Nov 5, 2008

See Ya In the Gumbo!

Instead of good-bye, that’s what my great-grandpa chose to say when a visit was over. Considering what gumbo is, I guess he meant something like see you in the mix. It’s hard to explain, but we knew what he meant. He was a hoot.

Assigning a definition to gumbo is a challenge. At its core, gumbo is a cross between a soup and a stew. Please, I beg you, do NOT call it “stoup”...I can’t stand Rachael Ray and if you apply her inane chatter to one of the most loved dishes of my people I will have to seriously hurt you. I don’t care if her daddy is from Louisiana. I mean, for Pete’s sake, this woman thinks a decent gumbo can be made in 30 minutes. Damn-O, how offensive is that??? (That was my best RR impersonation, by the way.)

Gumbo can be made with just about anything. Chicken and sausage gumbo, seafood gumbo, squirrel gumbo, rabbit gumbo, guinea gumbo, dove gumbo, robin gumbo (illegal, by the way), green gumbo or gumbo z’herbes...ok, starting to sound like Forrest Gump. My dad has his famous duck and oyster gumbo, a combination that I’ve never seen before. Regional variations can include adding a heaping spoon of potato salad to your bowl of gumbo. This is most often seen outside of New Orleans. A friend from Kaplan, LA once mentioned to me that her mom liked to add hard boiled eggs to their chicken and sausage gumbo. In my experience, the family gumbos I’ve eaten in and around New Orleans always contain okra and usually some form of tomato (diced, paste, sauce). The family gumbos I’ve eaten with my in-laws, in the middle of Cajun country, never have okra or tomato. Not one speck. That doesn’t mean this holds true for every family.

So, how to define gumbo? Well, a roux is almost always involved. Notice I said almost. And, frenzied debates have popped up amongst the best of friends over what to use in a roux (oil, butter, margarine, etc.), what is the “right” proportion of fat and flour, and how dark a roux should be. The holy trinity is used (onion, celery, bell pepper). But even that combo is at the mercy of individual cooks.

The word gumbo comes from the West African word for okra. Okra was brought from Africa to Louisiana by slaves. The okra plant is a relative of hibiscus and Rose-of-Sharon; the similarities can readily be seen in the flower structure. Many people use okra, which helps to thicken the gumbo. But, others (presumably like me, who don’t care for it) use filé powder (ground sassafras) or simply just the roux to thicken their gumbos.

It seems that every gumbo component can become tangential. Wait. Rice. The dish is served over rice. Although, I’m guessing there are exceptions to that as well. I have to stop and can a dish, whose roots are from such humble, simple ingredients be so intricate? Because the definition of “gumbo” is the cook herself/himself.

There are infinite variations of many as there are cooks. Everyone has their own way of making gumbo, usually the way their mom made it, which is the way her mom made it, and so on. I guess gumbo really is in the genes...the recipe passed on by family, but with a few differences to make it unique.

Right about now, we call this “gumbo weather.” This is the time of year where I feel most connected to my culture. With the first cold snap, I head to the store. As I’m loading my shopping cart with chicken, andouille sausage, onions, celery, and so on, the person next to me is doing the is the person next to her. In the checkout line, it is obvious that everyone is shopping for the first gumbo of the season. On a crisp fall evening, in kitchens across the region, the results will differ from pot to pot, but the overall result will transcendentally link us when we all sit down to eat, as if triggering our genes.

My husband is the gumbo cook in my family. He has experimented with the recipe below for several years. One day, a bit of laziness took over and he pulled out the food processor to replace chopping onions, celery, bell pepper, and garlic. Well, laziness paid off, not only benefiting his arm, but the flavor of the gumbo. He ended up over-processing the vegetables, liquefying them. That gumbo had the best flavor out of any. He learned by mistake that this was the way to go!

Another trick he learned from experimenting is to use stock, not water, as the liquid. Yes, it takes more time to make stock. Yes, making gumbo is already a long process. Yes, I realize your time is precious. Suck it up, listen, and trust me, using stock will make a definite difference. Besides, you’ll be saving some time letting a machine mince the vegetables into oblivion.

Chicken and Sausage Gumbo
from Ms. enPlace

3/4-1 cup vegetable oil
3/4+ cup flour
5 large onions
6 stalks celery
1 bell pepper
10 cloves garlic, 4 unpeeled, whole and smashed, 6 peeled
1 chicken, cut up
1 lb andouille sausage
chicken stock (see below)
salt, black pepper, cayenne/red pepper
cooked white rice
2/3 cup green onions (optional)

Step 1: Prepare/Chop Ingredients and Make Stock. Rough chop 3 onions, 6 cloves garlic, 3 stalks celery, and 1 bell pepper so they fit into the bowl of a food processor. Process the vegetables until mushy. Food processing results in a richer, more flavorful gumbo, but you can hand-cut your vegetables if you do not own a food processor.

Meanwhile, fill a large pot with 2 onions (cut in half), 4 cloves of unpeeled garlic, 3 stalks of celery, a generous amount of black pepper and cayenne pepper. Yes, I season my stock...whatcha gonna do about it? Bring the pot to a boil, add your chicken and simmer until your chicken is done. Take your chicken out, let cool, then remove the meat from the bones. Do not discard the water that you boiled the chicken in. After carving the chicken, return the bones to the pot and continue to simmer until you end up with a nice chicken stock. Strain the stock and reserve it for adding to the gumbo later.

