Chicken and Okra Gumbo, Made by a Cali-Girl!

         When I was in college, I’d come home for holidays and the occasional three day weekend. I never went back up to school empty handed. My mom would always take me grocery shopping, our neighborhood Milk Man (yes, we still had a Milk Man) would bring me blocks of cheese and pints of milk, and my brother’s best friend Homer, (who’s cooking proved he was from the Deep South), gave me a huge tub of his homemade Gumbo.

     I’d make the 5 hour drive from So. Cal back to the freezing cold and wet of San Francisco. After I unloaded my little Mustang and re-settled my cat into the disappointingly more contained indoor space of my apartment, I’d go through my bag of food treasures. That tub of gumbo was saved for a day when I was either sick and missing family, or utterly drained by the combination of Grad school and the Nor. Cal weather. It was comforting, hearty, healthy, and WARM!

     Nowadays its something I stir up for the rare, but still painful, cold days here in So. Cal. I like to make this a couple of days in advance and just let it sit in the refrigerator to let the flavors really meld into each other. Since its just my hubby and I, I freeze half of it and pull it out on a rainy day. (Or as in the last case, for my sick Father-In-Law who was in need of something soothing.) Gumbo- Mis en place

     When you are ready to eat your Gumbo, you can serve it either over brown rice, or how I prefer. . . with a big piece of crusty french bread. Its also traditional to have a bowl of “gumbo filé” (pronounced FEE-Lay) on the table to add to your bowl as you like. This is ground Sassafras leaves which give a wonderful green color to your bowl of gumbo.

The Spice House Gumbo File
Click to go to The Spice House site

     I’ve been super surprised to find this Southern condiment at the Ralph’s and Whole Foods here in Los Angeles. Its often described as being a thickening agent, but when you are using okra, that aspect of filé isn’t necessary. That’s why for many Cajun and Creole people, its placed in a bowl at the table. That way, those who want the “root beer” flavor added to their gumbo, can do it as they like.

     If you can’t find it in your store, The Spice House is my favorite place EVER to buy spices and seasonings. But its in Chicago. Luckily, their online shopping is just as good as being in the shop! Its so easy to order online.

     So, if you know me, you know that I’m not in to low calorie food that is low cal only because its a child’s portion. I do my best to find ways to have a “Man-Sized” meal that is high in protein and hearty. (Mostly because I have to feed the Hubby who comes home ravenous after working 12+ hour days.) This pot of Gumbo could feed 6 people with a smaller serving, but. . . no. . . 4 is better! Each of those 4 servings comes in at only about 319 calories, and with over 21 grams of protein, over a third of the recommended daily intake. Serve it over brown rice and you increase that number. So, feel comforted, warm, full, and not even the tiniest bit guilty. This one bowl meal is full of veggies, meat, and plenty of spice!


Click to see a full size

Ingredients:

Roux-
•2 tbsp unsalted butter
•2 tbsp vegetable oil
•1/3 cup AP flour

•1/2 medium red bell pepper, chopped
•1/2 medium green bell pepper, chopped
•1/2 medium onion, chopped
•Same amount of celery, one to two stalks, diced
– (eye ball to see if you have the same amount as the onion)
•3 cloves garlic, rough chopped
•2 tbsp SALT-FREE Cajun seasoning
•6 oz fully cooked chicken (or Tofurkey) Andouille Sausage, bias cut into 1/4″ slices
(This is my favorite: “Aidells“)
•12 oz boneless skinless chicken thighs, (about 3) cut into bite size pieces
•1 cup sliced okra, frozen or fresh
•1- 14oz can (the smaller size) chopped tomatoes, not drained
•3 cups chicken broth, cold or room temp
•1/2 to 1 tsp Salt, depends on how salty your sausage is
•Black pepper, to taste

•File powder, *Optional*

Method:

1. In a medium bowl, mix together the raw, chopped bell peppers, onion, and celery. This is called “The Holy Trinity” in cajun/creole cooking. Set aside.

♦Making the roux♦

2. In a 4 qt+ nonstick pot over medium heat, add the butter and oil. Heat until the butter is completely melted. Sprinkle the flour over the fat, a tablespoon or so at a time, whisking each into the fat fully before adding the next tablespoon. There will be little clumps, but if you keep whisking, they’ll dissolve. Take major care not to let the mixture burn. (If you don’t feel comfortable, lower the heat to medium low. It’ll take longer, but it won’t burn. Burnt Roux is the worst!)

These are the beautiful stages and colors it goes through as its cooking:

3. Continue to whisk the roux over medium heat until is becomes a caramel color. Take special care to whisk not just the center of the pot, but the outer edges as well. (Depending on your stove top, electric vs gas, this will take between 8-15 minutes. It will smell amazing… so just enjoy it. I like to put on some music in the background, and have a glass of wine within reach.)

Gumbo- roux veg4. Once your roux is a deep caramel, add the Andouille, 2 tsps of the Cajun seasoning, and 3/4 of the Holy Trinity. Stir this in and saute until the veggies are soft.

5. Pour in the chicken stock. (Its super important that it is NOT warm. Culinary rule: warm roux=cold stock, or cold roux= warm stock.) Stir in the rest of the Cajun seasoning, garlic, and okra, and tomatoes with juice. Bring to a Boil, and add in the chicken. Reduce to a simmer and Gumbo- Chicken addedallow to cook for about 45 minutes. Stir it every so often so that it doesn’t get a skin on the top from the okra’s gelatinous juices.

Serve over brown rice, or along side a piece of crusty french bread for dipping!

→ Food Safety Alert: Ok, so if you are making this ahead of time, or going to just eat a bowl tonight and save the rest for tomorrow, allowing the pot of gumbo to cool before putting it in the refrigerator is very important. Just allow the pot to cool at room temp for about 25 minutes before you put it in the fridge. If you are going to freeze it in batches, separate it before cooling and it will lower in temp faster. Then, pop in the freezer!

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