A friend of mine brought me back some andouille and gumbo filé from New Orleans last week. My first thought was to make a rabbit gumbo, but the lovely Pheasant Girl has taken to saving me her best brace of pheasants each week, so I changed my mind to favour the fowl.
Gumbo is a type of stew which originated in Louisiana around the early part of the eighteenth century and comes from a mixture of cultures. The name itself comes from the African word for okra – ngombo or quingombo (used to thicken the stew), but a filé gumbo contains ground sassafras leaves instead, also a thickener and flavouring (originally used by the indigenous Choctaw Indians).
Gumbos can be made with most meats, (especially wild ones) including alligator, chicken, duck, rabbit, squirrel, turkey, veal, or, seafood like crab, crawfish, oysters, shrimp, etc. Meat combinations and seafood combinations are common, but it’s unusual to have meat and seafood mixed together. However, both should contain andouille, originally a French smoked pork sausage, that was adapted and remade by German settlers to Louisiana. If you can’t find an American andouille in the UK, smoked Polish sausage (from most supermarkets) would be the best alternative.
Gumbo should start with a roux – normally fat and or oil cooked with flour to create a thickener in traditional French cuisine, but in Louisiana this is cooked further until it takes a toasted chocolate colour. Okra and filé can be added later for flavour and thickness – some combine the two but most use either or. There’s also some debate over which oil or fat to use, any of the following are acceptable: butter, lard, chicken fat, goose fat, olive oil, groundnut oil, etc.
To complicate things, there are two types of cooking in Louisiana – Creole (from the original French and Spanish colonists in New Orleans), containing tomatoes and Cajun (from the Cajun people of South Louisiana who were originally French colonists of Canada, expelled by the British), without tomatoes. Both Cajun and Creole styles of cooking use a trinity of celery, onions and sweet peppers, when garlic is used, it becomes a holy trinity.
Faisan Filé Gumbo recipe (serves 4):
1 large pheasant (jointed)
1 lb andouille sausage (sliced)
1 large onion (chopped)
1 red pepper (chopped)
1 stick of celery (chopped)
5 tomatoes (grated)
6 pieces of garlic (finely chopped)
1 heaped teaspoon goose fat
1 cup of olive oil (or other oil/fat)
1 cup of plain flour
1/2 pint of pheasant stock
2 dessertspoonfuls Cajun seasoning: 1 teaspoon of salt, 1 teaspoon ground black pepper, 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper, 1 teaspoon garlic powder, 1 teaspoon of onion powder, 1 teaspoon mustard powder, 1 teaspoon dried oregano, a pinch of fennel seeds and 2 teaspoons pimentón de la Vera (picante) – all mixed together
3 bay leaves
1 dessertspoon parsley (finely chopped)
2 teaspoonfuls of cayenne pepper
2 dessertspoonfuls of Lea and Perrins Worcestershire Sauce
2 or 3 teaspoonfuls of Tabasco Sauce
A splash of red wine vinegar
1 cup brown basmati rice per person (or your preferred rice)
1 teaspoon filé powder per person
First of all, rub the jointed pheasant with Cajun Seasoning and 2 additional teaspoons of cayenne pepper. Cover the bird and leave in the fridge overnight so the spices permeate the meat.
The next day – take the pheasant out of the fridge 2 hours before cooking, so that it comes to room temperature. Using a large cast iron casserole, brown the pheasant in some of the olive oil. Do this in stages rather than crowding the meat. Remove the browned bird to a plate.
Next brown the sliced andouille and reserve.
Once the meat is done, add the remaining oil and a teaspoon of goose fat to the pan. Stir the flour into the hot oil – to make a good Cajun style roux, you will need to keep stirring or it will burn. If it burns you’ll need to throw it away and start again! I do this on a hot flame and stir furiously for about 20 minutes. Initially, there’s very little change in colour, but when it does go, it can be quite quick – I am inclined to turn the heat down a little when this happens, to slow things down. After a minute or two the flame goes back up again. This stage is hard work and requires a good arm and lots of concentration. For anyone interested, a chocolate brown roux tastes biscuity, a bit like well cooked pastry.
Once you have achieved a roux of the desired colour, turn down the heat and stir in a holy trinity of onion, celery, pepper and garlic and cook for a few minutes.
I went Creole here, by grating in 5 tomatoes. Cut the tomatoes in half and grate the wet side until you are left with a disk of tomato skin in your hand. Dispose of the skin or save it for stock.
Turn the heat up, pour in the cold pheasant stock and when it starts to bubble add the Worcestershire Sauce, red wine vinegar and bay leaves.
Sink the browned pheasant pieces into the gumbo, like alligators sleeping in a swamp. Put the lid on the dish and remove to a preheated oven at 150º C for 90 minutes. Stir occasionally.
When the 90 minutes are up, remove the pheasant, take off the skin and extract the bones. Chop the meat into bite sized pieces.
Return the pheasant to the pot, along with the andouille and a couple of splashes of Tabasco sauce. Taste the gumbo and adjust the seasoning as you see fit. Cover and cook in the oven for a further 90 minutes.
Gumbo filé comes from grinding the leaves of the sassafras tree. The powdered leaves thicken and flavour a gumbo, but should be added at the end of cooking because over time (with heat), the texture becomes stringy. The French word filé actually means yarn or thready.
So, if you expect to have gumbo leftovers, sprinkle a teaspoon into the bottom of your serving bowls (not the cooking vessel) and let the gumbo stand for a minute or two before eating. That way you achieve flavour and thickness without string. For the uninitiated, filé imparts a subtle sweet and flowery taste.
Gumbo is considered to be an economical dish which can easily be stretched to feed an unexpected dinner guest or two – serving it with rice certainly makes it go further and it can be extended with additional stock. It’s often an accompaniment to Louisiana dance parties known as fais-do-do (French for go to sleep). Outside of New Orleans, in Arcadiana, Cajuns hold a gumbo hunt (courir de Mardi Gras) on Shrove Tuesday – participants go from house to house asking for gumbo ingredients which are cooked as a group feast at the end of the day.
While I knew that European settlers imported pheasant to America (as long ago as the 17th Century), I had no expectation of finding Louisiana gumbo recipes with pheasant – so I didn’t look for them. Having made up, cooked and photographed my recipe, I was writing this and looked up pheasant gumbo on a whim, expecting to find nothing. Instead, I came across Prejan’s Restaurant, who famously cook gallons of pheasant gumbo at the New Orleans Jazz Festival. On top of that, a search pointed me to numerous pheasant shoots in Louisianan – a phrase made famous by Fat Freddy’s Cat, springs to mind!