In a saute or frying pan, cook the andouille sausage until browned. Keep chicken, sausage, and pan drippings from sausage on the side until needed.

Step 2: Make a Roux. Begin by putting ¾-1 cup vegetable oil in a cast iron, or stainless steel pot. Do not use non-stick cookware. Heat the oil on medium-high heat. Wait until oil is very hot. Then, gradually add flour a little bit at a time, stirring/scraping constantly with a flat-edge spatula. Keep adding flour as roux browns; you will know you’ve added enough when all of the vegetable oil has combined with the flour and when the roux no longer looks oily.

Stir constantly. This step takes time, usually about half an hour. Roux is done when it is a dark caramel color and has gotten considerably thicker than when you began.

Step 3: Assemble the Gumbo. When the roux is done, immediately add the vegetables (except the green onions). This will stop the roux from cooking further and will result in a clumpy jumble of vegetables and solidified roux. Cook this over medium heat for about 5 minutes so that the onions, etc. soften. Add the chicken and sausage. Let this cook for a while (about 10 minutes) in the mixture of roux and vegetables. Then, slowly add chicken stock. Let gumbo cook over medium heat for as long as possible (minimum 1 hour). About half an hour before serving, add green onions and season to taste with salt, black pepper, and cayenne pepper. This is also when you want to begin cooking your rice.

Sometimes, if you’ve used a lot of dark meat or fatty meat, a layer of oil will rise to the top of the gumbo. You can simply skim this off with a spoon. (No one said this stuff was healthy).

Step 4: Serving. Serve gumbo over rice. Top with green onions. Leftover gumbo can be refrigerated or frozen for later use. (Note: do not refrigerate or freeze gumbo with rice in it. The rice will absorb the liquid. Store leftover rice separately or make fresh rice for each meal).

First, prep your vegetables and start making your stock. Stock takes a long time. Do this the day before if you want.

Here's the stock. Use all the peelings and tops from your vegetables to add flavor. I like to freeze all that stuff and use it whenever I make stocks. Here's a step-by-step. Homemade stock is awesome and adds rich, deep flavor to sauces, soups, etc. Make a huge pot and freeze what you don't need here.

I like to brown the sausage before adding it to the roux. I don't know why. That's just how my family does it. So I do it that way too. Oh, and don't waste the pan drippings from the sausage. Save that for the gumbo too.

Next, start your roux. Here's the thing...once you start making a roux, you cannot stop. Don't walk away from the pot or the roux will burn. Stories are told all over Louisiana about how kids could be bleeding, but if mama was making a roux they'd better tend to the problem themselves. Don't answer the phone, don't get the door, don't take even the quickest of potty breaks.

This is the beginning and the end of the process. The entire deal can be seen here:
How to Make a Roux.

Once your roux is the color you'd like, add the vegetables. There's no better smell than the trinity hitting hot roux. After the vegetable mixture cooks a bit in the roux, I like to also add the chicken and saute it for several minutes. More chicken was used than what appears in the photo, by the way. (The chicken was cooked in the stock, removed, cooled, and picked from the bones. Toss bones back into stock.)

Recap: So now the roux is made and the vegetables have been cooked in it. The chicken has been sauteed in the roux/veg mixture. The sausage and drippings have also been added to the pot. Next, add warm liquid...your stock if you've made it (and I hope you have). I don't advise using cold liquid such as stock right from the fridge or water from the tap. I've had too many gumbos separate from using cold liquid.

Simmer for at least an hour, the longer the better. Add more stock/liquid if needed. Just before serving, skim excess grease from the top and add green onion tops. Serve over rice. Pass filé powder at the table.

See ya in the gumbo!


  1. My family (from Crowley and some from Kaplan) boils eggs in their gumbos. And we (meaning basically just the Hubbs and I) put potato salad in ours. But never okra and never tomatoes. My husband loves New Orleans style gumbo, but I just don't like it. Okra and tomatoes belong together in a pot when you're sick, but not in my gumbo. And I hate Rachael Ray, too. I always joke that her father is probably from Shreveport and wouldn't know Cajun food if it bit him in the... well, you know. :)

    Enjoying the blog!


  2. Nichole4/11/2011

    Just saw your link on BCC and thought i would check it out. SO many people claim that they are "cajun" or know "cajun" food but you sure know what your doing. I loved reading about putting the potato salad in the gumbo, because thats how we do it. Also like PP said we also will drop eggs into the gumbo at the end and its basically hard boiled eggs. Gives it the same flavor as the potato salad. I always say you can tell if someone is really cajun by the color of their gumbo and whats in it. No okra or tomatoes and gumbo should be BROWN!! So nice to see someone put our cooking, the right way down on paper, or should i say blog. GL and i love the blog. Plan to be a follower!

  3. This turned out to be the exact Gumbo flavor I was looking for! Normally, I make Gumbo with tomato base. I know, I know but at least I travel to Louisiana to get the shrimp and sausage. Okay? But I made this one for Father's Day and it was superb. My cousin who I adore and whose cooking is fantastic doesn't use tomatoes either (she lives in Boyce) and this flavor matched hers. The guys loved every drop of it. I also served fried gator, using a marinade I got here and a coating I bought in Opelousas (sp?). By the way, I live on the West Coast so this was a real triumph for me... bringing down home to my kitchen. Thank you for sharing. Love this blog.


Thanks for stopping by! I appreciate your comments.