Spice up your Super Bowl Menu with a Taste of New Orleans Cuisine
Super Bowl XLVII takes place on February 3, just a few weeks away. I’m following post-season play on the sidelines – my favorite not-to-be-named California team missed the playoffs, again. While ardent NFL fans debate who will play for the coveted Vince Lombardi trophy, I’m busy planning the menu for our Super Bowl bash.
This year’s venue, New Orleans, tempts cooks to add spicy Cajun and Creole-inspired dishes to their Super Bowl spreads. I’m willing to yield to this temptation for two reasons: my husband and I love hot and spicy food and I have nothing but fond memories of my many visits to The Big Easy. My cooking repertoire includes few dishes from the city’s incredibly flavorful, complex and culturally-diverse cuisine. For Super Bowl Sunday, I’m leaning towards something classic like a pot of gumbo, the hearty soup that’s the official cuisine of the State of Louisiana.
Gumbo most likely got its name from the West African (Bantu) words for okra (e.g., guingombo, tchingombo or kingombo). Early recipes probably included okra as a main ingredient. Modern gumbo is a thick Creole or Cajun soup served over rice and thickened with either roux, okra or filé powder (dried and ground sassafras leaves). Popular versions include seafood gumbo with crawfish, shrimp and oysters and chicken and sausage gumbo featuring Andouille sausage. A gumbo’s ingredients and flavors blend the cooking traditions of many cultures including French, Spanish, African, Native American, West Indian, Italian and German.
Two other traditional New Orleans dishes are étouffée (ay-TOO-fay) and jambalaya (juhm-buh-LIE-yah). While gumbo is a soup, étouffée is a main dish made with similar ingredients and served over rice. Étouffée get its name is from the French verb, étouffer, meaning to smother or suffocate. To make an étouffée, cooks use a technique called smothering. Ingredients are first browned or seared and the pan deglazed with a little liquid. The mixture is placed in a covered pan where it cooks slowly over low heat.
Jambalaya originated in the Caribbean where the French and Spanish strongly influenced the local cuisine. Jambalaya is similar to Spanish paella, combining rice with ingredients like shellfish, chicken, sausage, broth and vegetables. Unlike gumbo and étouffée which you serve over rice, with jambalaya, you cook the rice with the other ingredients.
Filé (fih-LAY) powder is the ground up leaves of the sassafras tree (Sassafras albidum). It’s used to thicken and season gumbo and other dishes. Pure filé powder is army green in color and has a fruity fragrance and deep, earthy flavor. The name “filé” comes from the French verb filer, meaning, “to spin thread,” a warning to cooks not to boil filé powder. When boiled, filé powder becomes stringy and unpalatable. Instead of adding it to the pot, pass filé powder around the table and let diners add it to taste. Store-bought filé powder may include other herbs like thyme and oregano. Check the label before buying to ensure filé is the primary ingredient.
Andouille (ahn-DWEE) is a spicy Cajun smoked sausage made from pork that the Acadians, French-Canadian immigrants, brought to Louisiana. Andouille adds a rich smoky flavor to dishes like gumbo and jambalaya. In 1972, the governor of Louisiana proclaimed LaPlace, LA, the “Andouille Capital of the World.”
Resources: Learn more about gumbo and the cuisine of New Orleans and Louisiana:
- How to make a gumbo roux: watch the first 4 minutes of this video
- History of Gumbo
- Gumbo Essentials
- History of Okra
- Cajun and Creole Cuisine: article by Chef John Folse
- Cajun Cuisine: article from Saveur Magazine
- Louisiana Cuisine: articles by journalist, Malcolm Hébert, and cultural anthropologist, Maida Owens
My gumbo recipe uses roux for thickening and filé powder as a condiment. I omit okra – it’s unpopular with my husband and friends.
The secret to great gumbo flavor is making a dark roux. The cooking technique is simple but requires time and patience. You must whisk the oil and flour continuously over low heat until the roux turns the color of dark chocolate, a process that may take anywhere from 20 to 45 minutes. If you’re a visual learner like me, you’ll find several online tutorials on how to make a gumbo roux. Many show the roux as it changes color from pasty white to rich dark chocolate.
Two more things about this recipe: First, I’m a fan of caramelized onions and use Chef John Besh’s technique of caramelizing the onions with the roux before adding other ingredients. And, second, don’t be tempted to add salt early in the cooking process. The Creole seasoning and sausage add a significant amount of salt to the broth. Be patient and wait until the end to adjust seasonings.
Chicken and Sausage Gumbo Recipe from CHEFS Mix
Makes 6 to 8 servings
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
6 skinless chicken thighs, bone-in
1 to 2 tablespoons Creole seasoning
½ cup vegetable oil
½ cup flour
1 large onion, chopped
½ cup green bell pepper, seeded and diced
½ cup red bell pepper, seeded and diced
2 stalks celery, diced
1 tomato, seeded and chopped
2 large garlic cloves, minced
½ pound Andouille sausage, chopped
2 quarts chicken stock, low or no sodium
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, or to taste
4 sprigs fresh thyme
2 whole bay leaves
1 pound Andouille or other hot and spicy smoked sausage, cut into ½” slices
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
Hot pepper sauce, to taste
Salt and pepper, to taste
White rice, long grain, cooked and ready to serve
Green onions, thinly sliced, for garnish
Filé powder (optional)
1. On medium-high heat, heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a large Dutch oven. Rub chicken thighs with Creole seasoning. Add chicken to the pot and cook over medium-high heat until browned on all sides, about 10 to 12 minutes. Remove chicken from pot and set aside. Leave drippings and fat in the pot.
2. Make the roux. Over medium-high to high heat, heat ½ cup vegetable oil in the Dutch oven. Whisk ½ cup of flour into hot oil. Flour should sizzle when you add it. Reduce heat to medium-low. Whisk continuously until roux is milk chocolate in color. Be careful not to burn. If you burn any part of the roux, discard all of it and start over.
3. Add onions to pot and stir into roux with a wooden spoon. Cook, stirring constantly, until onions caramelize and roux turns a dark chocolate color.
4. Add bell peppers, celery, tomato, garlic and chopped Andouille sausage. Stir into roux-onion mixture. Cook 7 to 10 minutes or until vegetables release their moisture and begin to soften.
5. Add chicken stock, black pepper, crushed red pepper, thyme sprigs and bay leaves. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, for 15 minutes. Stir occasionally. Skim off excess fat.
6. Add chicken thighs to the pot. Simmer gumbo, uncovered, for 1 to 1½ hours. Stir occasionally. If gumbo gets too thick, dilute with chicken stock or water. Continue to skim off as much excess fat as possible.
7. Remove chicken thighs and strip meat from the bones. Cut meat into bite-sized pieces or shred before adding back to the pot. Discard the bones.
8. Add sausage slices, Worcestershire sauce and hot pepper sauce. Simmer for another 15 to 20 minutes.
9. Taste gumbo and adjust salt and other seasonings. Just before serving, remove thyme sprigs and bay leaf.
10. To serve, ladle gumbo over hot rice in bowls. Sprinkle with green onions. Let each person add filé powder and hot pepper sauce to taste. Makes 6 to 8 servings