It was like carrying coals to Newcastle. I packed my bags, including a gallon-size Ziploc bag of my chili powder blend at the special request of my friend Sue Stoner as I flew off to visit in Texas. (Yep, TSA found it but did not confiscate it.) She and her husband, George, live about an hour outside of Dallas, and they have issued gracious invitations for years. I was finally able to go for a reunion which included our friends Joyce and Harold LaCour, who drove up from Gonzales, La., not far from Baton Rouge.
In 1965 we all had lived together at Dover AFB, Delaware for three years while Richard, Harold and George were in the Air Force. We were all very close, and have maintained our friendship almost 50 years.
We always enjoyed cooking together, and sharing special meals. Now Sue has a wondrous kitchen, and she could hardly wait for Joyce and me to make ourselves “home on the range” with our specialties. Sue is a self-proclaimed non-cook, but has an enviable flair for interior decorating what I would describe as her palace, and has an enviable kitchen. She never once repeated a tablescape, all which followed a theme, such as the chili pepper motif for my “fiesta.”
Joyce treated us to Southern cooking, and we pitched in as sous chef, but Sue insisted on tidying up that Sunset-worthy kitchen. The fellows were in awe as we cooked, ate and engaged in hours of conversation and memories.
Richard was with us in spirit.
Joyce’s Chicken and Sausage Gumbo
Tony Chachere’s Creole Seasoning
2 pounds Andouille sausage
1 whole chicken
1 lg. whole white onion, peeled
3 yellow onions, peeled and chopped
1 lg. green bell pepper, seeded and chopped
3-4 cloves fresh garlic, peeled and chopped
1 or more cups chopped celery
1/2 cup parsley, de-stemmed, chopped fine
1 cup green onions, cleaned and sliced (reserve 1/2 cup, chopped large)
1/2 cup peanut oil
1/2 cup all purpose flour
15 oz. can chicken broth, more if needed
2 16-oz. pkg. frozen okra, slightly thawed
Joyce’s surprise secret ingredient — see below
Louisiana hot sauce, not Tabasco
Joyce had already done much of the prep for the gallon of gumbo: she had stewed the whole chicken until tender, with the skin on and stuffed with an onion in a quart of water seasoned with Tony’s (in her pressure cooker it took only 17 minutes).
After cooling and shredding in large chunks, she skimmed off the fat and reserved the stock for the soup pot. She processed the yellow onions, bell pepper, garlic and celery until chopped fine and set that aside. Joyce sliced the spicy smoked Andouille in 1/4” diagonals, then sautéed it in single-layer batches until browned and drained them on paper towels.
She explained as she cooked: As in all good Southern recipes, “First you make a roux …” by mixing 1/2 cup flour in 1/2 cup peanut oil to cook over medium heat just until golden, stirring constantly so it doesn’t burn. Stir in the finely processed vegetables and sauté until wilted then add in the shredded parsley and green onions also until wilted.
Add the Secret Ingredient, 15 ounces of soy sauce, which she says, “adds subtle dimension,” and was included in the classic recipe by her friend Jack Hebert 20 years ago when he “discovered it as an ingredient on a trip to the Philippines, and it has since made his gumbo popular and even famous!”
Add in the reserved broth and an additional can of chicken broth. Bring to a boil; add in the slightly thawed okra, sliced (or whole if you prefer.) Season with cayenne pepper and Tony’s to taste. (Tony Chachere’s is a blend of salt, red pepper, black pepper, chili powder, garlic and other spices.)
The okra will thicken the gumbo as it simmers and cooks down, so you may want to add more broth. Season with more Tony’s and cayenne pepper. When ready to serve, stir in the chunks of chicken and sausage and keep up the heat, adding in the reserved chopped green onions so they will retain their integrity and flavor.
Season individual portions with Louisiana hot sauce and gumbo filé (ground sassafras root), but Joyce cautions, “Do not cook with it, as it is also a thickener, and that will ruin it!” Serve with chunks of white bread or rolls for dunking; reserve cooled leftovers in zipper bags as our delighted host George did, as planned-overs for another day, or in the freezer. The flavors will continue to mellow.