Like everyone, I cycle through recipes. I try a lot of new ones for my job at The New York Times, and I shuffle through a pile I keep as inspiration for other writing projects. Some I try only once. Others, I come back to again and again, until I get it right or get bored or both. Then there are the recipes that I always use. They are family recipes or dishes that were so good -- or so easy and so good -- that they became part of the rotation at my house. Here are some of those constants, including recipes from Spoon Fed.
This recipe is my slightly tweaked version of Sara Roahan’s recipe, which is a tweaked version of Mrs. Leah Chase’s recipe. I have tasted both Mrs. Chase’s and Sara’s gumbos. They are both delicious, but different. Yours will be, too. This is cooking, not an assembly line. Just have a little faith in your own skill and in the experience of cooks who went before you.
Sara says that every cookbook it’s in says that the gumbo has to have an odd number of greens, say five or seven or nine (for luck) but that you shouldn’t get too worried about that. Mrs. Chase told her the connection between the kinds of greens and luck just isn’t really that big a deal. Select at least seven of the greens listed, although you can use what you have as long as you have what will seem like way too much to start.
1 large or two small ham shanks or hocks
At least seven varieties of the following greens:
1 bunch greens, either mustard, collard or turnip or a combination of all three
1 bag fresh spinach or a box of frozen
1 small head cabbage
1 bunch carrot tops
1 bunch beet tops
1 bunch Arugula
1 bunch parsley
1 bunch green onions
1 bunch watercress
1 head romaine or other lettuce
1 head curly endive
1 bunch kale
1 bunch radish tops
3 medium yellow onions, roughly chopped
1/2 head garlic, peeled, cloves kept whole
2 lbs. fresh hot sausage (a local sausage called chaurice is best, but Italian without fennel works well)
1 lb. andouille sausage
1 lb. smoked pork sausage
½ lb. ham
1 lb. beef stew meat
1 cup flour
Vegetable oil as needed
3 teaspoons dried thyme
2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
3 bay leaves
Salt to taste
2 cups cooked white rice
½ teaspoon filé powder (optional)
1. Place ham shanks or hocks in a large, heavy stock pot. Fill the pot with water and bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer while you prepare the other ingredients.
2. Wash all greens thoroughly in salt water, making sure to remove any grit, discolored outer leaves, and tough stems. Rinse in a bath of unsalted water (a clean double sink works well for this).
3. Place half the greens, half the onions, and half the garlic in a heavy-bottomed stockpot or 3–4 gallon saucepan. Cover greens and vegetables with water and bring to a boil over high heat; reduce heat to a simmer and cook for 20–30 minutes, until greens are very tender. When they finish cooking, transfer them to a large bowl, using a slotted spoon, to cool. Repeat the process with the remaining greens, onions and garlic, doing it in two or three batches if necessary.
4. When all the greens have finished cooking, reserve the cooking liquid.
5. Place the fresh hot sausage in a skillet or medium-size saucepan and set over medium heat. Cook until rendered of fat and moisture. Remove the hot sausage with a slotted spoon and set aside. Reserve the fat.
6. While the fresh hot sausage is cooking, cut the smoked sausage and andouille into 1/2-inch rounds and set aside. Cut the ham and the beef stew meat into 1/2-inch pieces and set aside.
7. In a meat grinder or a food processor, grind the greens, onion and garlic into a puree, adding cooking liquid to prevent the greens from getting too thick. Do this in batches.
8. Remove the ham shanks from their cooking liquid, reserving the liquid for stock. Once the shanks cool, pick and chop the meat and set it aside; discard the bones and the fat.
9. Pour the greens cooking liquid and ham stock into separate bowls. Using your largest pot, or the two stockpots in which you simmered the greens and the ham, mix everything together. (Divide the pureed greens, the sausages, the beef and the chopped ham equally between the two pots, if using two pots.)
10. Fill the pot or pots with equal parts ham stock and greens cooking liquid and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat.
11. Heat the skillet containing the hot sausage drippings over medium-high heat. With a wooden spoon, slowly but intently stir in the flour until well combined. If the mixture is very dry, add vegetable oil until it loosens some, making a tight paste that’s still able to be stirred.
12. Continue to cook until the flour mixture begins to darken, stirring constantly. As Sara notes, you aren’t going for a dark roux, but you do want the flour to cook. Courage is the key here. Don’t be afraid to let it get dark.
13. When darkened and cooked, divide the roux between the two stockpots or put it into the single pot, dropping it in by spoonfuls and whisking to make sure that each is well incorporated.
14. Add thyme, cayenne, bay leaves and salt to taste.
15. Simmer for about an hour, or until the stew meat is tender, stirring quite often. Add more stock or water if it appears too thick.
Serve over white rice.
Note: Filé in its pure form is a bright green powder made from pounded sassafras leaves. The Creoles and Cajuns picked it up from the Choctaw Indians, and used it as a spice and a thickener in the winter when okra wasn’t available. If you like it, add it slowly at the end of cooking or even stir it into your own bowl at the table. Sara reports that Mrs. Chase told her “it’ll lump up on you” if you’re not careful. Mrs. Chase’s father used to grind sassafras leaves for her, and she told Sara that Creoles always add filé to their gumbo z’herbes, even if few cookbook recipes call for it.
Serves: a dozen or so people.