Hot weather be damned, football is here and there is no way we can’t cook gumbo. Yes, I love it in the cold, grey days of January. I order it in restaurants all summer long because someone else is cooking it. I love it with turkey, seafood, duck, chicken and sausage, dark roux, light and caramel colors with just about any kind of white rice. Just don’t give me too much of that rice. I want it runny.
Both sides of the bay embrace this soup that eats like a meal. The greater Mobile metropolitan area can certainly brag that we live in a gumbo town. My two favorite restaurant gumbos can be found at Market by the Bay in Daphne and downtown Mobile’s Royal Scam.
From Eugene Walter’s recipe to a Commander’s Palace knockoff, the people of this city know what they like but will always maintain the title of world’s greatest gumbo belongs to either a family member or themselves.
I don’t claim that.
If I ever stumble upon the world’s greatest gumbo in my kitchen, it will only happen once. I monkey around with every pot so much that I never get anything set in stone. Even on the off chance I’ll create something spectacular, I keep no records. The next batch could be better. Or it could be worse. To me cooking gumbo is a bit of a sport. It’s an incredibly fun thing to make. The only drawback is the intense heat that comes along with constant stirring.
Yes, I know. “Andy, why don’t you make your roux in the oven in a cast iron skillet? Why not in the microwave? You could certainly ease the pain of burnt knuckles wrapped around well-worn wooden spoons.”
To be honest, I have tried these techniques. You can hone these skills and make just about anything work. I tend to brown the roux in the pot with the rest of the ingredients. It’s not because I am stubborn or old fashioned (I am often both of these things but not in this case), but rather I am a fan of John Besh. The man covers a lot of ground with his gumbo recipes. I’ve watched him cook a pot of seafood gumbo in about 25 minutes and it was fantastic.
From his lightest to his darkest roux, he cooks it pretty much wide open, usually with canola oil as his fat. This is part of the fun, although it keeps the AC running without a break. That’s why I love doing this after the snakes disappear.
Back to my original thought: Football season has commenced and it’s too hot to cook gumbo, but we still have to do it. Why, you may ask? It’s only because it brings good luck to your team. Everyone knows that. Gumbo is the reason the New Orleans Saints have won 11 out of the last 12 Super Bowls. Its absence is undoubtedly the reason my Laurel Tornadoes lost their season opener and Little Brown Jug title to the Hattiesburg Tigers. Heartbreaking to know that a simple pot of gumbo could have altered that last play of the game and the jug would be ours!
This week I am taking no chances. College starts and the stakes are high. I’m kicking off this season with a giant pot of chicken and sausage gumbo in hopes that my favorite teams (let’s not get political here) show us their peak performances. My boys agree, this is how you start a football season.
Here is my loose recipe. There’s some eyeballing it here and there but I’ll get you close.
¾ cup canola oil
¾ cup rice flour (or all-purpose flour)
1 large onion
1 bell pepper
2 stalks celery with leaves
1 pound smoked sausage (buy local or regional)
8-10 chicken thighs, cooked and shredded
14-ounce can of stewed tomatoes
1 tablespoon minced garlic
2 quarts chicken stock or water
3 bay leaves
1½ cups okra
Salt, pepper, Creole seasoning to taste
Cooked white rice
Get out the heavy pot and make certain all of this will fit. You need to prep everything rather than cut as you go. The onions, peppers and celery (trinity) should be chopped evenly but keep them separate. If you have store-bought trinity you will live; I just like to cook the onions a little longer than the other two. Sometimes I use fresh cloves of garlic, other times I get it from a jar.
Crank up the heat on that heavy pot. High temps for the oil will get the rice flour brown in a jiffy. You have to stir constantly. I usually start with a whisk and graduate to a wooden spoon. It could take 15 minutes or more to reach the brown color you desire. Add the onions as soon as it does and bring the heat down to medium.
Once the onions soften add the sliced smoked sausage, bell peppers and celery, and cook for 3 minutes. Add the garlic and continue to stir after you season with salt, pepper and Creole spices. A minute later add the tomatoes, followed by the stock and bay leaves. Raise the heat back to high and return to a boil.
At this point add the shredded chicken (I hope it was well-seasoned) and reduce the heat to a simmer. After an hour add the okra and simmer for another 45 minutes to an hour. Allow your guests to choose their amount of rice and always have many different hot sauces on hand. May this bring your team luck. If they are playing my team, I hope it brings them bad luck.
The pro season is coming up so I’ll be doing a gigantic pot of expensive seafood gumbo to ensure another Saints victory. Make it ahead, put it in a crock pot, freeze it, but do whatever you’ve got to do to win. Just remember if your boys lose at least you have a pot of delicious gumbo to enjoy.