It’s time to give okra some love.
Sure, you probably love okra fried into little nuggets, or crisply grilled, but okra’s true calling might come in response to it’s somewhat gnarly, gelatinous texture. But first, a little background to peak your interest…
Okra, a member of the ancient mallow family, and whose botanical relatives include the gorgeous hibiscus, has traveled far from its original home in the Nile Valley to establish itself as a legitimate member of vegetable society around the world. Okra is adored by cooks in the cuisines of the Mediterranean, Africa, Asia, India and of course North America – Southern cooks have been sautéing, stewing, pickling and smothering the often disliked pod for many years.
Here in the United States, including Oklahoma where it grows a plenty during the hot summer months, okra is seen most often dredged in cornmeal and quickly deep fried, more than likely thanks to the glutinous texture it creates after longer cooking times. However, it is okra and its somewhat unlikeable texture that helps to bring together a pot of gumbo, for its namesake depends on it – historically, gumbo was the name of the vegetable, called by its African name, kingombo.
That designation, over time, came to mean the name of the rich stew the vegetable is most known for – one of the dishes that made Creole cuisine famous. But gumbo is a melting pot of many cultures: Native Americans dried and ground sassafras leaves to make the thickener called filé, the Creole holy trinity (onion, celery and bell pepper) was inspired by Spanish sofrito, and the French shared their fat and flour thickener called roux.
According to ‘The Oxford Companion to Food and Drink’, some gumbo aficionados “consider gumbo a simple adaptation of the French recipe for bouillabaisse”, a classic Provençal seafood stew. Gumbo as we know it today pays tribute to all of these cultures while it fulfills the role as quintessential peasant food – the best of what’s around.
Gumbo is ubiquitous in homes and restaurants across Louisiana (and for that matter, the entire South). The rich stew can be made with seafood, crawfish, chicken, sausage or any combination of these ingredients. Lots of local okra and andouille sausage make this particular chicken-and-sausage version a classic and, as in any good gumbo, a deep, rich roux thickens the stew. After preparing the roux, most of the time spent making gumbo is basically hands-free. You’ll just need to stir the pot occasionally to prevent sticking. When gumbo is served in Louisiana, filé powder is as common on the table as salt and pepper and gives dishes a unique and spicy note.
It is possibly going to hit 70 degrees today in parts of Oklahoma, but our friends to the Northeast are getting blasted by “Snowmaggedon 2015”. I can’t think of anything better on a blizzardy day than a steaming pot of gumbo. The bonus? If you were mindful enough to freeze some of summer’s okra bounty, there may not be a need to get out in the weather and brave the crowds at the local supermarket – this pot of goodness can be whipped up with pantry staples, the few vegetables you probably have lurking in the crisper and whatever meat you have stashed in the freezer…feel free to improvise!
This recipe originally appeared in the January/February 2015 issue of Edible Tulsa magazine. Click here to read the entire issue!
Okra, Chicken and Andouille Gumbo
Yield 4 to 5 quarts
Try to resist the urge to eat your gumbo right away, for many cooks let their gumbo rest in the refrigerator overnight and then put it back on the stove the next day - it definitely benefits from a little rest period. This recipe makes a lot, but it freezes well. So, if you are going to take the time to tend the roux, you might as well make enough for a great dinner, plus a good amount to freeze for later.
For the stock:
- 1 3 ½-pound whole chicken, cut into pieces if desired
- 1 large onion, quartered
- 2 stalks celery, halved
- 2 tablespoon black peppercorns
- 3 bay leaves
- 2 medium carrots, halved
- 2 sprigs thyme[br]
For the gumbo:
- 1 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1 pound andouille sausage, roughly chopped
- 1 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 2 yellow onions, chopped
- 3 tablespoons minced garlic
- 4 stalks celery, chopped
- 2 green bell peppers, chopped
- 1 jalapeño, minced
- 2 teaspoons dried thyme
- 1½ teaspoons dark chile powder
- 1½ teaspoons filé powder
- 1 teaspoon cayenne
- 1 teaspoon ground white pepper
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
- 12 cups chicken stock
- 1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes
- 16 ounces frozen, sliced okra
- Kosher salt
- Cooked white rice, for serving
- Sliced green onions, for serving
- Tabasco or other hot sauce, for serving
- Bring the chicken, onion, celery, peppercorns, bay, carrots, thyme and 14 cups of water to a boil in a large stockpot. Reduce to a simmer and cook until the chicken is cooked through, 30 to 40 minutes. Using tongs or a slotted spoon, transfer the cooked chicken to a plate to cool. Strain the stock and skim off any excess fat that accumulates at the top. Set aside 12 cups of stock for the gumbo. When the chicken is cool enough to handle, remove the skin and bones and discard; shred the chicken and set it aside or chill until ready to use.
- [b]DO AHEAD:[/b] Stock can be made 2 days ahead. Let cool, then cover and chill, or freeze up to 3 months. Let meat cool completely, then chill for up to 2 days or freeze for up to 2 weeks.
- Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large Dutch oven or soup pot (big enough to hold 5 quarts) over medium-high heat. Cook andouille until fat renders, 8–10 minutes; transfer sausage to the plate with the chicken. Add the remaining 1 1/4 cups oil and heat until hot and shimmering. Sprinkle the flour over the oil, whisking until smooth. Reduce heat to medium low and continue to cook, whisking often, until the roux is dark brown (it should resemble melted milk chocolate), 1 to 1 1/2 hours (or even up to 2 hours).
- Add onion, garlic, celery, bell pepper, jalapeno, thyme, chile powder, filé, cayenne, white pepper, paprika and black pepper to the roux, stirring to coat the vegetables. Cook, stirring often, until vegetables start to soften, about 10 minutes. Slowly stir in the reserved chicken stock, mixing well to dissolve the roux. Bring to a boil and stir in tomatoes, okra and reserved chicken and andouille. Bring to a boil, reduce to a gentle simmer and cook, stirring occasionally for 30 minutes.
- Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve, topped with a generous scoop of rice and a sprinkling of green onions.