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Chicken Gumbo Filé Soup

(American--New Orleans)

Tangy with sassafras; full of the rich, complementary flavors of chicken and country ham; and positively bursting with juicy oysters--what more could anyone want? Betty Bordenave sent me this recipe, which she adapts from an Entergy Corporation cookbook called "From Woodstoves to Microwaves." With her permission, I've adapted it a little bit more, taking the chicken off the bone (which she personally would never do) and stirring the rice in with the oysters to make it more of a soup. Betty cautions that, just as the "old-timers" warn, "filé" should be added just before eating--if you cook filé in the gumbo "it gets stringy, bitter and yukkie!" But this recipe? It's terrific--serve hot to 6 as a meal.

Season the chicken with salt and pepper, then slowly brown them in the lard (or oil). When brown, remove the chicken pieces, pour off all but 2 Tablespoons of the oil and whisk in the flour, making a roux. Add the chopped onions, parsley, and thyme and fry for several minutes. Pour in the boiling water, whisking hard, then add the bay leaf, cayenne, and country ham cubes. Bring to a boil, then turn down the heat and simmer for about an hour, until the chicken is tender. Pick out the chicken pieces, let cool a bit, then take off the bone--stirring the meat back into the soup and discarding the bones and skin. Taste for seasoning again, and add as much salt and pepper as you like.

When ready to serve, pour in the oysters with their juice and stir in the cooked rice. Turn up the heat and continue cooking for about 3 minutes. Don't let the oysters overcook. Remove gumbo from heat--and add filé powder just before taking to the table.

Serve with lots of crusty bread and butter.