Suggested song to play while cooking: Fire by Kasabian
Our second competitor for the Avatar, The Last Airbender recipe series is representing the Fire Nation. Sure the Fire Nation is portrayed as the overarching villain in the show, featuring an emotionally and physically scarred banished prince who has daddy issues and a twisted sense of honor. As the show progresses however, he slowly—like waiting for water to boil slow—comes to find himself and his true purpose in life. He ends up actually helping those that were once his enemies, even though it means fighting against his own nation.
As I pondered what would be a good recipe for this nation, I knew one thing right off the bat: it had to be spicy. My first thought was to do some stuffed jalapeños, but dismissed the idea. I felt I needed to challenge myself more. Just as Zuko—the jilted prince—had to face many challenges, so I too wanted to attempt my own.
On the recommendation of my mother (of course) I started searching for some spicy gumbo recipes. What amazed me in searching was how different each recipe I looked at was. They all had the basics—can’t make gumbo without a good roux—and a couple of the same key ingredients, but the methods and some of the other ingredients could vary greatly. Some required simmering for an hour, some for three hours. Some had chicken and sausage, some had seafood, some had both. Unable to choose, I decided to combine a couple and improvise the rest. I’m not going to lie, I was very nervous about the outcome. It was a lot of guesswork and praying things turned out well.
You will notice that my gumbo recipe has no seafood, which is quite irregular for gumbo. This is completely personal preference—I do not like seafood. And sometimes it makes me sick. So, I just stay away. Feel free to throw some in if you’re feeling it.
Fire Nation Spicy Chicken Gumbo
1 tablespoon plus 1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 pounds chicken breast, chopped
1 tablespoon Essence or Creole seasoning (you can also make these)
1 cup all-purpose flour
3 cups chopped onions (I used red onions)
1 cup chopped celery
2 bell peppers, chopped
3 jalapeño peppers
1 ½ cups fresh okra, chopped
1 1⁄2 tablespoons paprika
1⁄2 tablespoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon dried thyme leaves
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 ½ tablespoons garlic powder
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon white pepper
1 tablespoon fresh ground black pepper
1 tablespoon salt
6 cups chicken stock or canned low-sodium chicken broth
2 tablespoons chopped parsley leaves
Hot sauce (Cholula all the way baby)
In a large enameled cast iron Dutch oven or large pot (guess which one I used), heat 1 tablespoon of the vegetable oil over medium-high heat. Season chicken with the Essence or Creole and add to pot. Cook over medium-high heat until well browned, 5 to 6 minutes. Remove the chicken from the pan, let cool, and then refrigerate until ready to use.
Combine the remaining half cup oil and the flour in the same Dutch oven over medium heat. Cook, stirring slowly and constantly for 20 to 25 minutes, to make a dark brown roux, the color of chocolate. I, despite stirring for 30 minutes, got nowhere dear a chocolate color, more of a muddy blonde. Still worked!
Add the onions, celery, okra, jalapeños, and bell peppers and cook, stirring, until wilted, 4 to 5 minutes. Add paprika, red pepper flakes, thyme, cayenne, garlic, cumin, white pepper, black pepper, salt, and bay leaves, stir, and cook for 2 minutes. Stirring, slowly add the chicken stock, and cook, stirring, until well combined. Bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook, uncovered and stirring occasionally, for 1 hour.
Add the reserved chicken to the pot and simmer for 1 more hour.
Remove the pot from the heat. Remove and discard the bay leaves.
Spoon rice into the bottom of deep bowls or large cups and ladle the gumbo on top. Serve, passing hot sauce on the side.
First impression: oh yea, that’s pretty spicy. It’s not a spice that builds, but definitely makes you know that it’s present with each bite. I made gumbo with a friend once before from a recipe she had found online somewhere. While my recipe was good, it didn’t really taste much like my friend’s, which had been quite delicious. I’m not even sure this is truly gumbo, but either way it was better then I expected it to be. Wicked filling.
Consistency was pretty good, thick but not gelatinous, soaking into the rice nicely. This dish will last for days, and for some reason, this is one of those recipes that tastes even better the second time around. Don’t know why, but sometimes a meal needs time to breathe, like wine.
In the end, this dish was more like Zuko than I thought. It’s not quite gumbo, but it’s getting there. You do you, spicy gumbo, keep working and someday you will find out who you are!