Gumbo Series Part 5
It has taken me years to document my gumbo recipe because I’ve been making it for so long that I do it by ‘feel’ or muscle memory rather than measuring everything, but now, I’m finally ready to share. This recipe was tested in my latest gumbo cooking class and I’m confident that YOU can make great gumbo with it, especially if you read the detailed guide below the recipe.
Glover Gardens Chicken and Sausage Gumbo Recipe
Serves 8-12; Cooking and prep time, about 90 minutes
- Spice Mix (see alternatives for the spice mix here)
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 tbsp dried oregano
- 1 1/2 tsp dried thyme
- 1 tsp dried basil
- 1 tbsp salt
- 1 tsp paprika
- 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
- 1 1/2 tsp garlic powder
- 1 1/2 onion powder
- 1 tsp white pepper
- 1 tsp cayenne
- 1 tsp black pepper
- 2 1/2 cups chopped onion (about 1 whole large onion, yellow or white), divided
- 2 1/2 cups chopped bell pepper (about 2, preferably in various colors), divided
- 2 1/2 cups chopped celery, tops included (about 4-5 stalks), divided
- 1 lb. cooked poultry (chicken, turkey, duck or game hens), shredded or chopped (about 4 – 5 cups)
- 1 1/2 – 2 lbs. sausage links, sliced and “sweated” (preferably smoked, andouille or jalapeno)
- 3/4 cups vegetable oil
- 3/4 – 1 cup flour
- 9-11 cups of stock, divided
- 1 tbsp butter
- 1 1/2 cups rice
- 1 tbsp minced garlic
- 1 tbsp catsup or tomato paste (optional)
- 1/2 cup finely sliced green onions
- 1/2 cup chopped parsley (about half a bunch)
Do all the prep first and have the ingredients ready. In other words:
Make the spice mix and set aside.
Chop the fresh vegetables (the “trinity”) and separate them into two bowls: one with two cups of each, and one with 1/2 cup of each.
Shred or chop the chicken, turkey or duck.
Slice the sausage and “sweat” it in the microwave by putting it in a covered casserole dish with about 3/4 of an inch of water for about 3-4 minutes on high, then drain it (this step removes extra unattractive fat).
Heat 6 cups of the stock in a big soup pot or dutch oven, the pot you will serve your gumbo from.
Make the rice. Melt 1 tbsp of butter in a large saucepan on medium, then add the smaller bowl of chopped vegetables and sauté for several minutes. Add the rice and sauté for about two more minutes, then add 3 cups of stock and 1 tbsp of the spice mix and bring to a boil. Cover and reduce the heat to simmer, and cook for about 30 minutes or until the rice is done. Set aside to serve with the gumbo.
Make the roux. Heat the oil on medium-high in a deep skillet (preferably cast iron) for a few minutes, until a sprinkle of flour sizzles. Add 3/4 cup of the flour and stir into the oil, stirring constantly with a flat wooden spatula until the flour is cooked to your preferred color. This can take up to 20 minutes or more.
Once the roux is as dark as you’d like it (ranging from peanut butter to dark chocolate), add the onion, bell pepper and celery, plus the bay leaves and half the spice mix and continue to cook for about 5 minutes, stirring continuously. The roux will darken even more.
Add the roux to the hot stock and stir until it is incorporated. Then add the chicken and sausage, stir, and taste it. Add as much of the rest of the spice mix as you like to suit your taste. Add more stock if the gumbo is too thick for your liking. Add the garlic and tomato paste or catsup (if using), stir, and cook for 15 minutes or more to combine the flavors. The gumbo can simmer on low for an hour or two.
Serve over the rice, garnished with green onions and parsley.
Detailed How-To Guide: A Gumbo Cooking Class
Gumbo isn’t hard to make, and except for the roux, it’s more assembly than cooking, but it has a lot of steps and quite a few ingredients, and can seem a little daunting if you’ve never done it before. The best way to learn to make gumbo is to make it with someone who has already mastered it; there’s almost an effortless knowledge transfer that takes place as this delectable cajun soup comes together. There’s also the easy exchange brought on by the Q&A and gentle guidance, as in, “chop it just a little finer,” or “be sure to scrape every inch of the skillet when you’re making the roux,” etc. I’ve had the extreme pleasure of teaching more than a handful of friends and family members to make gumbo, and I delight in their success as they bring the tradition into their own families and traditions. They often send me texts or pictures, which makes me feel connected to them and their gumbo greatness. The picture below is my 2nd cousin Colin, who created this batch of gumbo two weeks after our cooking class, without even having the recipe.
