vegetables and stir them well into the roux until they start to go limp. Add as much CHOPPED GARLIC as you think you want; it will become much milder in the cooking.
Now add the liquid, which should be incorporated slowly at the beginning, constantly stirring. (The water in the vegetables will have helped to begin the process.) If the flour and oil are properly cooked and you’re not in a hurry with the liquid, you won’t have trouble with lumps. To my taste, this recipe needs the acidity of tomato, and so at this stage I would stir in 1 CAN OR TUBE OF TOMATO PASTE. This in turn invites a bottle of ROBUST RED WINE, together with the CHICKEN STOCK, making about two quarts of liquid in all. Add the CHICKEN and SAUSAGE. Stir in CHOPPED CHILI PEPPERS/ CAYENNE/ TOBASCO SAUCE in any combination, as much as you like. (If you don’t like it hot, this recipe has plenty of flavor without being mouth-searing.) Add 2 CUPS BROWN RICE, previously rinsed. Add HERBS to taste; some like to add them late in the cooking so that their flavor remains more distinct. Season discreetly with SALT AND PEPPER and check for seasoning near the end of the cooking time. Better to err on the side of caution; strong hot chili can affect your sensitivity to salt.
Now comes a long slow simmer, about an hour, or even slower and longer. (This is a wonderful one-pot dish; you can add more vegetables at any time during the simmer. Or prawns. Or practically anything you like.) Keep it covered; stir it often and add more water if necessary as the rice absorbs it. (The thicker the sauce, the more likely that it may stick and burn.) By the end the sauce should be thick, dark and rich. At a slow simmer, the chicken won’t overcook and the brown rice, though soft, will still keep its shape and not disintegrate.
If there’s any left after the second day, you should either stick with Heinz baked beans or join a monastic order of self-denial.
©1998 John Whiting