Chicken and sausage gumbo

The Mondrian dress and Paris’ most unusual Olympic runner

Chicken and sausage gumbo

Have you ever been insatiably curious about someone you see regularly in your neighborhood ? It happened to me last summer. I kept seeing a tall, beautiful, and muscular woman, who ran. And ran. (Apparently, she loved running.) She had a large unmistakable tattoo covering her thigh : the colored interlocking rings of the Olympic Games. What was this champion runner doing right in my neighborhood ?

It turns out that Mikaïca [mee ka ee ka] is a shop-owner in the street next to mine. She sells used clothing in her dépôt-vente or consignment store. But her shop windows also feature her own expertly knitted creations : hats, scarves, and mitaines, or fingerless gloves, for winter, and sexy swimsuits and knitted Mondrian dresses in summer. How did an Olympic runner end up a creator of knitted clothing ? And what is a Mondrian dress ?

Chicken and sausage gumbo

The Mondrian dress was designed by Yves Saint Laurent in 1965 : it was a sartorial interpretation of Piet Mondrian’s 1935 painting Composition C (No III). According to Elle magazine, the dress is one of Yves Saint Laurent’s “cult” pieces, along with the women’s smoking (tuxedo) and the saharienne, or sahara jacket. But Saint Laurent wasn’t the only artist to have been inspired by Mondrian’s painting : Lola Prusac, who worked for Hermès, designed a line of color-block handbags in the 1930s.

A master of public relations ?

Even today, Mondrian’s style is everywhere : on shoes, cars, and a White Stripes album cover that was directly inspired by the principles of the de Stijl movement, of which Mondrian was a member. A book by Caitlin Freeman, Modern Art Desserts, shows a perfect Mondrian cake on its cover. And recently, thanks to a David Lebovitz Facebook post, I saw another contemporary interpretation of the style : how Mondrian would plate a Thanksgiving meal. Timely art !

So was Mondrian a master of PR, or a painter ? We’re all familiar with his iconic color-block works, but all I really knew about the guy is that he was from the Netherlands. So who was Piet Mondrian ?

The Style

After a little research, I found out that Mondrian fist dabbled in representational styles in his home country, painting - not surprisingly - windmills and landscapes. But he broke out of the mold when he moved to Paris around 1912 (Paris just has that effect on people…) and began painting styles that were influenced by Cubism - his Nature morte au pot de gingembre is a good example.

Cubism was the gateway for Mondrian’s abstract work, which eventually led to his adoption of the de Stijl movement’s precepts : use of pure colors (as opposed to realist color) and non-colors (black, white, and gray), and shapes limited to squares and rectangles.

Cosmic harmony

If you look at a few key paintings, you can clearly see the evolution of Mondrian’s work : from Avond (Evening) ; Red Tree, still slightly realist, to Gray Tree, more abstract. Composition 1917 starts to look more like the style for which Mondrian became most well-known : neo-plasticism.

Neo-plasticism went beyond abstractionism - right into space ! Mondrian was searching for a universal visual language that could express the pure essence of nature and objects. So for him, a minimal vertical shape could represent a real object like a tree or a bell tower. If all this sounds a little esoteric, it’s because it was ! Mondrian’s search for a new visual vocabulary was based on his spiritual beliefs and the “cosmic harmony” of theosophy, and especially anthroposophy, a movement founded by Rudolf Steiner.

Mosse vineyards

If you’ve ever heard of Waldorf Schools or biodynamic wine, you’re already familiar with Rudolf Steiner’s ideas, whose agricultural principles included planting according to the moon’s phases. Students in my wine science class had to answer a quiz question recently about the 3 types of non-conventional farming. One student wrote : “Sustainable, organic, and mystical farming.” That last answer was meant to be bio-dynamic, but I gave the poor guy half credit, since he was half right !

Biodynamic wines have really taken off here in recent years : they’re part of a category of wines we call vin nature in French. Some people swear by these wines for their extremely low sulfites, the preservative that gives you a headache if you happen to drink too much wine the night before. But a hangover is a hangover - the best remedy is not to drink too much. Great advice ! I should take it myself, since I tend to drink certain biodynamic wines without much moderation. The best ones I know come from the Mosse vineyards in the Loire Valley.

Fast footwork

But let’s get back to Paris ! By way of Douala, the coastal city in Cameroon, West Africa, where Olympic runner Mikaïca was born. As a girl, Mikaïca said all she knew was her own street and neighborhood, and so she discovered other areas by running to get there. By the time Mikaïca started running professionally, she was already 18, which is pretty darn late for a sportsperson to begin her career ! She knew nothing of competition, but when she got to university, she knew she wanted to study sports science and train to become a physical education teacher.

