There are a number of famous dishes in the families of Cajun and Creole cuisine. I’ll make the claim that among them, gumbo is king. Its versatility lends itself to being served in lieu of soup in the finest of restaurants or paired with half a po’boy and a can of Coke at a rustic diner. We can make a gumbo centered on any protein; I make it with chicken, with leftover smoked Thanksgiving turkey, with seafood. For the outdoorsman, we can use squirrels or a rabbit from the last hunt. For the uninitiated, squirrel gumbo is delicious. It tastes a bit nutty.
The first time I made gumbo I was about fourteen. It was for a German family whose son I had befriended when they arrived to our small town in Louisiana. We were hanging out one day when his father came in holding a bag whose contents were soon revealed. In his mild German accent he said to us “I bought shrimp.” Having no reason to disbelieve we agreed that they likely were shrimp. We weren’t sure why the shrimp were currently in my friend’s bedroom, as if the evidence was necessary to prove the purchase. “What would you do with them?” he asked me. A grocery run and several hours of effort later we had a gumbo. The roux was a touch burnt; the shrimp a touch overcooked.
Years later I remember discussing cooking a gumbo with my mom. She explained that you had to have a beer to cook a gumbo. And so, on gamedays with a noon cookoff it isn’t an uncommon sight to find me at dawn in the kitchen, beer in hand, working a gumbo. Years later again, I learned that there is a common thought that cooking a roux takes about two beers’ time. This actually informed me of two things: that the beer consumption was functional, and that I had been cooking my roux about two beers too long. I also understood why I cooked the roux too long for my first gumbo: how was I supposed to keep time!
Generally, the steps to make a gumbo are to:
- Make a dark roux
- Cook down your veggies
- Mix the veggies with the roux and add stock
- Add a few herbs
- Add your proteins at the correct time
- Serve over rice
If we can do all these things, then we can make a gumbo. The beauty of this recipe is that besides the final minutes of the roux in the oven there is no tricky timing or schedule to manage. If you need more time to cut vegetables or pull chicken then just turn of the heat, catch up, then resume cooking.
Make a dark roux
Traditionally, dark roux is made low and slow by mixing equal parts of white flour and some kind of oil such as vegetable oil, peanut oil, or even lard. You will cook low and slow, beer in hand, until it takes a color somewhere between milk chocolate and dark chocolate. A dark roux has less thickening power, but it will add more depth of flavor and richness to the final gumbo. I tend to think of Creole gumbos as often having a darker roux. On the Cajun side of things it is more common to see a lighter roux with poultry based gumbos. All of these are dark roux compared to the cousin roux blanc often called a butter roux. Butter roux can be darkened to a blonde roux, but not much further as the butter itself will burn.
My gumbos are made with sacrilege, still beer in hand. I cook my roux for my gumbo in the oven with no oil. It’s called an oil-less roux. Because there isn’t oil. It’s cooked flour, and it’s so much easier!
Preheat your oven to 400 °F. Let’s get a metal sheet pan, pour 3 to 4 cups of flour onto it, and distribute it evenly across the pan. Go ahead and get it in the oven as it preheats. Check the roux every 10 minutes in the beginning until it starts to brown. Once the top is uniformly a light brown pull the pan out, stir the flour, then redistribute it evenly. Every few minutes repeat this process until the roux is a uniform milk chocolate color. You can leave the roux in the pan until it cools enough to scoop into a resealable bag. We typically use between 1.5 and 2 cups for our gumbo then freeze the rest for next time. The entire process takes less than thirty minutes.
Cook down your veggies
This one is simple: dice one large onion, three stalks of celery, and a bell pepper. Cook them down with a touch of butter or oil. Once they are wilted toss in some garlic. After a minute or so you should smell the garlic in the air. The trifecta of onion, celery, and bell pepper is known as the holy trinity. Given the resemblance of a garlic clove to a mitre folks will also quip that the pope comes after.
I’d say if this is your first time making gumbo let’s keep it simple. In the future this is a space you can explore. Toss in some okra. Toss in some peppers.
This is also a good place to call out I’ve said we are making a Cajun gumbo. As best as I can tell if we add tomatoes to this it would immediately become a creole gumbo. Do with this what you will.
Mix the veggies with the roux and add stock
Toss in 1.5 cups of our roux and stir it into the vegetables. Add two quarts of chicken stock to the pot and stir in the roux. If we decide later we would like it a bit thicker we can add more roux; I recommend about a quarter cup at a time.
Add a few herbs
Toss in three bay leaves and several sprigs of thyme or one teaspoon dried. If we are using good andouille and tasso then no additional seasoning will be necessary. The andouille and tasso will carry the right amount of spice, salt, and smoke to pull the gumbo together.
If we aren’t expecting our meats to carry the dish then I recommend adding one or two teaspoons of black pepper and cayenne each. Toss in a tablespoon of salt now then season to taste again in the final twenty minutes of cooking.
Add your proteins at the correct time
For a chicken and andouille gumbo the time is soon! I like to smoke a chicken or turkey, pick it for the meat to be added to the gumbo, then make a stock out of the smoked skin and bones. I use this stock in the gumbo as well. You can easily pick up a pre-cooked rotisserie and do the same.
If you can’t find andouille and won’t be making it yourself from our recipe here I would suggest a good kielbasa as an alternative. I would cut the sausage into half moons. Consider frying them then pouring the entire contents of your fry pan into the gumbo. Hold the fat if you want to be healthier.
A quarter pound of tasso wouldn’t hurt if you have it. Slice thin against the grain and toss it in.
Let everything come together for another hour or so. Let it reduce a bit early then cover to prevent further loss to evaporation. Stir occasionally to keep the bottom from sticking.
This is another place you can have some fun. Toss in some venison. Boil some eggs. No one will stop you.
Serve over rice
This implies that we’ve made rice. So somewhere in last hour make rice. Serve your gumbo with a dollop of rice on top of it in a bowl. You can toss some parsely or snip some green onions with some scissors over the top.
I’ve realized that I forgot to take a picture of gumbo in a bowl… I’ll have to make more I suppose.
Cajun Chicken and Andouille Gumbo
- 4 cups flour
- 1 tbsp oil or butter to cook the vegetables in
- 1 large diced onion
- 3 stalks diced celery
- 1 large diced green bell pepper
- 2 tbsp minced garlic
- 2 quarts chicken stock
- 1 lbs andouille, cut into half moons kielbasa
- 1/4 lbs tasso, sliced thin against the grain optional
- 1 whole chicken, meat separated
- ? ? cayenne, black pepper, and salt to taste not necessary if using good andouille and tasso
- 2 cups uncooked rice
- 2 cups water
- 1 tsp salt
- Cook flour in oven until the color of milk chocolate, stirring occasionally
- Cook vegetables down in butter or oil
- Add 1.5 cups of roux to the vegetables
- Add 2 quarts of stock, cook for 30 minutes stirring occasionally
- Season with thyme, bay leaves.
- Add chicken, andouille, and optional tasso
- Cook for 30 minutes, season to taste with cayenne, black pepper, and salt
- Cook for a final 30 minutes
- Cook rice however you cook rice.
- Serve gumbo in a bowl with a dollop of rice on top
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