Gumbo for Dummies

I’m the sort who makes vast pronouncements about Cajun cooking. As I am from Opelousas, Louisiana, and most people outside of Louisiana think a Cajun is either a) a mythical being, b) Emeril or c) Adam Sandler in “The Water Boy,” I’m not exactly shy about telling most people they don’t know what they’re talking about and they likely haven’t had Cajun food. The sad reality is that in most places, Popeye’s red beans and rice is the closest thing to authentic you’ll find (and it’s actually pretty good). After an exchange about gumbo on Twitter, I figured I’d quit mocking people for not knowing any better and provide you with a roadmap to true gumbo bliss.


The following is for chicken and andouille gumbo. Note that I don’t use okra because I don’t like it. Also note that Seafood Gumbo is a different beast than this (and in some ways easier to cook). What you should not do is mix seafood and chicken/sausage gumbo.

Finally, don’t you ever put any of the following in your gumbo: tomatoes, corn, peas, carrots, mushrooms. I will find you. I will slap you.

Gumbo for Dummies
Before starting, a word about ingredients:

Roux, in Cajun cooking, is usually made with vegetable oil and flour. Never, ever use olive oil as it has a distinct taste that does not belong in this dish. You can make your own roux (see below) or, like many time pressed Cajun mama’s and mawmaw’s just use the jarred stuff. After all, it’s flour and oil and contains no secret techniques or ingredients – not even “love,” though “impatience” is often thrown in.

Sausage and andouille. This will be your biggest ingredient challenge. My suggestion is to order it (and your roux) from cajungrocer.com or something similar – at least for your first time out, so that you can see what this sausage is supposed to taste like. Both Cajun sausage and andouille are typically smoked pork. Most people can’t tell the difference between the two. After roux, this is probably the most crucial ingredient in getting non-seafood gumbo to taste like gumbo. DO NOT substitute Italian sausage. There are some kielbasas that come close, but they tend to be greasier. In a pinch, the safest substitute to use is Aidell’s Cajun Style Andouille, which you can typically find at gourmet stores.

Tasso (pronounced tah-so) is smoked pork with very little fat. It’s almost like a ham. If you can’t find it, don’t worry about it. Just double your sausage.

Onions. Use yellow or Spanish onions. Don’t use white or red onions.

Tomatoes: Don’t use them. Ever. I don’t care what anyone says. If I find out you’re using tomatoes, I will come to your home and revoke these recipes! (Sorry if I’m repeating myself, but I feel strongly about this)

Serving. Gumbo is a soup, not a stew or a gravy. While it is served over white rice, the rice should be covered almost completely. (For pretty serving, pack the rice into a small ice cream bowl or some such then flip that into your soup bowl. Pour enough gumbo so that the top of your little rice island is just sticking out of the brown ocean of goodness.)

This first recipe is printed on the back of every jar of Savoie’s Roux (available at cajungrocer.com). It’s not going to be the best gumbo in the world, but it’s pretty good and it’s certainly better (and more authentic) than anything you’ll find in a restaurant (or in New Orleans). It’s a good place to start out from before trying to experiment later down the line.

4 quarts water
4 heaping tablespoons of roux
1 large hen (cut up and seasoned)
1 lb smoked pork sausage or andouille
1 lb smoked tasso
1 large onion, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
2 pods of garlic, minced
2 stalks of celery, chopped
½ cup of green onions, chopped
½ cup parsley, chopped

Dissolve roux in water over medium heat and let boil for ½ hour. Add chicken, tasso, sausage and all vegetables EXCEPT green onions and parsley. Bring to a boil. Lower fire to medium heat and cook until chicken and vegetables are tend (about 1 to 1.5 hours).
Add green onions and parsley about 15 minutes before done, season to taste.
Serve over cooked rice in soup bowls.
Note: You’ll probably need a good deal of salt and black pepper, but hold off on going overboard with these things until at least halfway through the cooking process as the sausage tends to release a lot of seasoning and heat.

Advanced Gumbo

First, if you feel up to it and want bragging rights, make your own roux. (I’ve long given up on doing this).

1 cup vegetable oil
1 cup flour
(Note that handy dandy 1:1 ratio if you’re making smaller or bigger batches)

In cast iron pot or skillet, heat oil over medium high heat to approximately 365 degrees. Slowly whisk in flour stirring constantly for 3 to 5 minutes until roux is caramel in color – almost but not quite chocolate in color. To be extra careful, I actually use a lower heat and just sit there and stir until it’s done because if you burn a little bit of it, you have to throw it all out. Don’t be afraid to take it off the heat a little bit before it’s done and KEEP STIRRING … it continues to cook even after off the flame.

To keep things simple, we’ll use the same ratio of ingredients as the previous recipe.

4 quarts water
4 heaping tablespoons of roux
1 large hen (cut up and seasoned)*
1 lb smoked pork sausage or andouille
1 lb smoked tasso
1 large onion, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
2 pods of garlic, minced
2 stalks of celery, chopped
½ cup of green onions, chopped
½ cup parsley, chopped

*For extra tasty results, skip the whole chicken and get yourself legs and thighs. Dark meat is better. All of this is better if the bones are still in and if you cook gumbo long enough, all the meat will pull away from the bones anyway. But if your guests are squeamish, feel free to use boneless thighs. Do NOT use boneless breast meat and DO NOT use skinless thigh meat.