This guide is the compilation of tips I would give you if we were doing an in-person gumbo cooking class.
Variety is the Spice of Life
Even if you follow a recipe, your gumbo will almost always be different from the last time you made it. Remember the quote in one of the previous gumbo posts: “Good gumbos are like sunsets – every one is different”? This is so true. The stock may be different – especially if you make your own. You may make one gumbo a little thinner than the last. The proteins may vary – a store-bought rotisserie chicken will produce a different gumbo than leftover deep-fried turkey at after Thanksgiving (both are delicious). The roux can be lighter or darker, depending on your mood, courage and gusto. Check out the variety in some of my gumbos over the years.
You Can Simplify the Spice Mix
The amounts in the spice mix above are tried and true and I stand by them. But you know what? I don’t like having to measure all that every time I make gumbo. So I have two other methods of producing my spice mix:
- (Preferred) Making a large batch of my Zippy Cajun and just using that. Zippy Cajun is a perfect spice mix for gumbo and the accompanying rice. You’ll need about 4 tbsp of Zippy Cajun, total, with one in the rice and the rest in the gumbo. And since you’ve got a big batch, you can always add more, to taste. I always have Zippy Cajun on hand to use for making gumbo and other cajun dishes, or just as a a go-to spice mix for grilled meats, vegetables, etc. If you’re thinking of making this gumbo recipe any time in the next few months, why not make some Zippy Cajun right now? Click here for the Zippy Cajun recipe.
- Using a purchased cajun spice mix, like Paul Prudhomme’s, or Tony Chachere’s. Watch out if you use Tony’s, though, because it can be a bit heavy on the salt. Old Bay will also work, and with that one, you may need to add a little salt.
I use Method #1, the Zippy Cajun, about 90% of the time when I’m making gumbo. If the worst has happened and I’m out of Zippy (because the Grill-Meister has been using it for grilling and I didn’t realize it was time for a new batch), I’ll go with Method #2.
However you choose to approach the spice mix, be sure to add it in stages. You may find the gumbo spicy enough after the first addition, or you may want to use the whole amount. If it still isn’t spicy enough for you, just add cayenne by the 1/4 teaspoon until you’re there.
Did you know that a nickname for the onion, celery and bell peppers in Cajun cooking is “the trinity”? These three vegetables are definitely better together when it comes to gumbo. You don’t have to be precise or uniform in the chopping of the vegetables, but the dice shouldn’t be larger than 1/2 inch. Somewhere between 1/4” and 1/2” is optimum.
Personally, I like chopping the vegetables by hand, because it makes me feel very connected to the meal I’m producing, but of course, it’s more time-consuming. If you use a food processor, do the vegetables separately from each other, and be careful just to pulse and not over-chop them, as they can quickly turn from chopped vegetables to an unappealing vegetable mush. There’s a cool small manual chopper that does a great job on gumbo vegetables, the Zyliss Easy Pull Food Processor.
You Pick the Poultry
I first learned to make gumbo from a family friend who had been the chef at the Houston Country Club for years and moved down to the Bolivar Peninsula (where I grew up) to live a simpler life as he eased into retirement. He was the chef for the local hunting lodge in the winter months, and made duck gumbo nightly. I was a waitress there in high school and also general kitchen help, and he gradually gave over the gumbo task to me. This gumbo was fabulous: dark and earthy from the duck. Duck makes GREAT gumbo. If you are a duck hunter, try my gumbo recipe with your next catch. You won’t be sorry.
But most people won’t have duck on hand, and that’s just fine. I make gumbo these days with either chicken or turkey, or sometimes, game hens. If you roasted a chicken and have leftovers, they’ll make great gumbo. Or you can just buy a rotisserie chicken – one small one is perfect for a batch of gumbo. Leftover turkey from your Thanksgiving or Christmas bird is also perfect, whether it’s baked, smoked or deep-fried. You can also do a mix.
Whatever poultry you pick, I don’t recommend using the skin or fat in it. But everything else edible that you ‘harvest’ if you’re deboning a fowl will be great, as both white and dark meat work really well in gumbo. The best gumbo has both.
