From Will Kelly of Big Haint Blue
Through these short days of a new year, we come in from the field. Our chapped hands wrap around whisky on the cold, darkest days of the year. The warmth of our hearth beckons us- as so does the comfort of winter food. Freezers are full of our quarry and the larder holds the last of the summer's vegetables. Nothing soothes cold, aching bones like a good, slowly cooked stew. There’s one ubiquitous to every culture. From the Brunswick stews of the Lowcountry to the Creole dishes of the Deep South, the rich flavor of available ingredients meld into perfect hearty comfort. Writing a gumbo recipe as a humble Carolinian hundreds of miles from the bayous and deltas both culturally and physically, may be a bit out of malpractice. I’m going to offer the notion cooking game can often be more about technique than a list of ingredients. My taste makes the pheasant thighs and okra in the freezer beg for a velvety pot of gumbo. While there is something macho about the grill, lean game is so easy to ruin and demands standing in the cold. As I write this on our first snowy day, I offer a recipe from the kitchen. The technique of single pot cooking compliments the game. Following the great Southern foodway- we can take a little classic French cooking and the soulful technique and loving hands of Southern African Americans and take about any combination of meat and vegetable into a heirloom recipe. From squirrel to hare in the Brunswicks, boar to venison in the chilis, and our fowl quarry from duck to quail to pheasant in a hearty gumbo, it’s not really about the specific ingredients nearly as much as how they are lovingly rendered in the pot. I imagine that they argue over gumbo in Louisiana like we do BBQ here in Carolina. Roux versus okra versus gumbo file, served over rice or over potatoes, pork or seafood or chicken, tomato base or none. . .
Here is a simple gumbo recipe and technique that we cook in an enameled dutch oven with game, fish, and the last of the frozen garden vegetables.
- Trim a two pound slab of pork belly into inch cubes (You can substitute thick bacon, pork sidemeat, or jowls.)
- Two pounds of fowl (quail, pheasant, duck thighs, chicken thighs)
- One cup each of diced trinity vegetables (onion, celery, bell pepper)
- Hot peppers to taste, today using a scotch bonnet (judge how much heat the sausage will impart)
- 4 cups of chicken stock
- Seasoning (bay leaves, garlic, salt and pepper, Herbs Provence)
- One cup each of corn and lima beans
- Four cups of okra
- One yoke of andouille sausage, mine is from hog taken in the deer season.
(Adding of shrimp, crab, oysters is optional - but always recommended)
In a large deep dutch oven (think Le Creuset), brown pork fat over medium high. Add the fowl or poultry once a grease develops in the pot. Keep moving meats with a wooden spoon so that the browning pan integrates into the dish rather than burning. Slowly add the trinity aromatics and the hot peppers to sauté them in the meat’s grease. Keep pot attended and moving. When the onions have turned opague and caramelized, add splashes of chicken stock and use the spoon to deglaze all of the brown off of the pot walls. Bring the remaining stock up to a boil and add beans, corn, seasoning, and okra. Bring back to a boil, then back down to a gentle simmer. Stir as the okra starches break down and thicken the stew. Cover and stir occasionally until flavor is well integrated and the meat has broken down and in stringy (about an hour).
For extra flavor I like to add a little seafood on the finish today that is a couple of shrimp and a few oysters. Serve over rice and have your favorite hot sauce at the ready. Don’t forget some cornbread to sop up the last of the plate.