Down in New Orleans, everyone claims to have a gumbo recipe that’s "the best ever." Well, I’ve got mine, too. Here it is. I learned the technique for making chicken gumbo 25 years ago, while working at K-Paul's in the French Quarter. The addition of the ham hock is something I came up with when we opened Town Hall. It adds body, richness, and a slightly smoky flavor. (If you can’t find a ham hock, just double the amount of andouille sausage.) Making gumbo is an example of what I call a long-term relationship recipe. Not only do you have to find your way with it over time, but, let’s face it, making gumbo takes a while. So think of this dish as an opportunity to cook for a group of your friends and get everyone involved. Simply put, gumbo is the perfect party dish. If you are on your own, gumbo, like most soups and stews, matures with time, so preparing it early in the morning or even a day in advance will only make it better.
A good gumbo demands a good roux, and making a good roux is an art. First, it helps to have the right tools. For the amount of roux this recipe requires, you need a cast-iron pan eight to 10 inches in diameter. That’s the perfect size for the amount of flour and oil you are going to use. Also, let’s be honest here: When you make a roux, you need to be careful. If it gets on your skin, it is going to burn. They don’t call it Cajun napalm for nothing.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
Place the chicken bones and ham hock on a baking sheet and roast until golden brown, turning once, about 45 minutes. Transfer the browned bones and hock to a large stockpot.
With a spatula, scrape up any browned bits stuck to the baking sheet and add to the pot, then pour in the water. Bring to a boil over high heat, then lower the heat to a simmer and skim off any fat and foam that has accumulated on the surface.
Add the carrot, celery, onion, bay leaf, and peppercorns and stir well. Simmer uncovered, stirring occasionally, for 1 hour. Remove the pot from heat. Lift out the ham hock, let cool, pull off the meat, and set aside.
Strain the stock through a fine-mesh sieve, discarding the solids. Measure out 2 quarts of the stock for the gumbo, cover, and refrigerate. Reserve the remaining stock for another use. It will keep in the refrigerator for up to 3-4 days or in the freezer for up to 2 months.
Heat 1 ½ inches oil in a large, deep frying pan to 375 degrees. Meanwhile, season the chicken with a little salt. In a large zippered plastic bag, combine the flour and spice mixture, seal closed, and shake to mix.
Then, add the chicken pieces to the flour mixture 1 at a time and shake to coat evenly. Shake off the excess flour from each chicken piece, place in the hot oil skin side down, and fry until the pieces are a deep golden brown and cooked through, turning once, about 7 minutes on each side. (If the pan is not large enough to fry the chicken without crowding, cook the pieces in batches, always allowing the oil to return to 375 degrees before adding a new batch.)
Using a slotted spoon, transfer the pieces to a plate. When the chicken pieces are cool enough to handle, pull the meat off the bones, discard the bones, and set the meat aside. Let the oil cool to room temperature, then strain through a fine-mesh strainer into a clean container and set aside.
Have a baking sheet ready for cooling the roux. Heat ¾ cup of the reserved oil from frying the chicken (or fresh oil) in a cast-iron pan over a high flame until the surface of the oil just starts to ripple. Add the flour and whisk continuously.
When it starts to brown lightly, turn down the heat to medium-low and continue whisking until the roux becomes a deep reddish brown, about 5 minutes. Take the pan off the heat, stir in the onion, celery, and bell pepper, and continue to stir for 1 minute.
Transfer the mixture to the baking sheet, spread it out, and let it cool for 2-3 minutes. Drizzle the Worcestershire sauce evenly over the top, then scatter the garlic and spice mixture evenly over the top. Stir to combine and set aside.
In a large pot, heat 2 tablespoons of the reserved oil from frying the chicken (or fresh oil) over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until it starts to brown, about 5 minutes. Reduce heat to medium, add the sausage and 1 tablespoon of the spice mixture, and stir and scrape until the spice mixture is lightly toasted and fragrant, about 1 minute.
Reduce heat to medium-low and cook for 2 more minutes, continuing to stir and scrape and doing your best to prevent anything from sticking to the bottom of the pot.
Add the bell pepper and celery and stir well. Add the garlic, jalapeño, the remaining spice mixture, and salt and cook, stirring and scraping occasionally, for about 10 minutes.
Skim off and discard any fat from the surface of the 2 quarts stock, then add the stock to the pot and stir well, making sure you scrape the bottom and sides of the pot.
Bring to a boil over high heat, then lower the heat to a simmer and skim off any fat from the surface. Begin adding the roux, 1 tablespoon at a time, stirring to incorporate each addition completely before adding the next tablespoon.
When all of the roux has been incorporated, stir well and simmer for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. Finally, fold in the reserved chicken and ham hock meat and heat through. Season with the pepper, then taste and adjust the seasoning. Place 1 heaping spoonful of rice into each individual bowl and ladle the gumbo over the top. Garnish with the scallions and serve immediately.