Friday, August 5, 2011

Okra Gumbo: My God, It's Full of Stars!

    Four Interesting Facts:

  1. Okra, Abelmoschus esculentus, is a member of the hibiscus family, and, as such, has astonishingly beautiful blossoms.
  2. For some people, "okra gumbo" is redundant; gumbo is based on a Bantu name for the vegetable, okra comes from an Igbo word for it. Notwithstanding, gumbo the dish can be made without okra the pod, thickened just with roux/filé powder (dried, powdered sassafras).
  3. The phrase, "My god, it's full of stars!" doesn't actually appear in the film 2001: A Space Odyssey, but does appear in the Arthur C. Clarke book. Interestingly, both book and movie were conceived in parallel to each other, as collaborations between Clarke and director Stanley Kubrick.
  4. Okra will grow in Massachusetts.
I was surprised by this last point as well, when I heard from the farm last year that the pick-yer-own okra crop was coming in. I wasn't quite sure what to expect of the plant, and found myself hunting close to the ground (it doesn't grow tall in MA) for the pods growing bottom up from the stalk and watching beautiful, delicate hibiscus like flowers closing demurely against the afternoon sun. I was intrigued by the shapes of the plant, taken by the star-shaped cross sections of the gently curved pentagonal cones. Some of the pods too large and woody to eat I used to stamp stars on paper. The universe wanted us to make gumbo last week: in the space of days, pick-yer-own okra came in at the farm, I found a bag of frozen shrimp languishing in the freezer, and I found the spicy sausage I like on sale. There really was no way out of it.

Living in the Northeast for basically my whole life, I can't really claim any Southern authenticity in my cooking. The closest I come is a relationship I had in college with someone whose mother was New Orleans born and bred. For better or worse, the most consistently functional part of the whole deal was the way we cooked together; we worked at the same restaurant and lived in the same co-op, centered around the kitchen, and often cooked together in our off time as well. I can't really credit his mother's legacy here, as much as I'd like to. Except maybe in the roux.

Broadly speaking, a roux is a combination of roughly equal parts flour and fat cooked together as a thickener for sauces, stews, gravies etc. The classical French roux utilizes butter, while a Cajun roux, like that used here, uses neutral-flavored oil. The fat and flour are cooked together until they reach a desired level of browning. The darker a roux is cooked, the more it gains depth in flavor, but this also lessens its thickening power.

Ultimately, I couldn't help being a godforsaken Northerner and throwing a whole bunch of swiss chard in the pot. Also, I used some leftover rotisserie chicken instead of some kind of fresh chicken. In the end, though, it turned out pretty tasty.

    Okra Gumbo, redundant or no

    Dairy-free, gluten-free modification included

    The (modified) trinity:
  • 1 med.-large onion, medium dice
  • 1 green bell pepper, medium dice
  • 2-3 carrots, smaller dice
  • fresh hot pepper (I used 1 serrano pepper, seeded and minced)

  • The roux:
  • 3 Tblsp. veg. oil
  • 3 Tblsp. AP flour (for gluten-free, sub 1½ Tblsp each of cornstarch & rice flour)

  • The rest:
  • 2 spicy sausages (~3 oz. each), precooked ←spicy, smoked andouille sausage is traditional here, but substitute at your discretion
  • ½ lb. raw shrimp, deveined
  • 1½-2 c. chicken, raw and cut into chunks, or cooked and pulled (I used leftover rotisserie chicken)
  • 3 Tblsp. Magical Spice Blend, which gets back to its roots as a Cajun spice blend
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 10-15 okra pods, sliced into ¼" rounds
  • 1-2 tsp salt
  • 3-4 c. chicken stock (Ok, so I didn't actually measure this, and I used my own super-concentrated stock mixed with an indeterminate amount of water)
  • 6-7 stems swiss chard, cut into thick ribbons (optional, for silly Northerners like us)

  • Serve with:
  • 4½ c. cooked white rice (1½ c. dry)
  • Vinegar-based LA hot sauce, such as Crystal or Tabasco
In a dutch oven or other large, deep, heavy bottomed pan over med-high heat, start cooking the roux. Whisk together the oil and flour, then stir occasionally as it browns. Meanwhile, prep the onion, carrot and peppers. The classic Cajun trinity includes celery instead of carrot, but we had carrot and not celery. Swap as you see fit.

Once the roux has reached a warm chestnut brown, about 10-15 minutes, add the prepped carrot, onion and peppers. Add Magical Spice Blend and a teaspoon of salt. Slice the sausages into rounds and prep chicken. After the veggies have started to soften, add sausage and, if using raw chicken, chicken (cooked chicken should go in at the end). Once meat has started to brown, add chicken stock. Slice okra and add (see, it's full of stars!). Gumbo should start to thicken almost immediately. Turn heat down to medium. Stir in chard, garlic, shrimp and cooked chicken, if using. Cover for 3-5 min. or until shrimp are cooked through. Adjust salt/spicy and serve over rice with hot sauce.

No comments:

Post a Comment


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...