When she was 27, Mikaïca was invited by the French Institut National du Sport to come train and to develop women’s sports in Paris. Eight hours of training every day and some fast footwork led Mikaïca to the Olympic Games in Barcelona in 1992, Atlanta in 1996, and Sydney in 2000. After also participating in World Championships in Stuttgart, Gottberg, and Athens, Mikaïca was nearing burn-out : she told me that in the professional sports world, you “talk sports, eat sports, and sleep sports !”

From running to knitting

So Mikaïca changed careers. Her first love was knitting, which she learned as a child from the nuns in her village. She didn’t have the money to buy knitting needles, so she took a couple of spokes from a broken-down bicycle and then bought inexpensive multi-colored threads from the local market from which to fashion her hats and handbags.

One day, she came across a magazine and saw a photo of a shawl, so she knitted one for herself. The next thing she knew, every lady in church wanted the same one, and voilà – she was in business. Now, years later, Mikaïca still works out (but “only” 3 hours a day) and runs a boutique, instead of running laps around her native village. She creates scarves, hats, hoods, those mitaines, and even replicas of the famous Mondrian dress, which she sells on her web site, Mikaïca Créations.

Photo credits : Mondrian dress, courtesy of Mikaïca Créations ; photos in recipe below courtesy of © Matteo Pellegrinuzzi/The Blue Dog

Chicken and sausage gumbo

After we met, Mikaïca told me all about food from her native Cameroon, and especially about okra, which is eaten all over western Africa, and where it’s called kingombo or just gombo. But people eat this infamous vegetable everywhere a semi-tropical climate reigns, including the American south.

Chicken and sausage gumbo

I grew up eating deep-fried okra at school and summer camp, where it’s often a doubtful preparation at best (and that’s putting it nicely). But when delicately enveloped with a corn-meal batter, cooked at the right temperature, and sprinkled with fine sea salt, deep-fried okra is delicious. So even if okra were the last vegetable on earth, which apparently it might well be if you believe the recent movie Interstellar, I think I’d still love it.

The mild yet distinctive flavor is worth tasting, even if the vegetable’s gummy insides have earned it a bad reputation. But it’s precisely that texture that serves as a thickener (or liaison) for sauces, and for stews like Creole gumbo (taken from the African name of the vegetable), one of the most well-loved dishes of the south.

Recently, I had the opportunity to make a big pot of gumbo for a city-wide event called Goût et Gourmandise : public libraries all across Paris organized food events, photo exhibits, and tastings. Sara and Matteo, who make up Blue Dog Productions, exhibited photos of foreign-born Parisians like myself, each with our favorite dish : mine was the stellar (interstellar ?) Creole gumbo from New Orleans.

Chicken and sausage gumbo

After the tasting last Saturday, a young woman approached me and enthusiastically asked about my recipe. She was amazed that it tasted exactly like the okra dish her mother, coincidentally from Cameroon, made her when she was young. I wondered how gumbo, with its many different cultural influences, ended up tasting like the original Cameroonian version she ate.

But who was I to deny her madeleine moment ? (I’m referring of course to Marcel Proust’s gustatory revelation : upon tasting a madeleine, it instantly transported him back to childhood.)

So this week I decided to post a very authentic American recipe, by way of French Canada, Native America, West Africa, Spain, and the Caribbean. Gumbo is a dish that I’ve made hundreds of times, I think – most often when I’m entertaining for French friends, because it’s so exotic for them. They love to sprinkle the filé powder over the stew, and ask me if the filé will cause hallucinations. (When I say no, they almost seem disappointed !)

This stew takes time – I would be remiss in telling you that this is the kind of dish you can cook and get onto the dinner table in 30 minutes or less. This is a great weekend project if you love spending time in the kitchen with the radio on. But it’s all worth it when you taste this recipe. Besides which it makes about ten servings, so you can freeze some for later.

The following recipe is liberally adapted from Crescent Dragonwagon’s outstanding Soup and Bread Cookbook. You can read all about the history of gumbo in her book as well, which is well worth it : as the author indicates, gumbo really is “history in a bowl.”

ingredients :

for the roux
- ½ cup (70g) lard (if you dare…it’s delicious !) or mild vegetable oil
- ½ cup (70g) flour

for the gumbo
- 1½ tablespoons (20g) butter
- 1 onion, roughly chopped
- 1 green pepper, washed and roughly chopped
- 3 branches of celery, including leaves, washed and roughly chopped
- 4-5 green onions, including green parts, washed and roughly chopped
- 4 cloves garlic, chopped
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 1 teaspoon dried basil
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme
- ½ teaspoon paprika
- ¼ teaspoon Cayenne
- ¼ teaspoon allspice
- ¼ teaspoon ground cloves, or 5 whole cloves
- 4 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 8 twists of a peppermill
- 14 ounces (400g) canned whole peeled tomatoes with juice, coarsely chopped
- 4-6 cups (1-1½ liters) chicken or vegetable stock

