Driving rain, floods, hail, storms and high winds. It's all a bit bleak here at the moment; everything is cold and grey and wet and miserable. I'll admit that in the Costa del Kent we aren't doing too badly compared with the rest of the UK (have a look at the South West) but even so it's still fairly depressing outside. Sunshine appears to be a distant memory and I can't even remember what it is like to venture outside without a coat and an umbrella. This is the exact sort of weather that demands full on comfort food, brightly coloured, warming, rich and satisfying. Something that wraps you in the food equivalent of a cashmere jumper and blanket, curled on a sofa in front of a roaring fire.
I have just the thing. Gumbo.
Gumbo is a traditional Louisiana dish, consisting of a strongly flavoured stock thickened with a French roux made from flour and fat, the Creole Trinity of celery, onion and pepper (add garlic to make it a Holy Trinity), and shellfish and meat. It is the official dish of Louisiana and is a warming, hearty, filling supper for a cold winter's night. It is very similar to the French bouillabaisse except that gumbo should always have okra in it (we'll just ignore the fact that the supermarket was completely out when I went there, grrr).
While I was at the fish counter the man serving me asked if I was making paella. I explained that I was making gumbo and he went slightly cross eyed and started to drool a bit, simply saying 'ooooh, I love gumbo'. For people who like shellfish, this is a real crowd pleaser. This recipe will easily serve 6, or 2 with a week's worth of leftovers!
It may not have been what he was expecting, but, even if I do say so myself, my gumbo is really rather tasty. I know it looks like a lot of ingredients but they are worth it. Don't feel restricted to the seafood I have listed below either - gumbo is real country food and should be amended and adapted to different palettes; that's the beauty of dishes like this.
Just try it for yourself.
80ml peanut oil
130g plain flour
4 boned chicken thighs, butterflied (will serve 6 people)
6 smokey sausages (I used 3 smokey chilli chipotle sausages and 3 smokey chorizo chipotle sausages from Morrison's but andouille or any smokey sausage will do), chopped into large thirds.
450ml chicken stock
450ml beef stock
1 small octopus per 2 people
6 small langoustines per 2 people
4 small whole squid per 2 people
50g king prawns per 2 people
2 tins chopped tomatoes
1/2 tube tomato paste
Handful fresh parsley
Handful fresh thyme
4 tablespoons Cajun seasoning
3 tablespoons smoked paprika
1 tablespoon dried chilli flakes
1 tablespoon dried sage
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon celery salt
1 clove chopped garlic
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
2 celery sticks, peeled and chopped
1 onion, peeled and sliced
1 green pepper, chopped
Salt and pepper
Tabasco to taste
Parsley to garnish
In the same pan add the sausages and brown all over to release their oils. Remove and set to one side.
Add the flour to the chicken and sausage scented oil in the pan and whisk briskly to make a thick roux. Add more oil if it is not smooth. Keep whisking the roux until it turns brown and has the consistency of pancake batter. Slowly pour the chicken and beef stocks into the roux and continue whisking to form a soup-like stock. Transfer to a large soup pan and keep warm on a low simmer.
In a large pan heat a little oil and cook the vegetables and garlic until the onion is soft and translucent.
Add the softened vegetables, tinned tomatoes, tomato puree, chicken, sausages, herbs and spices to the flour and stock mix and stir together to form a thick stew. Taste and adjust the seasonings and spices according to preference.
Allow to simmer on the hob for 30-40 minutes.
Prepare your fish by cleaning the octopus and squid and peeling the prawns. If you are not sure how to do this ask your fishmonger to do it for you. Keep the langoustine whole. Add the fish to the stew about 5 minutes before you are ready to serve; it will cook very quickly.
Serve with parsley sprinkled over the top, fresh bread and tabasco or other hot sauce on the side for people who want a bit more heat. If you want to be more traditional, serve your gumbo over rice.
Close the curtains, lock the doors and listen to the wind howl outside as you tuck into a taste of sun-soaked Louisiana.