It's Time To Celebrate Mardi Gras!
If you've been to a New Orleans Mardi Gras, you know what a memorable experience it can be. Mardi Gras – a celebration to prepare for Lent's 40 days of fasting before Easter – dates back to the Middle Ages. When French explorer Pierre le Moyne d'Iberville arrived in New Orleans in 1699, he brought the annual tradition of Mardi Gras with him. After 150 years of lavish Mardi Gras balls hosted by wealthy Creole society, it was in 1857 that the first Mardi Gras parade was held – a tradition that continues today. Shimmering floats, elaborate costumes, masks, and sparkling beads thrown to festival goers – combine that with Creole and Cajun food, King cake, and free-flowing adult libations and you have the essence of Mardi Gras.
You can capture some of that same festive atmosphere at your own table this year – and it starts with Louisiana Chicken and Andouille Gumbo. This spicy dish is named after the West African word for okra, but the heart of any gumbo is its roux. The roux is an important part of French cuisine, such as in a bechamel sauce, and is a blend of butter or oil and flour. The roux is used as both a thickener and for its flavor, which is enhanced the longer it cooks. When the roux is cooked until its color resembles melted milk chocolate or even mahogany, the earthy flavor it imparts to gumbo is what makes this dish so delectable.
My Louisiana Chicken and Andouille Gumbo was inspired by the many gumbos I've enjoyed over the years. Onion and garlic powders, cayenne pepper, freshly ground black pepper, paprika, and several dashes of Tabasco ensure plenty of spicy flavor. Celery, green bell peppers, onion, and sliced okra cradle the spicy andouille sausage and shredded chicken. Served in a bowl over a bed of steamed white rice, this gumbo makes you sit up and take notice.
But what is Mardi Gras without a festive atmosphere to celebrate it? I decorate my table in traditional colors of gold, green, and purple using linens, strands of beads, candles, and masks I've collected over the years. Add a King cake from your local bakery, and you're all set. Just remember….whoever finds the little plastic baby in the cake must buy the King cake next year! Happy Mardi Gras!
Louisiana Chicken and Andouille Gumbo
- 2 skinless chicken thighs
- 1 skinless chicken breast
- 7 cups water
- 1 bay leaf
- ½ large onion, peeled and halved
- 1 stalk celery with leaves
- 1 carrot, peeled, trimmed, and cut in half crosswise
Place ingredients in a large stockpot, cover, and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, skimming foam from the top of the liquid. Reduce heat to low, simmer 30 minutes, transfer chicken to a plate until it is cool enough to handle, and reserve broth. Remove meat chicken from the bones, chop or shred the chicken, and discard bones. Strain the broth and set it aside, discarding cooked vegetables. This may be done one day in advance, covered, and chilled.
- 1 cup canola or vegetable oil, for roux
- 1 cup flour
- 2 tablespoons canola oil, for sautéing
- 2 large stalks celery, rinsed and sliced
- 2 large green bell peppers, rinsed, seeded, and coarsely chopped
- 1 cup sweet onion, peeled and coarsely chopped
- 2 teaspoons coarse kosher or sea salt
- 2 teaspoons onion powder
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- ½ teaspoon paprika
- 12 ounces andouille sausage, sliced
- 12-ounce package frozen okra, thawed
In a small bowl, stir together salt, onion powder, garlic powder, cayenne pepper, black pepper, and paprika, and set it aside.
In a medium skillet, whisk together 1 cup canola oil and the flour until smooth. Cook over medium-low heat, whisking constantly, until the roux turns the deep brown color of milk chocolate, about 20 to 25 minutes. Take care the roux doesn’t burn. Set it aside.
Preheat a Dutch oven over medium heat, add 2 tablespoons oil, and swirl to coat the bottom of the pan. Add celery, bell peppers, and onion, and saute 5 minutes until they begin to soften. Stir in the chopped chicken. Sprinkle most of the reserved seasoning mix over the vegetables and chicken, reserving 1 teaspoon for later, and toss well to coat. Cook 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Stir in 6 cups of the reserved chicken broth and the dark roux. Raise the heat to medium-high and cook, uncovered, 15 to 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, sauté sliced sausage in a medium skillet over medium heat 5 to 8 minutes, or until it is lightly browned on all sides. Add to the gumbo and cook, uncovered, 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Stir in okra and check seasonings. Add remaining spice mixture and several drops of Tabasco, if desired. Cover and cook 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, as the gumbo thickens. If the gumbo is too thick, add additional broth a little at a time. Serve in large bowls over cooked rice.
Yield: 6 to 8 servings