Cooking for your Health: Chicken Gumbo Light

Gumbo TasteFood~ Louisiana-style Chicken Gumbo ~

There are several reasons to make a gumbo this month. First off, gumbos are one-pot wonders, piping hot and loaded with spice to warm the belly on a cold day. They may be prepared in advance and reheated for a later meal, which is perfect fare for the ski cabin or a busy winter work week at home. Finally, gumbos originated in Louisiana, home to New Orleans and Mardi Gras, and this year Mardi Gras (or Carnival) falls in mid-February. What better way to feed a hungry crowd of revelers than with a bowl of bright and spicy Louisiana-style Gumbo?

There are many variations of gumbo, incorporating shellfish, poultry and/or sausage in a spicy soup thickened with a roux. For this month’s installment of Cooking for your Health, I’ve lightened up a  Chicken and Sausage Gumbo just in time for Carnival festivities. The result is a vibrant and deeply flavorful stew with less fat than the traditional gumbo. White chicken meat and light turkey (or chicken) sausage stand in for the protein. I’ve crumbled the sausage in order to stretch it a long way while still capturing its essence in the flavor of the soup, and I’ve kept the roux to a minimum, ensuring color and flavor while relying on the okra as an additional thickener. Don’t hold back on the spices, though, and be sure to add extra hot sauce in the end. This stew is meant to spicy – enough to get you partying in the streets on Mardi Gras.

Chicken Gumbo

If you would like to further reduce the fat, the sausage may be omitted; add 2 teaspoons smoked paprika for extra flavor.

Serves 4 to 6

4 tablespoons canola or grape seed oil, divided
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut in 1-inch pieces
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 pound turkey or chicken sausage, crumbled
2 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
1 medium onion, chopped
1 large celery stalk, diced
1 medium green bell pepper, stemmed, seeded, diced
1 medium red bell pepper, stemmed, seeded, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons paprika
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon cayenne
2 cups chicken stock
1 (28-ounce) can crushed Italian plum tomatoes
2 cups frozen sliced okra*
1 bay leaf
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon Tabasco or hot sauce, or to taste
1 tablespoon sugar (optional)

Chopped green onions for garnish
Cooked rice (brown or white)

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large Dutch-oven or pot over medium-high heat. Season chicken with salt and pepper. Add to pot in one layer without overcrowding and brown on all sides. Transfer to a plate and repeat with remaining chicken.

Add 1 tablespoon oil to pot and brown sausage over medium heat. Transfer to another plate. Drain off fat from the pot. Add 2 tablespoons oil and flour. Cook, stirring, until roux turns light brown in color. Very carefully add the onion, celery and bell peppers (the pan will spatter). Saute for 1 minute. Add garlic, paprika, thyme, oregano and cayenne. Stir to coat the vegetables and cook, stirring, until fragrant, 30 seconds. Carefully add chicken stock, and scrape up any brown bits on the bottom of the pot. Add tomatoes, okra, bay leaf, Worcestershire sauce and hot sauce. Return chicken and sausage to the pot. Cover and simmer for 30  minutes. Taste for seasoning. Add sugar if needed. Ladle into bowls. Garnish with green onions and serve with rice.

*Note: Fresh okra, when available, may be substituted for the frozen okra. Add 2 cups sliced fresh okra with the onion, celery and peppers.