Here at Crowded Earth Kitchen, the first days of September are the lull before the storm. Also known as the “honeymoon phase” of the school year, early September ticks by on a predetermined schedule with the precision of a Swiss watch.
But I know what’s coming.
First, a lunchbox will be forgotten on the bus, never to be seen again. A math assignment will disappear. After this week’s round of laundry, paint from an art project will fail to come off of a favorite sweatshirt, and every third sock will be consumed by the Sock Eating Monster Who Lives in the Dryer.
All organization will fly out of the window, and by mid-September the school year will settle into its usual, chaotic self.
Dinner? I’m supposed to cook DINNER amidst this madness? [Insert maniacal laugh here!]
Today’s recipe for Easy Freezer Gumbo will set us up with four future dinners, which can be easily thawed and served even when you are on your last frayed nerve. (“You need posterboard and 85 cupcakes for school tomorrow? Sure, let me find my magic wand.”) Let’s get started!
Ingredients (Makes 4 quarts of concentrated Gumbo – add more broth when serving for 6 quarts total!)
1 pound uncooked sausage (Andouille sausage is traditional; use whatever you like)
1/4 cup flour
2 quarts chicken stock
1 pound cooked chicken, cubed or shredded
4 cups okra, cut into bite size pieces
4 cups assorted vegetables (corn, onions, and zucchini work well), cut into bite size pieces
4 teaspoons of gumbo file (sassafras) powder, such as:
Tony Chachere’s Creole Gumbo File’ – 1.25 oz
Step 1) Fry sausage in a large, heavy pan until it is cooked through – don’t wash the pan afterward! Remove sausage from pan and cut into small pieces. Divide the pieces between 4, quart size freezer containers (we recycle quart size yogurt containers for freezing soup).
Step 2) Add flour to the pan and stir vigorously into the sausage drippings over medium heat. You are making “roux” or thickener for your gumbo in this step. Continue to stir over medium heat until the flour is cooked to a rich golden brown color. If there is not enough fat from the sausage to blend with the flour, add a tablespoon of butter to the pan.
Step 3) Slowly whisk chicken stock into the pan with the roux, adding stock a little at a time to avoid lumps. Simmer stock mixture, stirring occasionally. Allow mixture to simmer until it reduces in volume a little bit (you should have about 6 cups of thickened stock when you are finished).
Step 4) Divide the cooked chicken into fourths and place in each freezer container on top of the sausage. Likewise, divide okra and any other raw vegetables you are using between the four freezer containers. The containers should appear full.
Step 5) Sprinkle one teaspoon of gumbo file (fee-lay) powder into each freezer container. Gumbo file powder is made from dried sassafras leaves, and is considered by many to be an “essential” ingredient in creole dishes such as gumbo. In addition to flavoring your gumbo, file powder acts as a thickening agent.
Step 6) Bring thickened chicken stock to a full boil, then remove from heat. Carefully ladle the hot chicken stock into each freezer container, allowing the stock to seep between the meats and veggies, filling the containers to within 1/2 inch of the top. The hot liquid blanches the vegetables right in their storage container, saving you a step!
Step 7) Cover and label your four containers of gumbo, and cool in the refrigerator. Within 12 hours, transfer your containers to the freezer.
To serve: Remove one container from the freezer the night before or the morning of the day you plan to serve gumbo for dinner. Allow to thaw in the refrigerator. Before dinner, transfer contents of the container to a large pot. Add additional chicken stock, broth, or water to bring to a soup-like consistency. Gumbo is versatile – feel free to throw bits and specks of leftover veggies into the pot before serving! If you want to be fancy, throw in a few cooked shrimp as well!