Here is a basic recipe for one of the best wintertime dishes ever.

Gumbo is or is related to an African word for okra, but not all gumbo has okra in it–sometimes file (pronounce with accent on the e) is added as a thickener. File is powdered sassafrass, that you can buy in a jar. The difference between the two is that you cook okra with the rest of the ingredients, but file is added in the bowls at the table–if you cook file, it gets stringy and gross.

This recipe is mostly from a book called Quelque Chose Piquante, with many personal changes and additions and notes from other cookbooks which it would be impossible for me to track down.

Basic Gumbo

–1/2 oil and 1 cup white flour for the roux
–1 chicken cut in serving pieces (recipe says “a rooster,” i.e., tenderness is not a requirement)
–1 large chopped onion
–1 chopped bell pepper
–1 bunch chopped onion tops
–1 bunch chopped parsley
–1/12 pounds pork sausage, spicy if you want
–salt, black pepper, red pepper; can use prepared Creole or Cajun seasoning
–file

First, you make a roux. Roux for gumbo should be a deep brown. Take 1/2 cup high grade oil and heat it up in a heavy iron pot over medium heat. When it’s hot, gradually add 1 cup white flour, stirring as you go. Then keep stirring for 30-45 minutes. Don’t let it burn. If it burns, there’s nothing you can do but throw it out and start over. Believe me, it will be nasty. The roux is a pain to make and not at all good for you, but adds a wonderful flavor. You can leave it out if you wish. (Some lovely places, you can buy prepared roux in a jar. There’re also recipes for baked roux–it’s for a lighter roux than this one.)

Put chicken in large, heavy pot. A stock pot is good. Add cold water, enough to cover, and the seasoning. Bring to boil and hold it there for about 30 minutes.

In another pot, saute the onion and bell pepper in your roux until wilted. Add the sausage and brown it well. Stir, then pour all this into the gumbo pot. Cook for 1 to 1 1/2 hours or until the chicken is tender. Check the seasoning as you go. If you have to add water, add only boiling water. Once chicken is tender, add onion tops and parsley. Cook for about 15 minutes.

Serve over hot white rice in a shallow bowl. Add a sprinkle of file to
each plate at the table, if thickening is needed.