Written by Guest Contributor: Amy Thibodeaux
The unique aroma hit me as I walked into my mother-in-law’s house … a tantalizing combination of chicken stewing with garlic, onions and something I could not recognize. I was born and raised in a southern kitchen, but I had never experienced this blend of scents before.
Turns out she was making Chicken and Sausage Gumbo.
My mother-in-law learned the art of gumbo-making from her mother-in-law who was a tried and true Acadian. For many years, I was blessed with countless hours of sharing aprons with my MIL. She taught me that it all begins with a heavy Magnalite pot. She always used a baking hen rather than regular chicken. She may have made her own roux at some point in her life, but when I was with her, she used prepared roux from a jar.
Gumbo is served over white rice. And even the rice had a rule: Once the water begins to boil, you can stir it once, but then put the lid on and you leave it be for 20 minutes … no stirring, just leave it alone. I am now the matriarch of the kitchen in our Cajun inspired family and these guidelines are still followed.
Let the temperature drop into the 40’s and that’s all we need to kick start our gumbo tradition. Perhaps others are not held back by the weather but we have found that it doesn’t seem right to stand over a pot of gumbo when it is ninety degrees outside!
In our world, it is a commandment to serve gumbo with rice and buttered saltine crackers. And if our grand matriarch were still with us, she would also prepare a colorful salad made by placing half of a canned pear onto a lettuce leaf, add a dollop of mayonnaise, and finish it off with a maraschino cherry. One last requirement is that the gumbo is to be served in designated gumbo-bowls. Any old bowl would work, but I’m telling you, it will not be the same.
Gumbo bowls are about the size of a dinner plate and are generally very shallow. I have a theory about the importance of using shallow bowls: Gumbo-making varies by tradition, geography and by the available source of ingredients. There is no telling what type of protein might have been used in any given pot of gumbo! Thus, the essential need to use a shallow bowl with a clear view of all ingredients. Our family is a squeamish bunch, so you will not find anything beyond chicken, sausage and the required veggies in our gumbo.
As cool weather approaches East Texas, grab your ingredients, the heavy Magnalite pot and call the family over for supper. Don’t forget the butter and the bowls!
Gumbo INGREDIENTS to serve 8-10:
- 3 pounds boneless chicken breast or one whole hen
- 1 pound thinly sliced smoked sausage
- ¾ cup finely chopped onion
- ¾ cup finely chopped celery
- ¾ cup finely chopped green pepper
- ½ cup chopped green onion tops
- 10 cups chicken broth if using boneless chicken breast OR 10 cups water if using whole chicken
- 1 teaspoon finely minced garlic
- 1 ¼ teaspoon creole seasoning
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- 3 tablespoons file’ (ground sassafras leaves)
- ½ jar roux (gasp! I do not spend hours over the blistering heat of the stove conjuring up my own roux)
- 3-4 cups cooked white rice
- Add water to large, heavy pot, bring to a boil.
- Add roux. Stir about 10 minutes until dissolved.
- Add remaining ingredients except for file’ and green onion tops.
- Boil uncovered over medium heat for approximately 2 hours if using whole chicken. Or boil boneless chicken breast for 30 minutes, then remove and set aside.
- If using whole chicken, debone then add back to the pot. Add file’ and green onion tops.
- If using boneless chicken breast, shred or cube then add back to the pot. Add file’ and green onion tops.
Serve over 1/3 cup rice. Bon appetit!