- 1 pound 5 ounces (600g) Cajun andouille sausage or other smoked sausages, cubed (important note : If you’re in France, don’t buy andouille unless you want tripe sausage ! I buy one each of Montbéliard and Morteau, which you should leave whole.)
- 3 tablespoons mild vegetable oil
- 5 chicken legs (drum + thigh), cut in two

- 1 tablespoon mild vegetable oil
- 1 pound (400-500g) fresh okra, washed, tops and tails cut off

for serving
- white rice
- a handful of chopped parsley
- Tabasco sauce
- filé powder

how to make it :
1. Start by making the roux, which takes about an hour ! You’ll be in the kitchen preparing the vegetables at the same time, but you have to keep stirring the roux every few minutes while you’re doing the rest. I’ve heard of making roux in the microwave, but have never tried it.)
2. In a small casserole, heat the lard or oil over medium-low heat.
3. Add the flour and still with a whisk.
4. Cook the roux over medium-low heat, stirring every few minutes. Make sure to stir in the corners of the casserole as well.
5. While the roux is cooking (and you’re stirring every few minutes), prepare the vegetables and spices. Keep stirring that roux… It should start changing color after about 30 minutes of cooking.
6. In a large heavy-bottomed soup pot, melt the butter over medium heat until it bubbles.
7. Add the onions, green pepper, and celery. Stir well and cook for 5 minutes. Keep stirring that roux !
8. Add the green onions and garlic to the other vegetables. Stir and cook for about 5 minutes.
9. Add the tomato paste and stir, cooking for about 3 minutes. Cooking tomato paste helps take away the acidity. Stir the roux.
10. Add all the herbs and spices, salt, and pepper.
11. How’s that roux looking ? If it’s a deep mahogany color, you can add it to the vegetables in the soup pot. Otherwise, keep cooking…and stirring, bien sûr !
12. Add the canned tomatoes to the vegetables. Cook for a few minutes. If you haven’t added the roux yet, let your vegetable mixture cook gently while you wait for the roux to catch up. Then add the roux to the vegetables and stir well.
13. Add the chicken or vegetable stock to the vegetable-roux mixture and bring to the boil.
14. Turn down the heat to low – you want a slow simmer.
15. Cook for 30 minutes, then add the sausage, or if you’re making this with French smoked sausages, cook them in boiling water for 45 minutes. Let them cool and then cut into cubes.
16. In a heavy sauté pan, heat the vegetable oil over medium-high heat and when it shimmers, brown the chicken pieces, skin side first. Developing lots of caramelized surface gives your stew more flavor, but you only need to brown the pieces, since they’ll finish cooking in the stew.
17. Add the chicken pieces to the gumbo.
18. Slice the fresh okra into ½ slices, and heat the oil in a sauté pan over medium-high heat. Sauté them, shaking the pan often to avoid burning.
19. Add the okra to the soup pot, and let the ingredients simmer for 15 more minutes.
20. Finally : the gumbo goodness you’ve been awaiting ! Taste for seasoning (the best part…), and serve the gumbo in wide, shallow bowls, accompanied by rice, chopped parsley, Tabasco, and filé powder. And and they say in New Orleans, laissez les bons temps rouler !

makes about 10 servings

Gumbo créole au poulet et aux saucisses fumées

Le gumbo est une recette cajun de la Nouvelle Orléans. C’est un descendant de la bouillabaisse, et le roux vient aussi de la cuisine française. Mais les diverses influences culinaires ne s’arrêtent pas là ! Les africains ont apporté avec eux sur les bateaux d’esclaves leur propre légume, le kingombo, d’où le nom du plat. Les espagnols mettaient leur grain de piment rouge, et les indiens Choctaw, quant à eux, agrémentaient déjà leurs plats avec de la poudre « filé ».

Cette poudre, qui provient de la feuille de sassafras séchée et moulue, permet, avec les gombos, d’épaissir la sauce légèrement. Mais il ne faut en aucun cas la faire cuire, car elle devient gluante et comme son nom l’indique, elle fait des fils.