The bottom line: almost any poultry will work in gumbo, whether it’s boiled, braised, grilled, roasted or baked. But never, ever use canned chicken in gumbo.
Chop, Shred or Both?
As with the vegetables, the size of the poultry pieces doesn’t have to be uniform, but like the sausage, the chunks shouldn’t be too big for a bite. You can either chop or shred the bird, or do a combination. Shreds can be nice because they separate and you get a little in every bite. This can also be accomplished with dices of different sizes.
It Doesn’t Have to Cluck or Quack – Other Proteins Work, Too!
Another reason it took me a long time to document the gumbo recipe is that I usually just make it with whatever I’ve got on hand. Sausage is a MUST (in my humble opinion), but I often supplement or replace the poultry with another turf-based protein. Leftover steak or pork are FABULOUS in gumbo. If there’s a leftover chop or two, or a roast, I chop and freeze them for a rainy gumbo day. Ground meats don’t work, though.
The Sausage Story
There are many varieties of sausage that work well in gumbo, but it should always be link sausage, never ground. One of the most traditional choices is andouille, a lovely spiced sausage from Cajun country. The sausage can be pork, beef, or a mix of pork and beef. It can be smoked or garlic-flavored. My go-to is usually jalapeño sausage, but be careful not to use jalapeño-cheese sausage. That’s just wrong in gumbo.
Sausage slices shouldn’t be so thick that they make a bigger-than-comfortable bite, so keep it under a 1/2 inch.You can make the slices a little thicker and cut them into half-moons, if you prefer.
Whatever type of sausage you use, don’t skip the “sweating” step. The few minutes in the microwave with water steams some of the excess fat from the sausage and eliminates most of the fat often pools unattractively on the surface of the gumbo.
Take It Slow: Don’t Rue the Roux
If you are scared to make a roux, I understand. I’ve been there. But it’s really not hard if you keep these things in mind:
- A cast iron skillet makes the best roux.
- Slow is better; don’t rush the roux. It can turn on you (burn on you) in a heartbeat if the heat is too high. When asked how long it takes to make a roux, Emeril Lagasse famously answered, “About two beers.” 😁 That’s a bit of an exaggeration, but not much.
- If you start to see black specks, it’s burning. Throw it out and start over. Burnt roux makes awful gumbo.
- Use a wooden spatula and make sure you cover the whole surface of the skillet during your continuous stirring.
- Don’t multi-task. Roux is high maintenance.
Any kind of neutral cooking oil works for gumbo roux, like vegetable, canola, safflower, etc. Never use olive oil.
If you a way to cook on a skillet outside, that’s my preferred method for doing the roux. It creates a lovely, lovely roasted browning smell, but that smell can sometimes linger for a day or two inside the house. (During his cooking class, my son said, “What’s wrong with that? It’s a GREAT smell!”
The Color of the Roux is Up to You
There are scores of opinions about gumbo roux and how dark it should be. For me, it’s easy: make it as dark as you like it. I like it really dark, from reddish brown to dark chocolate-colored, because it imparts a deeper flavor to the gumbo liquid, but that’s a personal choice. Some people prefer a lighter roux, feeling that it highlights the taste of the poultry and sausage more. But I wouldn’t go any lighter than peanut butter – and even that is a little light, if you ask me – or it will really just be more like soupy gravy.
And remember, the roux will darken after the vegetables are added. Look how beautiful that is!
Let’s Talk Stock
As with any soup, the liquid that you use for gumbo is important. It’s the biggest ingredient by volume. So please, no water! There are so many other liquids you can use to make a great gumbo. Making your own stock is easy, and if you have time, is the best. But store-bought chicken, turkey or even vegetable stock is fine. You can also use bouillon cubes (chicken or vegetable, as vegetable bouillon is surprisingly flavorful), although you may need to adjust the salt. You can use a combination of any of the above. You can add wine or beer in small amounts.
If you don’t have enough stock for both the gumbo and the rice, cheat the rice, not the gumbo.
If you’re going to be a frequent gumbo-maker, I recommend three things for your stock of stock:
- keep some store-bought on hand
- have bouillon cubes always on hand
- make and freeze your own stock whenever you have meat bones
Making Your Own Stock
Making stock is not hard and it doesn’t have to take forever.
