Gumbo Recipe with all the Things
I’ll never claim to have a sophisticated palette. When it comes to food I tend to gravitate toward choices that are plebeian: soups, stews, chillis, skillets, etc. Nothing fancy.
One of my favorite things to eat is Gumbo. Delicious, hearty, full of spice and rich in flavor, Gumbo just cannot be beat. Gumbo is something I eat only once or twice a year – it’s costly when it comes to ingredients, and like most things that make you drool, I wouldn’t claim it’s the most healthy of dishes (I’ve seen traditional recipes call for lard to make your Roux, and while I pass on that, this is still a high caloric meal).
This recipe has evolved over time, and I typically try different approaches every time I make it. There is a “core” to it, but nothing is really set in stone. Consider the ingredient list a starting point and go from there. For example – my seasonings: I start with a base amount, though I liberally adjust as I cook to whatever tastes good to me – a little more pepper here, an extra dash of cayenne there, etc.
Outside of burning your Roux, you really can’t mess this one up. I recommend taking the time (and you’ll need some for this) at some point and making a Gumbo for yourself.
Some notes on ingredients
- Rice: I’ve used brown rice, long grain, wild rice, and white rice. I prefer white rice, and nothing is easier than Minute Rice. Most likely there are better options than Minute Rice, but I like it because it’s quick and the taste and texture doesn’t get in the way of the Gumbo. In the past I’ve made the mistake, out of a sense of expediency, of adding the rice to the Gumbo to let it cook that way. Don’t do it. Ladle the Gumbo over the rice on serving. While adding the rice to the Gumbo will be okay the day of making and serving, any leftovers turn into a thick, gelatinous mass as the rice seems to continue to absorb the base.
- Ham: I use a pre-cooked and diced ham. I’ve seen many Gumbo recipes call for Tasso ham. I’ve no idea what that even is and am too lazy to find out. I’m sure it’s great and adds flavor and complexity, but like I said, I’m lazy and the pre-cooked diced stuff tastes great to me and saves time.
- Sausage: Just about every Gumbo recipe I’ve come across call for Andouille sausage – a smoked sausage similar to Kielbasa – and that is what I’m using here. In the past I’ve used, and for serious Gumbo-makers this probably amounts to sacrilege, spicy Italian turkey sausage links. They taste great, cut some of the fat, and no one that ever ate my Gumbo knew the difference.
- Okra: I’ve always considered Okra a fundamental ingredient for Gumbo but opinions vary. If you can get yourself fresh Okra – awesome – if not, you can find frozen, diced Okra that works just as well. Frozen vegetables have come a long way from the freezer burnt, tasteless shit we had to eat growing up in the 80s and 90s. I’ve used both fresh and frozen and haven’t noticed a difference. You can also skip the Okra.
- Chicken broth: I use low-sodium chicken broth. If you want to make your own broth from shrimp shells or whatever, be my guest. This recipe is enough work already. I use the low-sodium broth so I have better control over my salt content. I prefer to build-up rather than trying to dilute. You’re going to get a good amount of salt from the ham and sausage as well. As always, to each his own. This is my preferred method.
- File Powder: Most times you can find File powder right next to the seafood section of your groceries deli. If not, check next to the Old Bay Seasoning in the spices aisle. File powder will thicken your base, adds an earthy color (most specifically to lighter Rouxs) and taste. In the past I’ve applied it while cooking. I’ve read opinions that suggest not doing this and to give a liberal dousing on serving. Up to you – I didn’t notice a difference either way, though do recommend adding a dash at serving either way you go.
- Minced Garlic: I use the pre-minced Garlic in a jar. Laziness again…and I don’t know where the hell my mincer went. Either bulb or pre-minced works just fine in my opinion.
Gumbo Ingredient List
- 1 lb Shrimp (purchase medium sized, shell on, uncooked, no popcorn sized crap please. You’ll take off the shells and de-vein them.)
- 1 package of pre-cooked diced ham
- 1lb Andouille sausage, sliced into rounds.
- 1 to 2lbs boneless, skinless chicken breast. Three good sized breasts is just about right. You can leave these whole, you’re just going to throw them in the pot later.
- 4 qts chicken broth
- 2 medium white or yellow onions (I prefer white) – comes to about three cups chopped
- 2 medium to large green peppers. About two cups diced.
- 4-6 stalks of celery. You want two cups chopped.
- 1 cup unbleached white flour
- 2 sticks butter
- White rice (however many servings you need)
- I cup diced Okra
- Scallions and/or flat-leaf parsley
- Cooking oil of your choice.
