Long asked is the question “What is the difference between Cajun food and Creole food”? I have done much reading on the subject and I like the way Louisiana Chef Paul Prudhomme explained it best. The short story is Creole food is old, steeped in history, and more “country”. Creole is fancier than Cajun, a “city” version if you will. Cajun food originated in France, came to Nova Scotia, and migrated south to Louisiana. Creole food started in Louisiana, and changed from there, adapting in the kitchens when a cook went to work in a new household, working for homes that introduced them to new nationalities. However, both are very similar, use many of the same ingredients, and have almost blended into one in many restaurants. I love both, although I have a soft spot in my heart for country fare, made with love, in a worn pot. To me, a gumbo really says that.
It certainly was a labor of love, that’s for sure. Between all the chopping, making the stock, and all the simmering, I spent the entire day making this dish. I think it took a total of eight hours, although half of that is fairly inactive, for the simmering. I almost wonder if the cooking time is a mistake (simmer for 4 1/2 hrs??), as I didn’t think it needed that long. But I am no Cajun food expert. I was pretty excited to make a dark roux for the first time. I have made countless roux’s before for gravy or sauces, but this was my first Cajun roux. And they take their roux seriously down there. It was the perfect dish to make on a day off, and felt appropriate for Mardi Gras. Long over are my days of partying it up at the bar, drinking hurricanes until I couldn’t feel my tongue anymore. I much prefer a steaming bowl of gumbo, on my couch, with a good beer. Whatever way you are celebrating Mardi Gras (or Fat Tuesday/Shrove Tuesday/Pancake Tuesday, etc), I hope you are indulging just a little, eating and drinking something you truly enjoy.
This recipe comes from Emeril Lagasse. Why not Paul Prudhomme, you may wonder? Well, it’s probably because I watched Emeril make this and it looked GOOD. I couldn’t get it out of my head. So I settled on this recipe.
Chicken and Smoked Sausage Gumbo
Adapted from Emeril Lagasse
He says it serves 6. He hasn’t met my boyfriend
For the stock:
One 4-pound chicken, rinsed and dried, cut into pieces OR I used 3 large skin on, bone-in chicken breasts
1 onion, unpeeled, quartered
1 rib celery, cut into 2-inch lengths
2 cloves garlic, smashed
2 bay leaves
2 quarts water
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
For the roux and gumbo:
1 cup vegetable oil
1 cup flour
3 onions, chopped
2 ribs celery, finely chopped
1/2 green bell pepper, finely chopped
2 tablespoons minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon cayenne, plus more to taste
2 bay leaves
1 1/2 pounds smoked sausage, halved lengthwise, then cut crosswise into half moons
1 bunch scallions, thinly sliced
1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley leaves
Salt to taste OR if you have Cajun or Creole seasoning, add a teaspoon or 2 of that
Cooked white rice, for serving
For the stock: Place chicken, onion, celery, garlic, bay leaves, and liquid to cover the chicken by 1 inch in a large pot. Add salt and pepper and bring to a gentle simmer. Cook, skimming any foam that rises to the surface, until chicken is fall-from-the-bone tender, 45 minutes to 1 hour. (Add water if necessary to keep chicken submerged in liquid.) Remove chicken to a heatproof bowl and set aside to cool. Strain broth through a fine-mesh sieve and set aside. When chicken is cool enough to handle, remove skin and bones; discard. Pull meat into bite-size pieces and place in a bowl; refrigerate until needed.
Prep the veggies: While the stock is cooking, chop all the vegetables: onion, pepper, celery, garlic for the base, and also the parsley and scallions for the end (set these two aside in the fridge until ready to use). **As I was prepping the veggies, I threw any leftover bits (onion ends and skin, pieces of pepper, garlic skin, etc) into the stock.
Make the roux: Once the stock is strained and cooling, make the roux: In a large, heavy-bottomed Dutch oven, heat oil over medium-high heat; whisk in flour. Cook, stirring constantly, reaching every portion of the bottom of the pot, until roux begins to take on some color. Reduce heat to medium or medium-low and continue cooking and stirring constantly until roux reaches the color of milk chocolate. Note from Emeril: The timing here will vary depending on your cooktop as well as the pan you are using; the most important thing is to not let any portion of the roux scorch, and to stir constantly until you’ve reached the desired color. Note from me: I took mine a little darker, more like a caramel. Keep in mind this sets the tone for the color of your gumbo. It took me about a half hr or so of constant whisking, cooking on low-medium heat.
Combine: Add the chopped onions, celery, and bell pepper and cook, stirring frequently, until vegetables have softened, 5 to 7 minutes. If stock has cooled by this time, add it to roux-vegetable mixture along with cayenne and bay leaves, and stir to combine. (If stock has not cooled by the time vegetables have softened, set aside to cool; you should always add a hot stock to a cool roux or vice versa.)
Once roux and stock are combined, bring to a gentle simmer. Continue to simmer until sauce is thickened and flavorful, about 2 hours, skimming any foam or excess oil that comes to the surface. There will be lots of this foam, so keep a spoon or ladle, and a bowl handy.
Prep Sausage, and then combine: While simmering, saute sausage in a large skillet over medium-high heat until browned on all sides. Add sausage to gumbo after the initial 2 hrs of simmering. Taste gumbo and season lightly with salt or Cajun/Creole seasoning. Simmer for 1-2 more hours (I say 1 hr, Emeril says 2)
Last steps: After simmering, add chicken, chopped scallions, and parsley to gumbo. Stir well and continue to simmer for 30 minutes longer. Adjust thickness if necessary, then season with salt and cayenne to taste. Serve gumbo ladled over hot white rice in large shallow bowls, with hot sauce and file at the table for guests to use to their liking.
Emeril’s Note: Gumbo thickness is a matter of personal preference. Some folks enjoy a very thick gravylike sauce, and others prefer theirs to be more on the brothy side. Either is correct; make it how you like it!
My Notes: You can really put any kind of meat or seafood in here. Just be sure that if you do use seafood, you only put it in at the very end, as no one likes overcooked seafood, and it can’t hold up the way meat can.