Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Chicken Gumbo

My husband said this blog should be called The Cooking of Lost America with lost ingredients. Chicken Gumbo, as you may know, contains okra. I had okra. However, okra seems to be a vegetable with a short shelf life. When I went into the vegetable drawer to extract the okra, I withdrew a glutinous mess even though I had just bought it Saturday. So, the gumbo was not exactly gummy. In fact, in one of the rare asides in this book, Hewlitt assures the reader that okra is the essential ingredient in gumbo, so I suppose I could call this "Chicken Not Gumbo"
Some of the things featured in this cookbook just can't be found anymore, like a 5 pound stewing chicken, cut into pieces. I suppose that in the country, like on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, where chickens are plentiful, one might be able to buy a stewing hen. But here in Washington, DC, the closest you can come to a stewing hen is an oven stuffer roaster. Which worked perfectly well.
Another thing that I do not have in my kitchen is bacon drippings. My mother served bacon for breakfast every morning, and poured the drippings into a coffee can. When the coffee can was full, it was put in the freezer. Came the winter, the coffee cans of bacon drippings would be extracted from the freezer and put on top of the bird feeder. One year, some kind of bird, possibly a starling, slung fat all over the aluminum siding on the front of the house. However, we only have bacon a couple of times a month, so we don't keep bacon drippings.
The recipe also called for 4 ears of corn, which is not available in June, at least not in a form where I am willing to buy it.
Both my husband and I grew up with very high standards for corn on the cob. In the southern Berkshires in the 50s and 60s, corn was grown by a man named Howden. The little markets and the farm stand advertised Howden corn. He picked it in the morning, we bought it and ate it that night. In the summertime we would have at least three vegetables, corn on the cob, broiled tomatoes and maybe something like green beans or fried zucchini. We never bought corn from the supermarket.
My husband's father grew up in southern Ohio. A notoriously fussy man, he believed that corn should be picked no more than two hours before cooking. This is tough, unless you are surrounded by corn fields.
So, I substituted frozen corn, and it worked fine.
This recipe contains half a cup of raw rice, which seems very little for the amount of liquid and chicken. My husband wanted to make sure the rice was done, because he doesn't like crunchy rice. I had to hunt around for grains of rice to make sure it was done.
It says Tabasco or red pepper flakes. First, I couldn't locate the red pepper flakes so I started shaking in dollops of Tabasco. Then I found the red pepper flakes, and upended the bottle into the gumbo. Whoops. Anyhow, it was hot. Not unbearably so, but hot and spicey nonetheless.

Chicken Gumbo

1 five pound stewing chicken, cut into pices
1/4 cup lard or bacon drippings
4 cups boiling chicken broth or water
salt to taste
4 ears corn
3 ripe tomatoes or two cups canned tomatoes
1/2 pound okra, trimmed and sliced lengthwise or crosswise
5 cups water
3/4 cup finely chopped onion
3/4 cup finely chopped celery
1/2 cup finely chopped green pepper
1/4 cup butter or chicken fat
1/2 teaspoon or more red pepper flakes or Tabasco sauce to taste
1/2 cup uncooked rice
1 teaspoon or more Worcestershire sauce (optional)
1 to two teaspoons file powder. (optional)

1. Brown the chicken pieces in the lard or bacon drippings and transfer the pices to a casserole. Add the broth or water and salt and simmer, partly covered until the meat is easily removed from the bones, one and one half hours or longer. Drain and reserve the cooking liquid. Remove the meat from the bones and shred it. Add the meat to the cooking liquid and set aside.
2. Scrape the corn from the cobs into another saucepan. Add the tomatoes, okra and water and bring to a boil.
3 Meanwhile, cook the onion, celery and green pepper in the butter or chicken fat until vegetables are wilted. Add them to the tomato mixture. Add the pepper flakes or Tabasco and rice and return to a boil. Taste for easoning and add more salt and red pepper if desired. Add the Worcestershire if desired. Moisten the file powder with water if desired and add. Do not boil gumbo. Serve immediately.
Six or more servings.

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