Chicken And Sausage Gumbo

Feb 21st, 2011 by Michael

Being a native of Southern Louisiana, naturally I have several staple recipes from that region that I cook semi-regularly, learned at my mother’s knee — one being chicken and sausage gumbo.  And much to my mother’s dismay, I’m going to give that recipe up at the end of this post.  *grins*

A gumbo is a stew or soup that is served over rice, and classically comes in two main varieties: “creole gumbo”, which is made with seafood, tomatoes and and a natural thickener — typically okra or filé powder (which branches off a sub-variety know as “filé gumbo”)  — and “cajun gumbo”, which cam be made with seafood or fowl, and is thickened with a roux made of flour and oil.  Gumbo, like most foods that have become fashionable restaurant staples over the long years, originated as a way to stretch either meager pickings or the least desirable bits left over from a beast… what better way to turn a single chicken into 15 servings?  Served over rice — rice being very inexpensive — you could extend a meal even further.

But in these enlightened and prosperous times, we can pick and choose what critters we put in our gumbo, and while I prize a seafood gumbo above all else, chicken and sausage gumbo wins out for affordability, and therefore it gets made more often.  You can substitute duck for the chicken (delicious!) and while I typically would use a nice smoked-cured spicy andouille, this go around we used a milder smoked turkey/beef/pork sausage that tasted nice.

Start by prepping all your ingredients… there is nothing more frustrating that trying to stir a pot while chopping vegetables.  Start with a pair of large onions (vidalia or “sweet” onions if you can get ’em, yellow otherwise) and reduce them to small bits my the method of your choice.  Since I had a fair amount of veg to break down, I used my handy food processor.  The garlic gets the same treatment.

A note here about celery.  You should make a habit of removing the strands the grow through the ribbing on the back of the stalks as they are basically indigestible, and do not easily cook down.  Just crack the stalk by hand and peel it away in both directions.  Do not dispose of it in a garbage disposal as the strands wrap themselves around the blade spindle and cause no end of trouble — a hard learned lesson from days gone bye.  Compost them, and let nature break them down for you.

The “holy trinity” of vegetables in Southern cooking is typically celery, bell peppers and onion, but for some reason that omits garlic.  Any good Southern cook will try to work garlic and onion into everything except chocolate cake, and once somebody finds a way to do that gracefully, we’ll all be doing it.  *grins* My trinity will always be onions, garlic and celery — with bell pepper added as needed — and this recipe is no exception.

Slice up your sausage and set aside.

Next, the vital ingredient… chicken.  You can use boneless and skinless chicken parts if you choose, and you can pick dark or white meat if you like, but frankly there is definitely a discernible difference in taste between using pre-processed chicken and using a whole chicken (preferably very fresh) that’s been broken down right before cooking.  With a little practice, you can de-bone and de-skin a whole chicken in very little time, and frankly you don’t need a lot of finesse for this dish.  I won’t go into the process here, but there are several good tutorials on the web to be found with a little searching.

I’ve found that leaving a few bones in, namely the thigh, leg and wing bones, adds a little collagen as the gumbo cooks, and that helps thicken it up a bit naturally.  Break down your chicken into medium sized chunks and set aside.

Now onto the actual cooking part.  You’ll want to brown off the chicken, then the sausage first.  You can use any kind of fat you like — olive oil, canola oil, etc — but we happen to have a jar of chicken fat that was collected the last time we made chicken stock (you do save your chicken carcasses and make your own chicken stock, right? RIGHT?)  Two to three tablespoons should do the trick.

Add your chicken and stir occasionally while cooking to brown on all sides.  Remove the chicken from the pot, and keep any juices rendered off to add back in later.  Add your sausage and do the same, again keeping any oil or juices.

Next comes the roux, which is simply flour and oil in anywhere between a 2:1 and 1:1 ratio.  When making a roux, you are basically coating the flour granules individually in oil so that they absorb liquid more slowly, creating a smoother base for gravies, stews and the like (lumps=bad!).  A roux can range anywhere from “white”, which essentially uses no heat, to a very dark brown.  A brown roux is cooked so that the flour browns to the level desired, and the browning of the flour produces delicious roasty toasty flavors that enhance complexity and compliment meat and seafood based dishes and gravies.  I usually opt for a very brown roux.

