Cooking: Chicken Gumbo!

First of all, I am certain that at least some of you will not know what Gumbo is.  Admittedly, I was not certain but once I had tried Colonel Tom’s Gumbo at the Shebeen Festival, I had to find out!

I’ve pulled this straight from Wikipedia to show just how much research that I have done 🙂

“Gumbo is a dish that originated in southern Louisiana from the Louisiana Creole people during the 18th century. It typically consists primarily of a strongly flavored stock, okra, meat or shellfish, a thickener, and seasoning vegetables, which can include celery, bell peppers and onions. Gumbo is often categorized by the type of thickener used: the African vegetable okra, the Choctaw spice filé powder (dried and groundsassafras leaves), or roux, the French base made of flour and fat. The dish likely derived its name from either the Bantu word for okra (ki ngombo) or the Choctaw word for filé (kombo).

Several different varieties exist. In New Orleans, what is known as Creole gumbo generally ranges from house to house though still retaining its African and Native origins. The Creoles of Cane River make a gumbo focused much more on filé. After the base is prepared, vegetables are cooked down, and then meat is added. The dish simmers, with shellfish and some spices added near the end. Gumbo is traditionally served over rice.

The dish combines ingredients and culinary practices of several cultures, including West African, French, Spanish, German, and Choctaw. Gumbo may have been based on traditional West African or native dishes, or may be a derivative of the French dish bouillabaisse. It was first described in 1802, and was listed in various cookbooks in the latter half of the 19th century. The dish gained more widespread popularity in the 1970s, after the United States Senate cafeteria added it to the menu in honor of Louisiana Senator Allen Ellender. The popularity of Louisiana-born chefs such as Justin Wilson in the 1970s and 1980s spurred further interest in gumbo. The dish is the official cuisine of the state of Louisiana.”

More research went into what actually goes into a Gumbo.  After looking at many recipes and using some valuable tips from Colonel Tom himself, I decided to give it a go!  How hard can it be right?

Well it didn’t end up being completely smooth sailing but I did get something that resembled a Gumbo in the end and it tasted pretty good too.  Here’s what I did:

  1. Make up your spice mix.  Mine ended up being something like this.  1 teaspoon to me is always heaped.  1 tsp chilli powder, 2 tsp thyme, basil, oregano, onion powder, cayenne, salt and pepper.  Easy.  But really the spice mix can be almost anything you want but ideally still Cajun-ish.
  2. Coat your meat in some of the spice mix and put to one side whilst you prepare.  I diced some chicken thighs.
  3. Finely chop one large onion and slice a dozen or so mushrooms.  Really you can use whatever vegetables you feel need to be used up and would work with this type of dish.  Also finely chop a few cloves of garlic and have around a litre of chicken stock ready for later.  If your using stock cubes 2 or 3 will be plenty.
  4. Heat one or two tablespoons of oil in a large frying pan or casserole dish.  Cook the chicken until browned and remove from the pan.  Then add the onion, mushrooms and garlic to the pan and fry until slightly softened.  Remove from the pan.
  5. Add a few more tablespoons of oil to the pan with around 5 tbsps of flour with a few bay leaves if you have them.  Stir into a paste, adding some of the stock if necessary.  Add the rest of the spices and cook for a few minutes.  Gradually begin adding the remainder of the stock until the paste becomes a smooth, thick sauce.
  6. Return the chicken and vegetables to the pan, cover and cook for as long as you can wait.  I left it to cook for an hour or two for the sauce to reduce but you could eat it once the chicken is cooked if you’re not patient enough.  Check the seasoning once the chicken is cooked before serving though.
  7. Serve with boiled rice.

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Now I’m not sure if that can technically be called a Gumbo but I’m not fussed.  It tasted good and that is what matters.  There are hundreds of different ways you can make gumbo.  I could have added some spicy sausage, oysters and pretty much anything else that took my fancy.  Give it a go!  Make sure you let me know how you get on 🙂

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Written by Tomos Newland-Jones @MrNewland66

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