My dearest husband and I are taking a twice-weekly Spanish class at the local community college and, as part of my transition back to the American lifestyle, I bought myself a lovely crock pot to prepare dinner on class nights, since we’re in class at our usual dinnertime. But here’s the problem with crock pot recipes: so many of them call for just chopping a bunch of meat and veg and dumping them into the crock pot. Eight hours later, you’re supposed to remove the lid and find a delectable, savory stew. Balderdash! You’ll have a rubbery, under-seasoned, gray mess, that’s what you’ll have.
And we all know that you can’t get that authentic Cajun flavor unless you start your gumbo with a roux. Now, I was only a Southerner for five short years, but I’ve been to N’awlins, and I’ve eaten some truly divine Cajun and Creole cooking. And I know that a good gumbo starts with a roux – flour and oil, cooked on high heat with constant stirring until it reaches a nice, nutty brown. No roux, no Cajun, and don’t let anyone tell you different. But you don’t need a lot of roux to get that Cajun flavor – a little bit goes a long way, adding flavor and thickening the broth to a velvety consistency. And here’s the truth about crockpot recipes – you’ve gotta start them on the stovetop before dumping them into the crockpot; otherwise, they’re gonna taste bland and sad. If that’s too much work for you, order takeout.
So, here’s how I modified a few recipes I found online for chicken and sausage gumbo in the crockpot. To serve three or four people, you’ll need:
- A Dutch oven or soup pot with a nice, heavy bottom
- A crock pot or slow cooker
- A wooden spoon or other hard, heat-resistant stirring implement. You’re going to be working with a roux, AKA Cajun napalm, so you don’t want to use a stirrer that could melt.
- 2 Tbs. of neutral oil, such as canola or peanut
- 2 Tbs. of plain wheat flour
- A medium-to-large onion, chopped
- 2 stalks of celery, chopped
- A green bell pepper, seeded and chunked up
- 2-3 cups of frozen, sliced okra. Don’t bother thawing first; it’ll have plenty of time to cook in the crock pot.
- A 12-oz. can of V-8 juice. I used the reduced-sodium kind, since the spice mix, sausage and broth contain salt. Suit yourself.
- Enough chicken broth to cover the other ingredients – about 2 cups. Again, I used the reduced-sodium kind.
- About 2 Tbs. of your favorite Cajun seasoning blend. If your spice blend does not contain salt, you might want to add some to taste. Be sure to taste the spice mix before dumping it into your recipe; some are quite spicy, some not so much.
- A pound of skinless, boneless chicken thighs. Thighs just taste better after stewing for hours in the crockpot, whereas breasts tend to dry out, even in liquid. Go ahead and spring for the organic stuff – it’s not that much more expensive.
- 2 andouille sausage links, sliced about ½ inch thick. You want about as much mass in sausage slices as you have in chicken thigh meat. I found some good ones made from chicken.
- 2 bay leaves
- ½ tsp. of mustard powder
- 1 tsp. of powdered dried thyme. This is part of that characteristic Cajun flavor.
- Maybe some fresh garlic, sliced thin, if your spice mix doesn’t taste garlicky enough for your liking.
OK – here’s what you do.
- In your Dutch oven/soup pot, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the flour and stir constantly with your wooden spoon until your roux turns a nice, nutty brown. Watch it carefully – once it starts to color, it’ll brown up fast, so stir vigorously and keep your eyes on your pot. You want it to be at least the color of peanut butter, but a bit darker is even better. It’s the roux that gives your finished gumbo that characteristic Cajun taste. But beware! This stuff can burn, and burnt roux will ruin the flavor of your gumbo. When it doubt, throw it out and start over.
- When the roux has reached the desired color, dump in the chopped onion, celery and green bell pepper, and reduce the heat to medium. Stir well so that the roux is distributed and coats the veggies. It might not look like there’s enough oil in there to sweat the veggies, but trust me – there is. Cook the veggies for at least 5 minutes over medium heat, stirring frequently, and leaving the lid on between stirs. Add some of the Cajun/Creole seasoning as you stir, as well as the powdered mustard, the dried thyme and the bay leaves. You want the veg to soften a bit and the onions to look a bit translucent. Doesn’t that smell marvelous?
- Pour in the V-8 and stir it all around a bit, so that any marvelous goodness stuck to the bottom of the pan dissolves into the V8. Dump this mess into your crock pot. Toss in the frozen okra too
- Wipe out the pot and add a bit more oil – just a whisper – to keep the chicken from sticking. But if it sticks, no worries, as you’re going to deglaze with chicken broth. Season the chicken meat, which you have cut into bite-sized chunks, with the remaining Cajun seasoning. When the pot is hot, add the raw chicken and cook until golden on all sides – more or less. If you miss a few spots, that’s no big deal, as you’re going to stew it in the crock pot for a while. You don’t need to cook the chicken through, just stir it around until the exterior is nicely colored. Toward the end of this process, throw in the sliced sausage and brown it up a bit.
- When the meat is done, dump it into the crock pot; then deglaze the soup pot with the broth. Stir that around until you’ve incorporated all the yummy, meaty goodness clinging to the bottom of the pan. Dump this into the crock pot. Add the garlic, if you’re using any, and stir everything well.
- If the solids aren’t covered, add enough chicken broth (or V-8) to just cover them. Put the lid on the crock pot and crank that sucker up to “high.” Leave it on high for a good hour. Then you can turn it down to “low” and let it go another 4 hours or so. A bit longer is OK. No peekie! If you open the lid, you release the heat, and it takes quite a while to build up again, which means a longer wait for your gumbo.
And there you go! It’s traditional to serve this stew/soup over a scoop of white rice, but you can use brown rice, quinoa, or no starch at all, if you’re feeling Paleo. A good squirt of Tabasco sauce would not be amiss. Laissez les bon temps rouler, cher!