- A couple of good beers (you’re going to working at this for a bit. Might as well enjoy a few beers while you’re at it)
- 2 tsp Ground Mustard
- 2 tsp Ground Pepper (grinding your own peppercorn tastes best)
- 1 tsp White pepper
- 1 to 2 tsp Cayenne pepper (or however much you like depending on your heat threshold)
- 2 Bay leafs
- 2 tsp Paprika
- Salt (if you need it)
- 2 tsp Thyme
- 5 ½ teaspoons minced garlic
- 8qt stock pot
- Chef knife
- Measuring cups
- 10” to 12” pan
- Bowls (for ingredients and transfer of sautéed vegetables)
Get everything organized before you start. Chop all your veggies and other ingredients and group them according to the steps, get your base seasonings and base amounts ready. Take the shells off your shrimp and de-vein them. You’ll be glad you did all of this. Everything will be set and at hand and you won’t be left scrambling.
If you’re not someone who cooks a lot I recommend cleaning as you go along. Nothing says “Shit”, like spending a number of hours cooking a meal, wolfing it down in fifteen minutes, and staring at a counter-top and sink full of dishes. It’s just depressing. Clean as you go along and you’ll barely notice it.
Also, for those that are newer to cooking: get yourself a decent chef’s knife. And make sure it is sharp. You’ll save yourself energy and time and lessen your risk of slicing open your fingers.
Once you’ve finished your prep and all is set, have a beer. Enjoy it. You’re going to be working for awhile.
Get to work
Use a decent size pan (10″ to 12″ inches) and brown the Andouille sausage you sliced up into rounds. Set aside.
In an 8qt stock pot add some oil, or butter, or whatever you’d like. You’re going to sauté your onions, celery, and green peppers. I use a couple tablespoons of olive oil. Sauté the vegetables until the onions are translucent. Transfer to a bowl and set aside.
Ensure there is nothing hanging out in the stock pot. Add two sticks of butter (16 tablespoons) and melt over medium to medium-low heat. Slowly add in the flour, a little at a time, all the while whisking the mixture. This is your Roux.
Keep whisking the Roux until you get the color you want. I whisked for about thirty minutes to get a nice chocolate brown Roux. Lighter Roux’s make for thicker Gumbo, darker Roux’s are thinner but have more flavor. This was my first time making a dark Roux. If, for some reason, your Roux is too dry while whisking add in a little butter or oil. I used to also add a dash of broth to cut it as well. 16 tablespoons of butter, and slowly adding in the flour should do it, but all’s not lost if you have to add to it to keep it viscous. All is lost if you burn your Roux. It’s game over. You’ll have to scrap the Roux and start from scratch. So be conscious of your heat. If you need to adjust the temp as you go along, do so.
Once you have the color you’d like for your Roux, add the sautéed vegetables to the pot and mix well.
Add your seasonings and mix well.
Slowly stir in the 3qts of chicken broth, thoroughly mixing it together as you go.
Bring to a boil.
Stir in your meats minus the shrimp. The shrimp will be added last, right before serving. If you make the mistake of adding your shrimp now, by the time the dish is done you’ll have tough, tasteless nuggets of shrimp.
Bring back to a boil and then reduce the heat and simmer for about two hours (two hours is an estimation. If you want to really reduce your base, simmer longer). You’re going to want to stir it every fifteen minutes or so, and you’ll notice a lot of oil floating to the top. You can keep that if you want, but I tend to skim off a good amount of it. There is still plenty of fat and flavor in the dish.
While your simmering, periodically taste your Gumbo and adjust seasonings as necessary. For this batch, I added in a little extra cracked pepper and sea salt.
While you’re simmering the Gumbo, you’re reducing the base. This is nice, as it thickens and the favors really begin to meld. If it is thicker than your liking, add some more broth to the mix from that 4th quart. If not, you have an extra quart of broth to do something with at another time.
After about an hour of simmering, pull out the three chicken breasts and shred them. Add the shredded chicken back to the pot and mix.
Continue simmering. At about 1.5 hr of simmering, add your Okra and stir.
At about 1.75 hour of simmering, make your rice. When your rice is just about finished add the shrimp to the pot and stir. You can turn off the flame for your Gumbo now. The Gumbo is quite hot enough to cook those shrimp just fine.
Give it about five minutes. You’re ready!
Ladle a healthy portion of Gumbo over a healthy portion of the white rice. Top with scallions and/or parsley and give it a good sprinkling of File powder.
There are a lot of recipes for Gumbo. You can skip some of the meats above, go with just one, whatever. It’s all good. Play jazz with your Gumbo, improvise, experiment. For some inspiration check out Cooking with the New York Times. They have a variety of Gumbo recipes and other inspired meals. They also have a great app.
- Probably high in sodium.
- A high caloric count.
- Definitely not Gluten-Free.