First step: Season and brown the chicken.
Generously rub down your bird parts with either Tony Chachere’s Creole Seasoning, Slap Ya Mama Seasoning (both available at cajungrocer.com) or a mixture of salt, black pepper, garlic powder (and just a dash of cayenne).
Cover bottom of large black iron pot (or a soup pot … 2 gallons or more) with thin sheen of vegetable oil. Set to medium high heat.
Brown chicken pieces to golden brown. If parts stick to the bottom, hit it with some water and scrape the bits up. That’s extra flavoring.
After chicken is brown, remove from pot. If the bottom of your pot is small, feel free to do the browning in batches.

Next, lower heat a notch, chuck in all vegetables EXECPT green onions and parsley. Toss in a touch of salt and black pepper and sauté for 2 minutes or so. Chuck in your roux and stir it all together, letting it simmer for another 3 minutes or so.
Blend chicken and sausage into mix and sauté for 15 minutes. (You might want to add just a little water … or even white wine … if it looks like your roux is sticking to the bottom.)

Next, add your water.
Do this slowly, stirring constantly. (Note, some folks will substitute some or all of the four quarts of water with chicken stock. As I let mine cook forever, stock isn’t necessary. And if you’re using store-bought stock, you’ll have to watch out for salt content).
Bring to a rolling boil.
Reduce to simmer.
Cook anywhere from 1.5 hours to all day.
For another layer of flayer add 1 Bay Leaf and/or 1 sprig of Thyme (be careful with Thyme. It can overpower pretty easily).

Again, you’ll need to salt (and possibly pepper) at some point, but wait at least an hour after simmering starts before you start salting to see how much the sausage is bringing to the party.

Skim off the fat or grease as it cooks.

Add water if you think you need it as quite a bit of it will boil away … which is fine. While you don’t want it to cook down to stew consistency, letting it cook longer gets it a bit thicker and gets in more flavor.

20 responses to “Gumbo for Dummies

  1. good recipe. thanks for the part about tomatoes, but you left out the part about okra (maybe that’s a good thing). Give me a call, my number is on facebook, and I’ll tell you about a particular ingredient that makes all the difference in the world. Unfortunately, it is a local product, but I can probably have shipped to you.

    Bull

  2. Lisa from homesicktexan posted a link to your gumbo for dummies which I need.

    I grew up in Texas but my mom was from Mississippi and there have been more than a few cajuns in my life and I never knew you could just buy roux. that was the part I always messed up. i can’t really make gravy either. guess I’m ust impatient.

    Thanks for this!

  3. I’ve always made a roux with butter and flour, is that a no-no in gumbo?

  4. Will, you talking about filé powder?

  5. Hey Ken, congrats on your book . Excellent Gumbo recipe. I always asked Kerri and Cat to ask you the recipe for cook ing Crawfish cajun Style, not sure if they ever mentioned this to you. In the meantime I wil try the Gumbo. Say hello to Susan.
    Caro

  6. oh this is awesome. i can’t wait to make this once the cold weather hits us again… yum… thanks, ken, for sharing how to make gumbo properly… i’m the same way with russian food.

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  9. M,
    Sorry for the delay in response. In general, Cajun-cooking uses vegetable oil-based roux. Butter-based roux is used for more delicate/richer dishes such as etouffee.

    I also don’t use file powder. I’m not opposed to it at all. I think that ingrediet more or less depends on what your grandmother used.

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  12. I don’t agree with you that the savoie’s roux gumbo recipe is better than anything found in New Orleans restaurants. This is a simple recipe that yes is good and easy to make but certainly not better than some found in New Orleans. That’s just absurd to say.

  13. Nice read, I just passed this onto a colleague who was doing a little research on that. And he actually bought me lunch since I found it for him smile So let me rephrase that: Thank you for lunch!

  14. It’s actually a great and useful piece of information. I am satisfied that you simply shared this helpful info with us. Please keep us informed like this. Thank you for sharing.

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  16. It just isn’t gumbo if it doesn’t have okra.

  17. Made this tonight for my entire family was fantastic..people raved about it all night. I wanted to show my family a little taste of Louisiana..and they were in love. One thing ill admit is that I did add in about 1 1/2 cup of tomatoes..and it brought in a great flavour ..made the dish again today with out tomatoes it just was not the same but pretty darn good still…

  18. if you are going to add okra, when is it recommended to do so?

  19. Hello i am kavin, its my first time to commenting anyplace, when i read
    this post i thought i could also make comment due to this sensible article.

  20. As a 60 year old Cajun woman who grew up making roux, I have to
    admit that I firmly believe that Savoie’s dark roux is one of the secrets
    of a happy Cajun home! Having made my share of roux (and burning
    more than I care to share), the consistency of Savoie’s roux makes gumbo
    making ALWAYS a success! My husband says that my gumbo tastes like
    The Petite Mamou Catholic church gumbo-the best tasting gumbo in
    Southwest Louisiana! Thank you Savoie’s!

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