Owing to the immense popularity of Cajun food, no American soup has gotten as much attention in the American Soup Renaissance as gumbo.
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
12 strips bacon
2 pounds boneless chicken thighs (about 8 thighs)
3/4 cup flour
2 cups chopped onion
1 1/2 cups chopped green pepper
1 cup chopped celery
1 pound fresh okra (or 4 cups sliced thawed frozen okra)
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh thyme leaves plus branches of fresh thyme for garnish
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh sage
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper plus additional to taste
A big pinch of nutmeg
2 quarts chicken stock plus additional for thinning the gumbo if necessary
1 1/2 pounds medium shrimp
1. Place the vegetable oil in a heavy skillet over high heat. Add the bacon. Dry the chicken thighs with a towel, and add them to the skillet, skin side down. Sauté the chicken, on the skin side only, until the skins are golden brown, about 7 minutes. Remove the chicken and bacon, and reserve.
2. Pour the oil from the skillet into a measuring cup. Return 3/4 cup of oil to the skillet (discard the rest). Reduce heat to moderately high. Gradually add the flour, stirring continually. Cook the roux until it's a dark-tan or light-caramel color, about 5 minutes. Immediately add the onion, green pepper, and celery. Cook for 3 minutes, stirring.
3. Wash the okra, then cut off the stem ends, leaving a tiny bit of the stem at the top. Cut diagonally into 3/8-inch slices. Add three fourths of the okra (about 3 cups) to the skillet. Add the thyme, rosemary, sage, bay leaves, 1 teaspoon of black pepper, and nutmeg.
4. Bring the chicken stock to a boil in a large pot. Add the roux with okra to the boiling stock by quarter-cupfuls, stirring well after each addition. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer. Chop the reserved bacon into coarse chunks, and add to the pot. Season the reserved chicken thighs with salt and pepper, cut each one in 4 to 6 pieces, and add to the pot. Simmer for 15 minutes. Add the reserved cup of sliced okra, and simmer for another 10 minutes.
5. While the gumbo is simmering, peel and devein the shrimp. Add to the simmering gumbo, and cook until the shrimp are just pink, about 3 minutes. If the gumbo is too thick, thin out with a little chicken stock. Taste for seasoning. Serve over rice, New Orleans style. Sprinkle with fresh thyme leaves, and garnish with branches of fresh thyme.
Note: for even more layers of flavor and texture, you may add two dozen raw, shucked oysters to the gumbo just before serving. If the gumbo is a little too thick, be sure to add the oyster liquor.
Owing to the immense popularity of Cajun food, no American soup has gotten as much attention in the American Soup Renaissance as gumbo. There are, of course, as many gumbos as there are Cajuns. This is a particularly lovely, bright-green, fresh-tasting herbal version, without a spicy-hot payload. Serves 6