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Gumbo

Rick's Chicken and Sausage Gumbo Recipe

I offer this for all my family and friends who aren't fortunate enough to live in Louisiana. You know who you are. You live in Arizona, California, Missouri, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Georgia, South Africa, Ohio, Florida, Maryland, New York ... you know where you are.

Sometimes you find yourself hungry for something you just can't quite identify. It's a deep hunger for something true and original, something with substance. Something so good it doesn't matter that it's healthy, too! Your hunger is accompanied by a hunch that you'll not find what you're hungry for in the chain restaurants of public corporations or in locally owned delicatessens. And you're correct. It's not there.

I've been there. I've seen the fare. I know what you're missing. And I know what you want.

You want Gumbo!

I feel your pain. And to come to your aid, I offer this, my Chicken and Sausage Gumbo recipe.

But first, a bit about Gumbos. There are two types of gumbos, okra gumbo and filé gumbo.

Okra-based gumbos use okra for a thickening agent. You're probably familiar with okra and know it as the long green, pointed pods filled with little white seeds. If you grow your own okra you'll learn about itching. When boiled, okra becomes thick and a bit slimey. It's this characteristic of boiled okra that gives okra-based gumbos their thickness.

Filé may not be familiar to many of you who live away. Filé is the finely ground leaves of the Sassafras tree. Filé has a unique flavor and it also serves as a thickening agent. Filé is so good that some (like me) who like okra-based gumbos will sprinkle filé on their okra gumbo just before eating it. Never while cooking.

Louisiana is a recipe of delicious cultures. For years these different cultures have blended into one of the world's most unique places. And gumbo is the classic Louisiana example of the way our cultures blend. For example, the word "gumbo" is the short form of kingumbo, which is the Swahili for the okra pod.

On the Importance of Roux

Without doubt, roux is the foundation of a good gumbo. In spite of what you may have heard, making a good roux is not difficult. There's nothing mysterious about a gumbo roux. Making a roux does, however, require patience.

So, if you have patience (think, "stir constantly for an hour and a half") and are without cooking skills ("but I can boil water"), you can make an excellent roux.

And because you can make an excellent roux, you can make an excellent gumbo! It may help to know that one of the nice things about gumbo is that it's so forgiving. Gumbo is hearty enough that it doesn't really matter whether you throw in two chopped onions or three, three bay leaves or five, one chicken or two. You get the idea.

So relax. There's not that much to making an excellent, basic gumbo.

Here's your equipment list:

A large Gumbo pot. I use a 9 quart cast iron, dutch oven.
A pot large enough to boil a couple of chickens.
A wooden stirring spoon. (Never use metal spoons in a cast iron pot)
A cutting board.
A couple of sharp knives.
Four or five hours.

This is the ingredients list:

2 skinned, whole chickens boiled in a pot until the meat easily comes off the bones.
2 pounds of good sausage, sliced thinly. (Andouille (pronounced ahn-DWEE) is best if you can find it.)
2 nice sized onions.
4 garlic cloves.
1 large bunch of fresh parsley.
1 large, green bell pepper.
1 bunch of green onions.
1 cup of vegetable oil. (I use Smart Balance.)
1 cup of flour.
3 Bay leaves.
2 cups of long grain rice.
Seasonings to taste. (If you can find it, just use Tony's. Otherwise, you'll want salt and pepper, cayenne pepper, etc.)
A couple gallons of water.

That will make enough Gumbo to provide several delicious meals for a Gumbo-loving, family of four and a few guests. (Unless one of the family members sneaks gumbo in the night and another eats it for breakfast!)

It All Begins with the Roux!

Technically, since you've already boiled and deboned the chickens (and you saved the broth), it begins with the birds, but there's a saying here in Louisiana: "it all begins with the roux". (And there's a good bit of philosophy in that, too. The more Gumbo you cook, the deeper will grow your understanding of the importance of having good foundations.)

Anyway, here's the step-by-step for a good, basic gumbo roux:

1. Finely chop your onions, bell peppers and garlic cloves. The finer the better. You want to do this first, because you'll use these chopped onions, peppers and garlic (also known as "the holy trinity" in some Louisiana kitchens) to cool your roux and prevent it from burning.

2. Put your Gumbo pot on a burner and heat it to a medium heat. Pour in the cup of oil and then pour in the cup of flour. Take your wooden spoon and begin stirring slowly. Plan to do this for an hour. Don't rush it by turning up the heat. If you burn your roux, you're toast. You must start over. Take your time and enjoy this opportunity to contemplate the meaning of life.

As you stir your roux (constantly), you'll notice it slowly (very slowly) begins to change color. From the pale oil and flour color you started with, you'll notice it slowly becomes darker. You have to make a judgment call here. Some people like a medium dark roux (caramel colored), others like a very dark roux (dark chocolate colored). If you're making your first pot of Gumbo, I suggest you choose the medium dark roux. It's quicker and you're less likely to burn your roux than if you go for the dark colored roux.

So stir your oil and flour over a medium heat until it has turned a rich caramel color.

Caution: Some call roux "Cajun Napalm" because it is hot and it is dangerous. If you cook it with too much heat, it may ignite. If you notice it smoking, your fire is too hot. Turn it down immediately. I never cook roux without a kitchen fire extinguisher available. I've never needed it, but I like having it handy. One thing I like about my 9 quart Dutch Oven is that that it has a very heavy cast iron lid that can be put on the pot if the roux ignites. NEVER WALK AWAY FROM A COOKING ROUX. And if you get hot roux on you, it will burn you badly. Serious burns. Keep your kids out of the kitchen when you're making roux.

Back to your rich, caramel colored roux.

Once the roux is the color you wish, turn off the fire and keep stirring. Pour all the chopped onions, peppers and garlic into the roux and keep stirring. You should expect a reaction. Your roux will probably bubble up and become thick. That's okay. You're in charge. Keep stirring with the fire off so the holy trinity can release its good stuff into your roux. If it looks like it's becoming too thick, and since you've already boiled your chickens, you can pour a quart or two of the hot broth into the roux to help cool it. (Never pour cold liquids into a hot roux!) Keep stirring until everything is smooth.

And there you go. You just made the perfect roux! Call someone and brag!

The rest is easy.

Turn your fire back up to a medium low and put the rest of the ingredients into your roux (except the rice - never put rice in gumbo, put your gumbo on your rice after both are cooked). All the deboned chicken, all the sliced sausage, the Bay leaves, and the fresh chopped parsley goes into your roux. Add enough water to bring the whole mixture up to 2 gallons and then bring it to a low boil. Leave it there for twenty minutes and then turn the fire down a bit and let it simmer for hours. Check on it and stir the bottom so nothing sticks to the pot. And sample often so you can season to taste.

Remember, a good Gumbo is healthy. Because most sausage will cook out some grease, you'll want to get rid of it. After a couple hours of simmering, use a large spoon to capture any grease that is on top of the gumbo and remove it. You'll want to do this before you serve your gumbo, too.

Cook your rice in time for dinner. Rice cookers take about an hour. You can cook rice on the stove in about 20 minutes.

Set your table with bowls, Tabasco® sauce, gumbo Filé, salt and pepper and Tony Chachere's® Famous Creole Seasoning. Put rice in each bowl and then your gumbo. Sprinkle a little Filé on top and stir. (It doesn't take much Filé ... you'll figure it out pretty quickly.) Some like to eat saltines with gumbo, too.

Enjoy!

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