With hectic schedules and time constraints its really only the weekend before I can get stuck into cooking something a little more special. I save those 10min ‘fridge to plate’ stir fries, pastas & fajitas for weekday cooking and at the weekend I can happily potter in & out the kitchen taking my time. Cooking after all is my stress buster.
Weekend cooking for me is about long lazy Sunday lunches, baking cakes & biscuits for scranning through the week (which most often get eaten by Monday night) and slow cooking. Something for when I have more time on my hands. That said I don’t always want my weekend meals to involve a long laborious roast dinner or lasagne with its umpteen stages. So I have a small repertoire of meals that while do require long periods of cooking do not need much attention, plus they are easily doubled or tripled for entertaining and feeding a crowd.
I guess the important thing to remember is the difference between complicated and slow cooking. I find something which may take a long time to cook is by far the easiest thing to cook. Stuff like stews, soups, roast dinners, steamed puddings (and quite often cakes) all just involve flinging some ingredients into a bowl/pot/baking tin, mixing it up and applying heat for at least an hour.
So with all that in mind I offer the tempting treat that is Cajun Gumbo. If you are new to Gumbo (please try it!) think of it as somewhere between a stew and a soup in that its thinner than a stew but thicker than a soup. It is normally served over steamed white rice although I am partial to Gumbo on its own with thick chunks of home-made cornbread (more on that another time – the recipe isn’t ready for public viewing quite yet). And the best bit is that it can be made up with whatever vegetables are lying around in the fridge.
Chicken & Chorizo Gumbo
|Chicken & Chorizo Gumbo|
In a large pot or casserole dish heat the oil over a low heat with the paprika & cayenne pepper. Mix well until it forms a thin paste.
Add the chicken breasts (whole) & Chorizo sausage and increase the temperature until medium. Cook until the meat is browned. It may smoke a little so turn the heat down if you need to. Remove with a slotted spoon to a plate.
|Browning the chicken & chorizo|
|The stuff on the spatula is the roux resembling peanut butter.|
When the roux is ready, mince the garlic into the pot (i.e. grating with the smallest holes in the grater), the bay leaf, thyme, okra, courgette & baby corn. All this veg is optional – you can add whatever is in the fridge but I would steer clear from starchy veg like potato, squash etc. Mix well to coat in the roux.
Add the stock, 2 ladles at a time & mix well after each go. The slower the stock is added the thicker the Gumbo will be. Add 1/2 tsp of file powder* and simmer over a low heat for 45 mins.
Before serving taste & season with salt & pepper if you think it needs it. Toss in some chopped parsley at the end.
Foolproof white rice
It took me YEARS to make good fluffy white rice so I share my Number 2 Kitchen Secret: Foolproof rice.
I use the absorption method & measure the rice & water using cups. I find that 1/2 a cup of rice feeds the 2 of us for Gumbo but then I like a little rice with a lot of gumbo so certainly make more if you want it. However it doesnt matter whether you use an actual measuring cup or a teacup. Just use the same one for measuring the rice & the water.
The trick with this method is to use 1 & half times the amount of water to rice. So:
- 1 cup of rice + 1 & 1/2 cups of water.
- 1/2 cup of rice +3/4 cup of water.
You get the idea.
|Forking up rice to make it fluffy after cooking|
Measure out 1 cup of rice into a sieve. Rinse under cold running water for a few minutes until the water runs clear. Alternatively, if you have the time you can soak the rice in cold water for 5-10mins in the pot you will cook it in. Drain into a sieve & rinse under cold water for a few seconds.
Put the rice into a pot with a lid, pour over the water & cook over a high heat. As soon as the water starts to bubble, immediately turn the heat down as low as it will go & clamp the lid on.
Set the timer for 10mins & do not remove the lid or stir the rice for this time. Walk away & ignore it. It will not burn.
After 10mins lift the lid & run a fork through the rice to check its cooked. Taste a couple grains. Depending on heat or the amount you are cooking it may need another 1-2mins. If so, clamp the lid on again & leave it. When it is cooked, run a fork though it to separate the grains.
I pile a large spoonful of rice into the centre of a large bowl & ladle the Gumbo over the top. I always think I have added too much liquid to my bowl but the rice soaks it all up it keeps meat & veg juicy whilst you are eating.
If you feel the need for an extra kick, a bottle of Tabasco sauce for people to help themselves to wouldn’t be a bad touch at all.
|Gumbo ladled over the rice (with LOTS of liquid)
File powder is optional, if you can get it. I managed to get mine brought back from America.