Even though I’m Polish, I’ve never gone in much for the paczki, which is a Polish doughnut, containing at least a 1,000 calories and found all over southeast Michigan today, what we call Paczki Day in these parts. Now don’t get me wrong, just because I’m not a huge fan of our local paczki, doesn’t mean I didn’t jump at the chance to try an authentic one (about half the size, filled with rosehip jam) when I was in Krakow a couple of years ago. I’m not dumb. If I could perhaps find that one around here, trust me, I too would be a devoted fan. Here’s a lovely picture of Krakow, one of my favorite cities on Earth, if I may digress for just a moment.
Instead, I prefer to celebrate Mardi Gras. Last year the girls and I went to a local semi-Cajun restaurant that had touted a Mardi Gras celebration of sorts; another year we went to the local Irish pub for their take on the festive holiday. This year, however, I decided to host it chez moi. We’ll see how it goes, but one thing is for sure, I can’t get through February without a little bit of New Orleans (another one of my favorite cities on Earth, and while we’re at it, I might add that the other three in my top five are, bien sûr, Paris, my absolute bestie, Chicago and Buenos Aires. What are yours? Let me know in the comments!)
So what you need for a proper Mardi Gras party… King Cake, fortuitously attained at local grocery, no longer need to order real thing for exorbitant, albeit justified, prices from www.kingcake.com. It even comes with a warning that should you choose to ingest the plastic baby or the beads, you might choke.
Second, Abita Beer must be procured as well and this can take some doing (and some dollars for that matter). Though the charmingly named Purple Haze can be found just about everywhere, the far tastier Amber is preferred, and sometimes hard to find. And while we’re on the subject of favorites, I’d easily declare Abita Amber my favorite beer of all time, if pressed. Which I’m not, but will nevertheless add that it is followed closely by a smooth Irish draft called Smithwicks. But again, I digress.
Along with a some beads, your closest friends, maybe some cornbread–and while we’re at it, how about a little Marc Broussard–along with an excellent prepare-ahead recipe like the following Chicken and Sausage Gumbo, you have the makings of a mighty fine February get-together. Laissez les Bons Temps Rouler!
Adapted from Bon Appétit, January 2012. Serves 4-6.
- 1 lb. boneless skinless chicken thighs
- 1 12 oz. package andouille sausage (or another smoked variety like Kielbasa), sliced 1/2 thick and quartered
- 1 onion, diced
- 1 bunch scallions, diced, divided
- 1 green pepper, finely diced
- 2 stalks celery, finely diced
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 cup frozen (or fresh) okra
- 1 quart chicken stock
- 1/2 cup flour
- 1/2 cup Canola oil (or more, you’ll see why soon)
- 1/2 tablespoon coarse salt (plus more to taste)
- 1 teaspoon ground pepper
- 1 teaspoon Herbes de Provence
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
- 1 teaspoon Worcestershire
- 1 teaspoon hot sauce
- rice, to serve over
- chopped tomatoes, for garnish
- gumbo filé, to add at the end (optional)
Warning: this a tad labor-intensive. I did it the night before for ease today, but also to let the flavors meld in the fridge overnight. If you do the same, bring it back to a low simmer, then stir in the gumbo filé and half of the okra.
First, sprinkle mixture of salt, pepper, crushed red pepper and paprika over the chicken thighs. Brown them in a 1/4 cup oil over medium flame in a dutch-oven, or heavy-bottomed pan, about 5 minutes per side. Remove to a plate and do the same with the sausage, about 4 minutes total. Remove sausage to same plate. Turn off flame and allow pan to cool a bit. At this point, you can get on with chopping the vegetables. Once the pan has cooled a bit, strain the oil into a glass measuring cup and clean out the pan (I was tempted to skip this part, but I think what you want is a really smooth roux, without any burnt bits). Add more oil to the drippings until you reach a 1/2 cup and add back to the pan over a medium flame. Whisk in the flour and continue whisking until the oil and flour turn a deep chocolate-brown, about 15-20 minutes. It seems kind of miraculous when it finally happens, be patient and don’t skimp here. Call a friend while you whisk. Anything to make sure you get the brown roux required for gumbo. Turn the heat to low and add the onions. Sauté for 10 minutes.
Add the green pepper, celery, the white and light green bits of scallions, garlic and Herbes de Provence and sauté for another 10 minutes or until soft. You can play with the flame at this point but make sure not to burn your roux. Once the veggies are soft, whisk in the chicken broth and add the bay leaf. Add the reserved chicken and sausage. Turn up the flame to bring to a boil, then turn down the flame and simmer gently for 45 minutes. Check every so often and skim fat off the top. I took out at least 3/4 cup fat in this process.
Add a 1/2 cup of thawed okra, a couple of dashes of Worcestershire and hot sauce, and simmer gently for another 45 minutes so that the chicken can become really tender and easily shreds with a fork. If you’re doing this ahead of time, salt to taste and allow to cool. Once cool, refrigerate.
If serving immediately, add the other 1/2 cup okra and a teaspoon gumbo filé (some can also be sprinkled on top upon serving) and simmer another five minutes. If not, add the okra and gumbo filé once simmering.
Serve over rice with green parts of scallions, chopped tomatoes and another sprinkle of gumbo filé. Corn bread also makes a nice accompaniment, along with a cold Abita Amber.
And since I showed you a picture of Krakow, seemingly for no reason, I might as well include a picture (or 6), to get you (and me) in the spirit, of my beloved New Orleans, a city I will once again visit in two days.
Happy Mardi Gras, Packzi Day, Fat Tuesday, Pancake Day or maybe just Tuesday. Whatever you choose to call it, I hope you enjoy it, and at some point or another, try this delicious Gumbo.