Ever since dad died and mom sold our house and moved to Maine, I knew I would never be able to go home again, at least not home as I had known it. There would be no bedroom waiting for me and no family meals around our old kitchen table. I wouldn’t be headed home for Thanksgiving to catch up with all my childhood friends. Of course I would visit my mom in her studio apartment in Maine and of course I would visit Boston every once in a while and stay with a friend or a relative, but it would never be “home” the way it once was. But this weekend, I was proven wrong. Matt and I stayed with my cousin Anna in her one-bedroom apartment in the North End. She gave us her bed, with fresh sheets and a set of towels at the foot. It was a cozy and happy home base. We were in town for the wedding of one of my very best friends. I knew it would be fun, I knew I would see lots of people that I hadn’t seen in a long time, but I was not expecting a homecoming. And yet, that’s exactly what it felt like, being surrounded by so many people with whom I’ve shared so much of my life. I was home for a few hours – not because of the house or the city, but because of the people.
Still, as Matt and I boarded our plane on Sunday morning to head back to DC, we both agreed that the city of Boston, just isn’t home anymore. We have fully adopted our new city – the culture, the weather, the food, the people, and the geography. Inspired by this, I am embracing our semi-Southern town by cooking lots of seriously-Southern cuisine. On Sunday night, I made chicken gumbo at Matt’s request. I have a recipe for shrimp gumbo that I’ve made several times, but Matt was very clear and adamant that he wanted chicken. So I set out modifying Ellie Krieger’s Shellfish and Okra Gumbo. I used an excessive amount of butter and Andouille sausage and our New England/Midwestern palates were pretty happy with the result.
This recipe is also inspired by Steph, one of my good friends from high school, who I had some time to catch up with briefly over the wedding weekend. “I love your blog,” she said, “but I see the recipes and have no idea what to do. You should do some demonstration videos.” While a demo is a little too advanced for me, I loved the idea of trying something a little different. So below you will find my first recipe, written with an excessive amount of detail to support the nervous cook, but with encouragement to disregard my directions all together. It reminds me a lot of dad’s “proverbial chicken soup” recipe – the only original recipe of his that I have, which let’s you adjust the quantity and types of vegetables to your heart’s content. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a whole book of his cooking wisdom or a whole book of mine to pass on to the next generation? Because home is in the people, but also in food on our plates and the recipes we’ve inherited through the years. So this is for Sig (as usual) and for Steph! Happy cooking.
Chicken Gumbo with Okra and Andouille
A generous amount of olive or vegetable oil
Several shakes of Cajun seasoning (or salt and pepper)
1.5 lbs chicken breasts (or other chicken parts with or without bones and skin)
1 lb Andouille sausage (removed from the casings)
A few tablespoons of butter
1/3 cup of flour (plus or minus a little)
2 ribs celery, diced
1 medium onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 bay leaf
2 large sprigs fresh thyme
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
4 – 6 cups chicken broth
1/2 lb fresh okra, sliced
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
1/2 cup chopped scallions
Cooked long-grain white rice for serving
Slather your chicken pieces with oil and douse with whatever seasoning you choose to use. Place chicken on a greased breaking sheet and put in a 350 degree oven for 15-20 minutes (or as long as it takes to cook through). When it’s cool enough to touch, shred the meat with you hands and set aside for later.
Heat the oil in a heavy bottomed dutch oven. Coat the bottom of the pan generously and add butter to your heart’s content. I like a good 1/4 inch of fat covering the bottom of the pan. Add the sausage and cook until browned and cooked through, remove with a slotted spoon and set aside for later.
Add more oil/butter as necessary to replenish the 1/4 inch suggestion or don’t and feel better about your overall health. Sprinkle the flour over the oil/butter. The mixture should be on the thick side (like all natural smooth peanut butter), but still liquid enough to stir, add more fat or flour accordingly. Begin stirring diligently for what will feel like a really long time (at least 20 minutes). The flour should begin to brown. When the mixture takes on a dark tan hue, you’re good to go.
Add the celery, bell pepper, and onion, and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are tender, about 7 minutes. Add the garlic, bay leaf, thyme, and cayenne pepper and cook 1 minute more. Slowly add the broth. I like my gumbo extra thick so I used just over 4 cups, but you’ll want to use all 6 for a soupier gumbo. Add the okra and chicken and simmer over low heat until the okra is tender (another 20 minutes). Add the sausage, parsley, and scallions, and cook just until the sausage is warmed through. Remove the bay leaf and thyme.
Serve over hot white rice and top with hot sauce.