Sigh. It’s only September and it started snowing in Fairbanks five days ago. The first snowfall is always bittersweet: it’s tragic to say goodbye to such a seemingly short summer season. The season where my blood finds respite in the sun, warmth, and Vitamin D. Yet, it’s always exciting to see the first snow flakes drift from gray clouds. In 6 months, those same snow flakes will still lay on the ground, as will the foundation of my winter weight, that which started to accumulate tonight.
When I come to the realization winter is here, I can never tell if the reaction to stuff my face with rich, fattening foods is more of an emotional response (hello, my name is Mary Catherine, and I’m an emotional eater) or a biological response since fat is a pretty fantastic insulator. Whatever the reason, I needed a big bowl of something comforting tonight as I watching snow fall from the sky, so I decided to make a big pot of gumbo.
Growing up, my dad’s idea of going through a quarter life crisis was going to a culinary school and becoming a cajun chef. I achingly wanted to watch football on Sundays and eat cocktail weenies with my dad because, well, that’s what everyone else did with their dads on the weekend. Instead of John Elway and Emmitt Smith, Paul Prudhomme and Justin Wilson (see video below) were common household names in our house and I was sampling crawfish, Étouffées, and jambalayas on Sundays rather than potato skins and chicken wings. As a teenager, I was embarrassed by the quirkiness that came with a my dad’s hobbies because that’s the type of thing that matters to kids. As an adult, I relish these memories and always turn to both the memories and recipes when I need a little bit of comfort in my life. Especially on the cold, snowy days of September, when I miss home the most.
If only we had fresh andouille in our grocery stores! Yes, you can find smoked sausage in the local Safeway food store in Fairbanks, but I try to buy local meat and produce as long as the season allows. Local meat in Fairbanks means game meat, in this case, reindeer. Fairbanks, the island of misfit toys.
2 large boneless skinless chicken breast halves
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 pound smoked sausage, cut into 1/4-inch slices
1/2 cup all-purpose flour (I used King Arthur’s Gluten Free Flour)
5ish tablespoons margarine
1 large onion, chopped
1 head of garlic minced
1 green bell pepper, seeded and chopped
3 stalks celery chopped
1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
1/4 bunch flat leaf parsley, stems and leaves, coarsely chopped, plus chopped leaves for garnish
4 cups warmed beef stock
2 bay leaves
1 (14-ounce can) stewed tomatoes with juice
2 cups frozen sliced okra
4 green onions, sliced, white and green parts
1/2 pound shrimp, raw
Season the chicken with salt and pepper. Heat the oil in a heavy bottomed Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Cook the chicken until browned on both sides and remove. When cooled, cut up into bite sized pieces. Add the sausage and cook until browned, then remove. Add 2 tablespoons of butter; sprinkle the flour over the oil, and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until brown, about 10 minutes. This is called a roux (pronounced ‘roo’).
Melt the remaining 3 tablespoons butter. Add the onion, garlic, green pepper and celery and cook for 10 minutes. Add Worcestershire sauce, salt and pepper, to taste and the 1/4 bunch parsley. Cook, while stirring frequently, for 10 minutes. Add 4 cups beef stock, the bay leaves, and the chicken and sausage. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat, cover, and simmer for 45 minutes. Add tomatoes and okra. Cover and simmer for 50 minutes. Dump the raw shrimp in the pot, let it go for 8 minutes more. Serve garnished with parsley and green onions and a splash of hot sauce over a bed of rice.