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Chicken Tofu Gumbo Ya Ya

Chicken Gumbo Ya Ya
Yup, you read right — gumbo with tofu. Now before ya’ll get started with me, let me start off by saying that if you’re allergic to soy, if tofu isn’t your thing, or if you believe in all that crazy hype about soy being bad for you, please, by all means, leave out the tofu. The gumbo will be just as tasty, though it will miss the added textural dimension and surprising “pops” of flavor provided by the deep-fried tofu, which soaks up the savory broth like nobody’s business.

OK. Who’s still with me?

This recipe is an adaptation of the now-famous Chicken Gumbo Ya Ya recipe by the even more famous chef Paul Prudhomme of Commander’s Palace and blackened fish fame. When I began cooking this dish, I followed a recipe provided by James Villas, former Town & Country food editor and author of the wonderfully named Stews, Bogs, and Burgoos, a great cookbook especially for busy folks who must cook ahead, and The Glory of Southern Cooking, another awesome cookbook. I’ve since altered the dish many times over, and this recipe is the latest rendition.

A smoked meat product is an absolute in this dish (though one day I’d like to experiment with smoked vegetables and tofu to see if a vegan version could be just as tasty). The smoked ham hocks and turkey wings I used to buy are contaminated with wheat (a source of gluten), so I’m unable to recommend a smoked product currently on the market. If I can get my hands on an affordable smoker (or a barbecue to act as a smoker), I will smoke my own turkey wings and use them to make this gumbo, ensuring the turkey wings will be allergen-free.

One more thing: I’ve left out the sausage often found in gumbo primarily because I couldn’t find an appropriately spiced and flavored sausage that I could confirm was allergen-free. I could make my own sausage, but I actually like the sausage-free version better anyway, so it’s no big deal for me.

Obviously, to make this dish allergen-free, you’ll need to find (or make) a smoked meat product that is allergen-free as far as you’re concerned.

Gumbo has great meaning and a complex history, and I think about its past every time I’m watching the roux darken as I stir and stir. Those thoughts will have to wait for another post.

Get out your flour and fat. It’s time to get cooking!

12 to 16 oz of tofu
1 3 to 4 lb chicken
1/2 c oil (I use a mixture of olive and canola or corn oils)
1/3 c Bob’s Red Mill Gluten-Free All-Purpose Baking Mix
2 medium onions, finely chopped
1 1/2 medium green bell pepper, seeded and finely chopped
handful of okra, washed and thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 smoked turkey wing (should yield 1/4 lb meat plus bones)
4 to 5 c chicken broth (made from water used to cook chicken)
2 bay leaves
1/2 t dried whole Mexican oregano, freshly crumbled between your fingers
1/2 t dried thyme
scant 1 t sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
New Mexico chile powder and/or California chile powder
Tabasco (opt)
at least 6 c cooked rice

Drain tofu slab. Pat dry with paper towel. Cut into 1 1/2″ cubes. Deep-fry in hot oil. Drain. Results should be poofy, golden cubes. When cool enough to touch, cut each cube in half or quarters. Set aside.

In a 6 or 8 quart pot, boil enough water (typically a little more than half the pot) to cover a whole chicken. When water boils, lower chicken into pot. Cover. When water boils again, making sure pot is covered, turn off heat, leave pot covered, and keep on burner for at least one hour.

When cool enough to touch, de-skin and de-bone meat. Coarsely hand shred 1 c meat. Set aside. Reserve rest of meat for other uses. Reserve bones. Discard fat and skin, or render and save for future use.

High-simmer broth to reduce liquid and concentrate flavor, making sure you have at least 5 c or so. Set aside.

In a large, heavy pot, heat oil till medium-hot. Gradually add all-purpose baking mix, stirring constantly with whisk or wooden spoon. Cook roux over moderate heat, stirring constantly, till it is the color of milk chocolate, which may take 5 to 10 minutes or so. Roux should smell nutty/buttery. Do NOT burn; if roux smells burnt, discard and start over.

Add onions, green bell pepper, okra, garlic, and turkey meat. Mix thoroughly and stir constantly, cooking till vegetables completely, or about 10 minutes. Add 2 cups of broth, bay leaves, oregano, thyme, sea salt, black pepper, chile powder(s), Tabasco, and stir thoroughly. Add fried tofu and 3 more cups of broth (add only 2 cups broth if omitting fried tofu). Add turkey bones and stir. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook partially uncovered for 1 hour. Remove from heat. Stir. Let stand for 10 minutes.

Serve hot over hot rice.
In lieu of frying your own tofu, you can buy pre-fried tofu (cooked and delivered to markets fresh daily) at some Chinese and Vietnamese markets. You’ll usually see them packaged in plastic bags and sold next to other fresh soy products (e.g. soy milk, raw tofu, fu jook) also produced by local artisan tofu shops and delivered fresh to supermarkets daily. But be sure to check with your local tofu shop to ensure no allergenic ingredients are used to make the tofu. (For example, one popular tofu shop in the San Gabriel Valley in California was cited a few years back for including dairy in their soy milk.) If in doubt, by all means fry your own or omit.

If omitting fried tofu, use 4 cups of chicken broth, not five.

This recipe can be doubled. If doubling, do not omit or reduce anything.

If you don’t like okra, omit okra and add 1 T to 2 T file powder after cooking gumbo and removing it from the heat.

Ingredient Sources
tofu – House (stateside), Yong Fu Corporation (Saipan)
olive oil – Whole Foods 365, Kirkland Signature
canola oil – Mazola, Whole Foods 365
corn oil – Mazola
smoked turkey wing – Currently cannot find any allergen-free smoked meat products on the market, so for now I have buy meat parts raw and smoke them on my own
bay leaves – Spicely, McCormick, (and my Aunt Marie’s beautiful Paso Robles garden!)
dried whole Mexican oregano – El Guapo
thyme – Spicely, McCormick
file powder – Zatarain’s (owned by McCormick)
black pepper – Spicely, McCormick
New Mexico chile powder – Spicely, McCormick
California chile powder – Spicely, McCormick

Adapted from Stews, Bogs, and Burgoos and The Glory of Southern Cooking, both by James Villas


2 thoughts on “Chicken Tofu Gumbo Ya Ya

  1. where in the world do you get Bob’s Red Mill products in your part of the world? DO you have Whole Foods?? Wow. I’m impressed by the variety of Asian+Southern+other regional influences hybridized in this dish! BTW-I LOVE okra!

    1. Thanks for your comment! Two local markets in Saipan, Joeten Susupe and Joeten Hafa Adai, stock a number of Bob’s Red Mill Gluten-Free products. The BRM GF stuff I can’t find here on the island, I ask kind friends and family to send via the U.S Post Office. No, there is no Whole Foods. 🙂 I love okra, too! Okra grows, from what I’m told, all year long here. Okra is readily available at the farmers market and various individual farmer stands throughout the island.

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