Il faut se procurer cette fameuse poudre à filer chez Izrael, Epicerie du Monde, à 30 rue François Miron, Paris 4ème. Il faut savoir aussi que le gumbo prend un peu de temps et beaucoup de patience, surtout pour le roux, mais je vous donne la recette pour 10 personnes, de quoi partager amplement les fruits de votre travail.

ingrédients :

pour le roux
- 70g saindoux ou huile végétale
- 70g farine

pour le gumbo
- 1 noix de beurre (20g à peu près)
- 1 oignon, haché
- 1 poivron vert, haché
- 3 branches de céleri, feuilles y inclus, hachées
- ½ botte petits oignons, la partie verte seulement, hachées
- 4 gousses d’ail, hachées
- 1 cuillère à soupe concentré de tomate
- 1 cuillère à café basilic séché
- 1 cuillère à café origan séché
- 1 cuillère à café thym séché
- ½ cuillère à café paprika
- ¼ cuillère à café piment de Cayenne
- ¼ cuillère à café quatre-épices
- ¼ cuillère à café clou de girofle moulu
- 4 cuillères à café sel fin
- 8 tours de moulin à poivre
- 400g tomates entières pelées et concassées
- 1 - 1½ litres fond de volaille ou de légumes

pour la finition
- 2 saucisses fumées (par exemple, 1 saucisse de Morteau et 1 saucisse de Montbéliard)
- 5 cuisses de poulet, coupées en 2
- 500g gombos (parfois appelé « kingombos »), disponible dans des épiceries africaines, équeutés
- 500g riz blanc (type Uncle Ben’s)
- une petite poignée de persil, haché
- sauce Tabasco
- poudre filé

comment faire

1. Commencer par confectionner le roux : dans une petite casserole, faire chauffer sur feu doux le saindoux ou l’huile.
2. Rajouter la farine et bien mélanger au fouet.
3. Cuire le roux sur feu doux, en touillant bien, même dans les coins de la casserole, pendant 45 minutes à 1 heure. Pendant ce temps, vous pouvez préparer les légumes et les autres ingrédients, mais il faut continuer à bien mélanger le roux toutes les 3 minutes à peu près pour éviter que ça brûle ! Le roux va commencer à colorer au bout d’une demi-heure : l’objectif, c’est un roux de couleur brune, mais pas brûlé… Je vais vous rappeler plusieurs fois de continuer à mélanger !
4. Dans une grande casserole ou même une marmite bien épaisse, faîtes fondre sur feu moyen le beurre jusqu’à ce que ça mousse.
5. Rajouter les oignons, poivron vert, et céleri branche et cuire. Entre temps, bien mélanger le roux.
6. Rajouter la partie verte des oignons-botte et l’ail. Bien mélanger.
7. Rajouter la concentré de tomate, et bien la mélanger pour la cuire (cette étape enlèvera l’acidité de la tomate). Entre temps, bien mélanger le roux.
8. Rajouter toutes les herbes et épices, le sel, et le poivre. Bien mélanger et laisser cuire pendant 3 minutes.
9. Votre roux est terminé ? Il est bien brun ? Vous pouvez le rajouter aux ingrédients dans la marmite !
10. Rajouter les tomates à la marmite également, bien mélanger, et laisser cuire 5 minutes. Rajouter le fond de volaille ou de légumes. Porter à ébullition, et baisser le feu pour que le gumbo mijote doucement.
11. Mettez les saucisses à cuire dans de l’eau bouillante (45 minutes).
12. Faire sauter les cuisses de poulet : il faut bien les faire colorer des deux côtés.
13. Rajouter les cuisses de poulet au gumbo pour les finir de cuire. Déglacer le récipient de cuisson de poulet pour bien récupérer les sucs collés dans le fond et transférer cette eau dans la grande marmite.
14. Enfin, émincer en rondelles de 1cm d’épaisseur les gombos et les faire sauter dans un peu d’huile végétale à la poêle pendant 5 minutes à feu un peu fort.
15. Rajouter les saucisses et les gombos à la grande marmite, et faire cuire encore un peu (pendant 20 minutes).
16. Servir avec du riz blanc, du persil haché, du Tabasco sur la table, et un petit bol de la poudre filé pour que tout le monde puisse se servir. Et comme on dit à la Nouvelle Orléans, laissez les bons temps rouler !

pour 10 personnes

Tags : Paris , Mondrian , gumbo , Mikaïca , okra , Yves Saint Laurent


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Mitch 16 janvier 2015

Wow ! Too much work for me. I’m too lazy to do all that prep work. I just open a box of Zatarains gumbo mix, add water, 1 lb. peeled raw shrimp, & 1 lb. of Andouille sausage & simmer for about an hour. Tastes pretty good to me. But what do I know.

Allison Zinder 17 janvier 2015

Yes, this recipe is a bit of work, I admit ! But it’s so delicious, you’ll never go back to boxed mix, I promise. Plus, this recipe makes a ton, so you can freeze a few portions for the next time you don’t feel like cooking ! Thanks for reading.

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