The easiest way is to add water to meat bones and boil them, along with any vegetables you have on hand. I save and freeze meat bones and vegetable scraps for this purpose. Vegetable scraps can be ends of celery stalks, peels and ends of carrots, ends of regular and green onions. Parsley or other herbs work, too. I make stock every once in a while when my frozen supply is depleted and I have enough meat bones and veggies. It is richer if you roast or sauté the bones and vegetables first: sauté until very brown, about 20 minutes, or roast at about 400 for an hour.
But if you don’t have homemade stock on hand the day you’re making the gumbo and would really like to make your own, don’t despair! Even an hour of boiling bones and vegetables will produce a liquid that’s far more flavorful than water. Just debone your chicken (if that’s what you’re using) and chop your vegetables a little early, then boil them for however long you’ve got.
Almost any kinds of bones will work with stock, so don’t throw them away any more! The Grill-Meister also saves the wing tips when he cuts up chicken wings before grilling them, and I freeze them.
The best stock (in my humble opinion) is the product of roasting the turkey carcass after a meal with the big bird. You can also save pan drippings for this use – yum!!!
Also, for the purposes of stock, never throw out that last bit of wine in the bottle, even if it’s past its best drinkability. Wine in stock is wonderful.
Vary the Thickness by Adding More Stock
You’ve made your roux according to your preference, and you’re using a flavorful stock… what if the gumbo is the color you wanted but is too thick for your liking? Just add more stock! Or wine, or bouillon, or anything but water, basically.
Repeat the Flavors in the Rice
You’ll note that I use some of the chopped “trinity”, the spice mix and the stock in the rice. This is a subtle way to reinforce the flavors of the gumbo, and the Grill-Meister is a BIG fan of this approach. But if you don’t have time, no worries, white rice is just fine.
The Final Add-Ins
Near the end of the cooking time, I add the garlic and a little tomato paste or catsup. The garlic is an absolute must, but you could skip the red stuff if you wanted – it’s not really traditional. I think it adds a little sweetness and smoothness to the flavor, but I don’t always do it.
I also have a very non-traditional add-in that I use if I feel like the taste needs to be a little deeper: coffee. Again, just a tablespoon(ish)… and maybe only once in every ten times I make gumbo. I just grab the pot with the remains of the morning joe and dribble a little in.
Don’t Skip the Garnish
Gumbo is a dark, rich set of flavors, but it needs a pop of freshness and color for optimum impact. I always always always have the garnish of chopped green onions and parsley when I serve gumbo. It’s just not right without it.
On the Side
Gumbo is so rich is doesn’t always need a side dish, but a cool tossed salad is nice. My favorite side for gumbo is steamed broccoli with lots of lemon, but the Grill-Meister is on a roasted (charred) broccoli kick, and this also pairs very well with gumbo.
Some kind of bread is a must: rolls, french bread slices, garlic bread, bread sticks, hush puppies – be creative.
And don’t forget the hot sauce: Tobasco, Frank’s Red Hot, Crystal – whatever floats your boat.
Sipping with Your Gumbo
I shared Chef Emeril’s comment about “two beers” with you above (how long it takes to make a roux). If you want beer with your gumbo, the best choice is a lager or other light beer. Amber or dark beer competes with the rich, dark flavors of the gumbo.
My preference is white wine, with Sauvignon Blanc at the top of the list. Its light, grassy flavors are a perfect complement to gumbo.
Non-alcoholic sippers that pair well with gumbo are lemon-lime, like Sprite or even lemon-flavored sparkling water, or – don’t laugh – Dr. Pepper. Its sweetness balances the spiciness of the gumbo really well.
When to Have Gumbo
Gumbo is timeless and seasonless. You can have it in the summer, you can have it in the winter. It’s PERFECT after a big holiday. Anytime is gumbo time.
Peruse the Full Series
Now that the recipe has been unveiled, the Gumbo Series has (finally) come to a close. Here it is, in 5 parts:
- Gumbo Series, Part 1: Good Gumbos are Like Sunsets
- Gumbo Series, Part 2: Gumbo, It’s a Family Affair
- Gumbo Series, Part 3: The Communal Nature of Gumbo-Making
- Gumbo Series, Part 4: A Family Cooking Class is the Final Test of the Glover Gardens Gumbo Recipe
- Gumbo Series, Part 5: The Glover Gardens Chicken and Sausage Gumbo Recipe – Finally!
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