Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Chicken Gumbo or The Tao of Roux

My wife washes away the stress of the day with a bubble bath. Some turn to yoga or exercise to relieve stress. Others prefer the ease of a stiff drink or two. I turn to my stove and my cast iron dutch oven. With two simple ingredients - flour and butter - and a wooden spoon, I stir my troubles into a roux.

As the roux deepens from the color of peanut butter color to a rich mahogany, the weight of the day evaporates, and I'm prepared to acknowledge all that really matters in this life: a hearty meal and quality time with my family.

Some would say there are better ways to spend 30 minutes than stirring a pot. For those critics, I offer you the wise words of Henry David Thoreau:

"Why should we be in such desperate haste to succeed and in such desperate enterprises? If a man does not keep pace with is companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away."

For those skeptical souls who need concrete evidence, I offer you a chicken gumbo recipe. Although it's a non-traditional gumbo - minus the okra, you'll be converted to believe in the Tao of the Roux.

Chicken Gumbo

Adapted from A Cowboy in the Kitchen by Grady Spears and Robb Walsh
  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/3 cup flour
  • 1 cup diced red bell pepper
  • 1 cup diced green pepper
  • 1 1/2 cups diced onion
  • 1 stalk celery, diced
  • 1 (15-ounce) can diced tomatoes
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons of Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tablespoon Tabasco sauce
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano leaves
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper
  • 3 cups chicken stock
  • meat from one whole cooked chicken, diced or pulled off the bone (You can use one of those roteissere chickens, but I recommend stewing your own chicken, which yields a rich, flavorful broth)
  • kosher salt to taste
  • freshly ground pepper to taste
  1. Use a large, heavy dutch oven. Melt the butter in the dutch oven over medium heat.
  2. Stir in the flour, and cook over medium-low heat for about 20 minutes or longer. The roux needs to become a rich brown color. Continually stir it with a wood spoon, so that the roux does not burn. Daydream of magnolia trees, lounging on a front porch, and sippin' your favorite beverage. Or just think peaceful thoughts. Or think nothing at all.
  3. When the roux reaches the desired color, add the peppers, onion, and celery, sauteing until the vegetables are wilted, about 10 minutes. Savor this step: Place your nose directly above the dutch oven. Close your eyes and inhale deeply. Greet this mingling of scents with an exuberant, "Hallelujah!" Blare The Pine Leaf Boys' Cajun version of "Wild Side of Life" from your stereo, and dance around the kitchen; celebrate this marriage of flavors.
  4. Add the tomatoes, Worcestershire, Tabasco, tomato paste, bay leaf, thyme, oregano, cayenne, and white pepper. Stir to blend the ingredients.
  5. Whisk in the chicken stock, and cook the gumbo over medium heat for 30 minutes.
  6. Add the chicken and continue cooking for another 30 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. The gumbo should be fairly thick at serving time.
  7. Continue cooking to reduce if necessary.
  8. Serve over rice or mashed potatoes. Because I'm a Kansan, I choose potatoes 99 percent of the time.

Pass the hot sauce,

P.S. It's worthwhile to visit the Southern Foodways Alliance documentary project The Southern Gumbo Trail.


Anonymous said...

Yep - that is lookin' pret-ty good. I love gumbo - so much, that I always get impatient when I make it. Once the roux is caramel colored, I've got to get on with the veggies. I'm always wanting to eat it as soon as possible! Yours looks quite tasty, and I like the use of the chicken.

muddywaters said...

You're right - making a roux is an exercise in patience and stamina. I'm guilty of rushing the roux; however, when I do zone in on the process, I find it very rewarding.

Thanks for the comments.