The Gravy: In the Kitchen with John Autin

feb 09 gravy autin“I’m not a great cook by any means. I’m just a piano player. My wife is the cook in the family. But this particular recipe is something that I’ve done over the years and it’s something that even a non-cook can do. I enjoy doing it because of that. I’ve been doing this particular recipe for ten years.

Not being a cook, when you try to cook things, there is not a lot of reward. Usually you have to cook something several times before you learn how to do it. But this particular recipe came out really good the first time I did it, so it was very rewarding. And my wife loves it because she gets a break from always doing all the cooking.

If you just follow the recipe and do it exactly like she said, it comes out great. The variations on a gumbo are endless, but the basic thing that makes it a gumbo has to be there—the roux and the holy trinity. Once you have your own particular taste, you can use seafood, oysters or crab or shrimp. You can put eggs in it.

Eggs in gumbo, I think of it as an Italian influence. They put them in spaghetti. After it’s all done, you drop hardboiled eggs in there. It doesn’t really add any flavor; it’s just something to have in there, in addition to everything. It’s a variation on a theme. People put all kinds of crazy things in gumbo. There is no one way to make a gumbo. I never had eggs in my grandmother’s gumbo or anything. I had never had eggs in a gumbo before I had this one. Jill got this recipe the year before we got together. 1991. She’s from Missouri and she got the recipe before we even met.

The worst gumbo I ever had was in Sweden. They find out you’re from New Orleans and it’s ‘Oh, you’ve got to try my gumbo! You’ve got to try my jambalaya!’

The worst ever was the jambalaya we had in Visby, Sweden, one day. It was pasta with Tabasco sauce and carrots. And then they go, [excited] ‘What do you think?’ [laughs]. We were eating there because we were playing there with Anders Osborne. We were there for a month! People always want you to try their Cajun food wherever you are. It’s amazing.

This is one of the best gumbos I’ve ever had, which is why I get a kick out of cooking it. My grandmother, Augustine Autin, she made one of the best. But everything she did was great. Redfish courtbouillon, jambalaya, crawfish bisque, all these things that take forever to cook. She lived in Houma, Louisiana. That’s where my family’s from.

One of these days, instead of chicken, I’d like to try a rabbit. In south Louisiana, I’m sure lots of people make rabbit gumbo, but we haven’t done that yet. Also, smoked duck, I’d like to try that too.”

John Autin’s Yankee Chicken-Sausage Gumbo

The original recipe came to John’s wife Jill as a gift from Cynthia Broussard Fox in San Diego in 1991. Fox was born in Scott, Louisiana, and wrote at the bottom of her recipe: “If you are in a bad mood, tired, in a hurry or want to impress someone with your cooking abilities, cook something else.” The original recipe calls for 1 pound of okra, but since Jill doesn’t like okra, John calls his version yankee gumbo: “This gumbo is pretty much my repertoire. It’s the only thing I’ve cooked since we’ve been married, fifteen years. If I can do it, anybody can do it.”

(Feeds 4 Cajuns or 6 “Americains”)

2 quarts organic chicken broth
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
3 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs
½ cup Teriyaki sauce
½ cup cooking oil (vegetable, corn, canola, etc.)
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon flour
2 onions, diced
2 bell peppers, diced
4 tender stalks celery, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound fresh chicken andouille sausage
6 hard-boiled eggs
½ cup green onion tops, cut fine
½ cup cilantro leaves, whole

Pour broth into a large soup pot. Add bay leaf, black pepper and Worcestershire sauce. Marinate chicken thighs in Teriyaki sauce. Make the roux: Pour oil into a cold frying pan, add flour and stir with a flat wooden spatula until smooth; turn the heat on medium/low and stir constantly for 30-40 minutes until roux smells like popcorn and is medium brown. Immediately add onion, bell pepper, celery and garlic to roux to cool it down, then add this to broth. Bring to a slow boil. Fry sausage over low heat to render out some fat. Cut into bite-size pieces and add to broth. Brown chicken (a few pieces at a time) in sausage fat, add it to broth as well. Simmer on low for about 1 hour. Turn off heat. Add whole eggs, onion tops and cilantro. Stir and cover. Serve with rice.