Mardi Gras in Denver is pretty lame. I mean, no parades, no hurricanes in to-go cups, and no ridiculously scrumptious late-night beignets from Cafe Du Monde. Still, I like to celebrate at least a little. First, I throw beads at the kids to wake them up for school (hilarious). And then I make gumbo. This year, I decided to make Paula Deen’s Gumbo because, well, it’s Mardi Gras, and Paula’s indulgent, southern-style recipes never let you down (they might give you a heart attack, but they will taste great in the process). This gumbo is thick and hearty and delicious, and the kids loved it too. There is no spice at all, and it’s very easy to make, although it does need a couple hours of simmer time.
Of course I tweaked the recipe a little. Paula’s recipe called for 5 tbs. of margarine, a substance I don’t buy (basically pure trans fats). I substituted unsalted butter, which is of course pure fat too, but at least not the really bad hydrogenated kind. Other than the butter, though, this is actually a fairly healthy dish. Not exactly light, but hey it is Fat Tuesday, right y’all?
Gumbo (from Paula Deen, host of “Paula’s Home Cooking” on the Food Network)
3 large chicken breast halves (boneless skinless)
1/4 cup vegetable oil (I used olive oil)
1 lb. smoked sausage (such as chicken andouille), cut into 1/4-inch slices
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
4-5 tbs. butter (Paula uses margarine)
1 large onion, chopped
8 cloves garlic, minced
1 bell pepper, seeded and chopped (Paula called for green, I used red)
3 stalks celery, chopped (I used about 5 plus some of the leaves; I love celery)
1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
1/4 bunch flat leaf parsley, coarsely chopped
5 beef bouillon cubes (I used Better than Bouillon Beef Base, which you can get a Whole Foods.)
1 – 14-oz. can stewed tomatoes with juice
2 cups frozen sliced okra
1/2 pound small shrimp, peeled and cooked (I used about 10 oz.; to pre-cook the shrimp, just put in a shallow pan of simmering water for about 5 mins. and drain.)
Salt & pepper
Season the chicken with salt and pepper. Heat the oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Cook the chicken until browned on both sides then remove (I diced mine into bite-size pieces first so it cooked very quickly). Add the sausage and cook until browned, then remove. To thicken the soup, you next make a roux, which sounds a lot more French and complex than it is: Just sprinkle the flour over the oil, add 2 tbs. butter and cook, stirring constantly, until brown, about 10 minutes. This is your roux; let cool.
Now melt about 2 tbs. butter in the Dutch oven over low heat, then add the onion, garlic, bell pepper, and celery and cook for 10 mins. Add the Worcestershire sauce, salt & pepper to taste, and the parsley. Cook, stirring frequently, for 10 minutes. Add 4 cups of hot water and the bouillon, whisking constantly. Add the chicken and sausage, bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 30-45 mins.
Add tomatoes, tomato juice, and okra, cover and simmer for an hour. Just before serving, add the shrimp. Serve over rice.
Paula garnishes her gumbo with chopped green onions and more parsley; I was tired of chopping so made do with some Louisiana-style hot sauce and a cold glass of chardonnay.