And so it is Fat Tuesday or Mardi Gras, and today I am cooking a Cajun classic, Gumbo. Gumbo is a type of stew from southern Louisiana combining the ingredients and techniques of a melting pot of cultures, including French, Spanish, German, West African, and Choctaw. In general, a Creole gumbo generally contains shellfish, tomatoes, okra and filé * powder. Native words for either of the last two ingredients are the likely root of the word gumbo. A Cajun gumbo is generally based on a dark roux made from fat and flour and is spicier. Both use a ‘ Holy Trinity ’ of ingredients, chopped onion, celery and green pepper as a base, developed from the classic mirepoix. Andouille sausage * or ham is often added to gumbos of either variety. After the base is prepared, vegetables are cooked down, and then the meat is added. The dish simmers for a minimum of three hours, with shellfish, filé and extra spices added near the end.
*Gumbo filé powder is a necessity for cooking authentic Creole or Cajun cuisine. Filé powder is the powdered leaves of the sassafras tree. When ground, they have a rich, spicy flavour with a hint of eucalyptus. Andouille sausage is a staple of Cajun and Creole cooking brought to the United States by French immigrants to Louisiana. It is a course pork sausage flavoured with garlic, pepper, onions and wine.
If you are going to cook Cajan then you can get in the mood with this version of the Hank Williams classic. My Gumbo recipe is no exception, the only time I waiver from the truly authentic is adding a little extra butter to my chicken, sausage and prawns to produce a rich sauce to top the finished dish. As they say in New Orleans,
” Laissez les bons Temps Rouler -let the Good Times Roll “
My Cajun Gumbo serves 4
12 large prawns, peeled and de-veined
4 chicken breasts, butterflied
200 gr Andouille sausage, sliced
200 gr Long Grain Rice
150 gr Butter
50 gr Flour
1 litre quality Chicken Stock
50 ml Olive Oil
1 Large Onion, peeled and finely chopped
4 sticks of Celery, washed and chopped
1 Green Bell Pepper
6 Cloves of Garlic, peeled and finely chopped
4 tablespoons of Cajun-style seasoning
2 tablespoons Filé powder ( available from a good Deli )
2 Bay Leaves
1 teaspoon Tabasco hot sauce ( you can use more if you prefer )
Juice of 1 Lemon
Sea Salt and freshly ground Black Pepper
Freshly chopped parsley
In a medium bowl mix the prawns, chicken half the sausage and 2 tablespoons of the Cajun style seasoning. In a large heavy-bottomed, saucepan heat the oil over a medium heat and cook the onion, pepper and celery for ten minutes without burning. Remove from the pan and reserve. Melt half of the butter and stir in the flour. Cook out the roux over a gentle heat, stirring continuously until a dark nut brown. Add the cooked trinity, the seasoned chicken, garlic, bay leaves, the sausage, the remaining Creole seasoning and Tabasco sauce. Pour in half of the chicken stock and bring to a gentle simmer. Cook over the lowest possible heat for two and a half hours. Stir occasionally to prevent sticking.
In a second pan, cook the rice by bringing the remaining stock to the boil, add the rice and place on a tight cover. Simmer for five minutes then remove from heat and leave to steam for ten more minutes. Add the prawns to the gumbo and reduce the cooking liquor down by a third until the prawns are cooked. Add the filé powder, the lemon juice, butter and check seasoning. Finish the gumbo with chopped parsley then divide the cooked rice into bowls using a slotted spoon and top with a piece of chicken, prawns, sausage and some cooking liquor.
My Cajun Seasoning
3 tablespoons Smoked Paprika
2 tablespoons Onion Powder
2 tablespoons Garlic Powder
1 tablespoon Hot Mustard Powder
1 tablespoon Cayenne Pepper
1 tablespoon Dried Oregano
1 tablespoon Dried Thyme
1 tablespoon Salt
½ tablespoon ground Bay Leaves
½ tablespoon ground Black Pepper
Mix in a food processor and store in an airtight container.