Grain Brains Challenge
A recipe challenge to help you get whole grains into your mouth, not just your kitchen.
I grew up in Mississippi right outside of New Orleans. Down there, every family has a favorite gumbo, and everyone thinks theirs is the perfect recipe. But the truth is gumbo is about as variable as South Louisiana weather. The only thing invariable is the use of the traditional Trinity to create the flavor profile. Trinity, in SoLo parlance, is green bell pepper, onion, and celery. Similar to the French mirepoix, it is the essential flavor base to many dishes in South Louisiana and Mississippi. After that, a gumbo is anything but consistent. It can be with or without a roux, it can have seafood or not, it can include chicken, sausage, or game. It can have tomato in the broth or the broth can be made with just green herbs. For a thickener there might be okra, file powder, or neither. This week I have decided to give gumbo one more variable.
Most gumbo recipes start with a roux made from white flour and are served over white rice. While that very white recipe is delicious, it is not whole grain. In my version I use whole wheat flour for the roux. Roux made this way will be a bit grainier than a traditional white flour roux, but it doesn’t affect the taste or texture of the finished gumbo. And to thicken the gumbo I use farro in place of okra, file, or white rice. The idea came to me several years ago when I was served a soup in Italy made with farro. It was a traditional Tuscan soup made with beans, vegetables, pasta, farro, and shrimp. It had a very thick consistency similar to a SoLo gumbo and inspired me to use farro to thicken gumbo in place of traditional techniques. The grain I used in this recipe is an organic farro from New York State. Amy Halloran has been doing a lot of writing about the reintroduction of grain growing to New York farms and I was excited to see this locally grown grain in a store in Delaware County.
RECIPE: CHICKEN & SHRIMP FARRO GUMBO
- 1 pound whole shrimp (with shells and heads)
- 3 dried bay leaves
- 2 whole dried red peppers
- 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 2 pounds skinless chicken thighs (about 4 thighs)
- 3 tablespoons whole wheat flour
- 2 tablespoons tasso, chopped (optional, you can also use any smoked ham that is available)
- 1 medium onion, peeled and chopped
- 1 green bell pepper, seeded and chopped
- 3 celery ribs, trimmed and chopped
- 1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and chopped
- 2 cups farro
- salt and black pepper, to taste
Remove heads and peel the shrimp. Place the peeled shrimp in the refrigerator. Add the peels and heads, bay leaves, dried peppers, and a pinch of salt to a pot with about 10 cups waters. Bring to a boil, cover the pot, and reduce heat. Let simmer for 20 minutes and then turn off the heat. Leave pot covered and let sit for another 30 minutes.
Add oil to a Dutch oven or other heavy pan large enough to hold the entire gumbo. Brown the chicken thighs on all sides in the hot oil. Remove the browned thighs to a paper towel to drain. Remove any cooked bits from the oil so they don’t burn while making your roux, but leave the vegetable oil and any fat cooked from the chicken in the pot. Reduce the heat to very low and add the whole wheat flour to the oil to start the roux. Stir well to blend the oil and the flour, making sure to break up any lumps. Stir the flour in the oil until it begins to brown, 5 to 10 minutes, and then continue stirring over very low heat. A roux can be anywhere from light caramel to a rich chocolate color, the darker the color the more intense the flavor (I like a rich caramel color). The whole browning process will take 30 to 45 minutes. Do not let it sit without stirring or it will burn and you will have to start the roux again. The main thing is to make sure it cooks completely to eliminate the raw flour taste.
Once the roux is the color you prefer, add the chopped vegetables and smoked ham (if you are using it), stir to coat, and cook on medium heat for about 10 minutes, just to soften the vegetables. Return the thighs to the pot
Strain the shrimp broth to remove the shells, heads, bay leaves, and dried peppers. Add the strained broth to the pot with the vegetables and chicken. Adjust the heat to simmer for 20 minutes. Add the farro to the pot. Stir to mix well, cover, and let simmer over a low heat for 1 hour. Periodically, stir and check to make sure that the liquid hasn’t been completely absorbed by the farro. If it becomes too thick or dry add additional water, 1/4 cup at a time.
After the farro has cooked for 1 hour taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and black pepper.
Just before serving add the chilled shrimp to the simmering gumbo. Stir the shrimp into the mixture and cook for 3 to 5 minutes. Do not let the shrimp overcook or they will become rubbery, they are done as soon as they turn pink. Serve immediately.