Heat your empty pot to medium, add the oil and the flour and immediately stir to combine.  You should stir the roux constantly, or it will burn or scorch, and a burnt roux will ruin the entire dish (there is no disguising that distinctly awful flavor).  The oil and flour will eventually loosen up a bit, and depending on the amount of oil you used, will be a consistency anywhere between a thick puddle and a loose paste.  Chase the roux around the pot and keep a close eye on it.  Obtaining a good, dark roux is a staring contest… and if you blink first, you end up with a burnt mess to clean up.  When the roux starts to smoke a bit, you are very close indeed.

Once you finally chicken out (ha!) and decide it’s done (you’ll get better with practice… Southerners are taught to make a roux alongside learning their ABC’s), add the onion in and stir to combine.  This’ll stop the roux from browning further, and the liquid released by the onions will help you work free any flour that is stuck to the bottom of the pot.  I recommend using a wooden spatula with a nice flat edge to scrape as you stir, and you should stir frequently.  Once the onions have gone clear, add your garlic and celery and cook for several minutes more.  Add the chicken (and juices) and sausage (and juices) into the pot and stir to combine.  Top up with water — I use half water, half chicken stock (you do have homemade chicken stock, right? RIGHT?) as that enhances the overall chicken-y flavor.

Add the first course of salt and pepper, then bay leaves and parsley, stir well to combine.  Bring to a boil, then back the heat down to low and simmer with the lid on for 2-3 hours, stirring frequently.

Near the end of the cooking time, prepare your rice.  As a good Southern boy, I can make rice on the stove-top like nobody’s business (steamed, not boiled is the only true way).  But as a good geek I believe in better living though technology, and as a result I own a rice cooker that is smarter than I am.  A recipe for cooking short-grain white rice on the stove-top is included at the bottom of this post.  We favor white basmati rice in our household as it cooks up into nice loose grains, and has a pleasant mild fragrance.

Toward the end of cooking, the chicken should be fork tender, and in fact will start to break up shred nicely.  Check and add salt and pepper to taste.  If the gumbo is too thin, simmer with the lid off until it reaches the consistency desired.  If too thick, add water.  At this point you can also start to pick out the bay leaves, and any bones you can stir up… the meat should have fallen off by now.

Serve over rice.  Gumbo is always better the next day, and if you cooked in true Southern form, you made a whole lot of it… and you’ll be glad you did, as it’s too good to not have lots of leftovers.

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Chicken & Andouille Gumbo

5-7 LB baking hen (de-boned, cut into pieces with skin removed)
½-1 LB andouille sausage (sliced)
¼ C vegetable oil
½ C flour
1 large onion (chopped)
6-8 cloves garlic (minced)
½ C celery (chopped)
2 bay leaves
2 TBS dry parsley
Salt/pepper to taste

In a heavy 4-6 QT pot, brown chicken parts in 2-4 TBS oil or fat.  Set aside.  Brown sausage.  Set aside.  Make a roux in the same pot from ¼ C oil and ½ C flour.  Add onion to roux after it is brown.  Sauté until clear and soft.  Add garlic and celery and cook for 2 minutes.  Add the chicken and sausage back into the pot.  Add 2 QT liquid to start (water or water/chicken stock mix), adding more as needed during cooking to keep the right consistency.  Add bay leaves, parsley, salt (start with 1 TSP and increase to taste as it cooks) and pepper.  Cook for 2-3 hours until chicken is fork tender.

Steamed Rice

1 C white rice
2 C water
2 TBS butter or margarine
1 TSP salt

No real southern cook would ever boil rice.  We don’t wash it before cooking either as that takes away the nutrients added back when the factory washes it – a vicious cycle.  Butter or margarine will keep steamed rice from sticking together. If you get “gummy” rice, decrease the amount of water or use a different pot. Rice should fill a pot at least ¾ when it is done.  Bring water, margarine and salt to a rolling boil.  Add rice, stir once, bring back to a boil then cover and simmer on lowest heat for 15 minutes.  Turn off the heat and let stand covered for 20 minutes or until tender.  Fluff with a fork then serve.

Brown rice requires more water, 2¼ to 2½ C and slightly longer cooking time, 45 minutes.

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