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Cajun Cooking Class: Gumbo

Posted Jan 27 2009 8:20pm

Gumbo is quintessential everything: quintessential Cajun cooking, quintessential comfort food, the quintessential dish for a big gathering where everyone feels like family. Gumbo is full of simple, hearty ingredients, and it's concept is equally understated - transform a few basic ingredients into something transcendental - yet at the same time it is, as Zach says, "a bit fussy, asking for constant vigilance." That said, it's also very forgiving - you can always add a bit more broth, a bit more roux, and guarantee that everyone around your table will will be soothed into a state of perfect bonhomie, merriment, and delight.

Gumbo is what you fix when you want to celebrate, when you want to invite everyone in the neighborhood - and when, no matter where in the world you might be, you want to feel like you're coming home.

File Gumbo

2 lbs. boneless, skinless chicken thighs OR 2 lb. tempeh
salt and pepper to taste
hot sauce to taste
1 cup dry instant roux mix
6 to 8 cups chicken stock or vegetable stock
1/4 cup canola oil
1 lb. andouille sausage OR 1 lb. "sausage" style vegetarian soy crumbles
3 onions, chopped
1 bell pepper, chopped
1 to 2 T file powder

4 cups white or brown rice, cooked
Potato Salad (recipe below)

~ Season the chicken or tempeh to taste with salt, pepper, and hot sauce
~ Dissolve the dry instant roux in 2 cups of the chicken or vegetable stock.
~ In a large dutch oven or soup pot over medium high heat, brown the chicken or tempeh, and the andouille or vegetarian "sausage" crumbles - just until browned, not until cooked all the way through.
~ Remove the chicken or tempeh and the andouille or "sausage" crumbles from the dutch oven, and set aside.
~ Add the onions and bell pepper to the pot, and saute until the onions are wilted and translucent.
~ Return the chicken and sausage to the pot, and slowly add the roux and stock mixture, as well as 4 additional cups stock, stirring constantly throughout the additions. Bring the mixture to a rolling boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook for 2 hours, uncovered, stirring occasionally - until the chicken is so tender that it shreds easily with a fork, or until the tempeh is approaching mushiness. Add 2 additional cups of stock if necessary during this time, depending on how much volume is lost - you want gumbo to be quite brothy, more like a soup than a stew.
~ Season to taste with salt, pepper, and hot sauce. At this point, you can cover the gumbo and leave it on low heat until whenever you're ready to serve - again, stirring occasionally and adding more stock if necessary.
~ Right before serving, remove from the heat and stir in 1 T file powder. Taste, and, if desired, add an additional 1 T file.
~ To serve, scoop rice into a bowl, top with a ladle or two of gumbo, and a bit scoop of potato salad. Yep, potato salad - the combination of cold, creamy potato salad, and warm, fiery-spicy gumbo, is positively one of the most scrumptious things this planet has to offer!

Classic Southern Potato Salad
4 lbs potatoes, cooked, skins left on, and cut into 2" square chunks (I cook mine in the microwave - it's amazingly speedy)
6 eggs, hard boiled and quartered
1 to 1 1/2 cups light mayo (depending on how moist you like your potato salad)
1/2 cup mustard
salt to taste
Cajun seasoning to taste
~ In a large bowl, combine the cooked potatoes, hard boiled eggs, mayo, and mustard. Coarsely mash with a potato masher until all the ingredients are well combined and the texture almost resembles smashed potatoes.
~ Season to taste with salt and Cajun seasoning... Mmmmm, goooood!
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