FRUSTRATED BY A LACK OF QUALITY GUMBO IN THE CITY, THIS LOUISIANA NATIVE PLANTED A NEW CULINARY SEED
BY BEN LE BLANC PHOTOS BY ASHLEY SPEARS
Growing up in south Louisiana, gumbo was a way of life. Seemingly every family had its own recipe, and there are dozens of variations from Creole to Cajun, from chicken and sausage based to seafood varieties, using okra to thicken or filé powder for unique favor one thing was a constant: cooking a big pot always meant that good times were about to be had. Gumbo signals parties, holidays, Mardi Gras, tailgating, birthdays, or just simply a great meal.
I realized shortly after moving to New York City sixteen years ago, however, just how much I took it for granted. In the city where you can get a fantastic version of almost every type of cuisine from around the world, why was it so hard to find a great bowl, I wondered? Trying to answer that question is one of the reasons for starting my company, Good Stock. Our mission was simply to make delicious soup, and perfecting gumbo was the first step. But, as risky (some may say stupid) as starting a restaurant is, starting a soup only establishment is even more so, yet I knew that when I perfected my gumbo recipe, it would be New York City’s best, and we would have our start.
I faced one additional problem; I had no formal training or experience in restaurants. I loved cooking at home, and knew my way around a kitchen, but this task was biting off more than I could chew, so I turned to some legends of Louisiana cooking Paul Prudhomme, John Folse, Emeril Lagasse, Donald Link, and others and starting making different types of gumbos. I took what I liked from certain recipes and discarded what I didn’t from others. What I lacked in training, I made up for in obsession. Over dozens and dozens of batches, I combined tips and techniques from these chefs and other sources to settle on my favorite version and while I’m certainly biased, I think it’s our burg’s top bowl.
Preheat oven to 375°F. Remove breast meat from the bone and cut into 1 ½ inch thick nuggets. Place 1/4 cup of flour in a bowl and season with large pinch of salt and pepper. Heat 3/4 cup of vegetable oil in an oven-safe Dutch oven over medium high heat until it reaches 375°. Dredge chicken pieces in seasoned flour and fry until browned (about 2 to 3 minutes per side). Set fried chicken aside. (Note that the chicken will cook again in the stock, so it does not need to be fully cooked right now.) Fry the chicken in batches, making sure to keep temperature near 375°. Dredge chicken nuggets in flour and fry until golden (about 1 to 2 minutes total). Remove nuggets from oil.
Slowly pour the remaining 1 cup of flour into the oil, stirring constantly with a whisk. Make sure there are no clumps of flour in your roux; it is important to constantly stir it while it is over an open flame, otherwise the flour will stick and burn, leaving your gumbo with a bitter, burnt flavor. Continue stirring until the roux reaches 375° or the color of dark caramel. Place Dutch oven into the oven, uncovered, and set time for 15 minutes. When the timer goes for, carefully stir the roux and return to the oven. Repeat this process two to three more times until your roux is the color of dark chocolate.
Place Dutch oven back on stove over medium high heat. Add onions to the roux and cook until caramelized (about 10 minutes; it can still burn at this step, so be sure to stir constantly). Add celery, bell pepper, poblano pepper, garlic, and spices and sauté for 5 minutes. Slowly add chicken stock to the roux vegetable mixture, one pint at a time, stirring vigorously, making sure that the roux is incorporated thoroughly. When the mixture is at a near boil, add the next pint of stock. Repeat this process until all stock has been added. Bring to boil, reduce heat, and simmer for 25 minutes.
Set oven to 425°. While the soup is simmering, toss sliced okra with 2 tablespoons vegetable oil and roast on a foil lined baking sheet until well browned, about 10-15 minutes. (This removes the slimy nature of okra.) Set okra aside until later.
Add fried chicken pieces and nuggets to pot and simmer gently for 45 minutes. Add Andouille to pot and simmer gently for another 45 minutes. At this point, some oil may collect on the surface of your gumbo; feel free to skim it off the top. Add okra to pot and simmer for 15 minutes. Add fish sauce and remove from the heat. Stir and taste for seasoning. Add salt and pepper if needed.
Serve over hot brown rice with sliced scallions and a vinegary Louisiana hot sauce.
Pop up store on Mondays and Thursdays at West Elm Market
2 Main Street / goodstocksoups.com