I’ve had gumbo on my list of recipes to try out for over a year now. There’s one main reason why I haven’t made it until now: Gumbo snobs.
Yep. You read that right. I’ve discovered that people who make gumbo are very… um… opinionated. There’s one way to do it and it’s their way.
Of course, the reality of it is that there are a bunch of different ways to make gumbo. It can have seafood, sausage, chicken, or just veggies. It can use a dark or light roux made from oil or butter. It should probably be served over rice, but I’m sure there are other options.
So let’s just get this out of the way: This is one way to make gumbo. I’m not sure if it’s the best, but it’s damn good.
If you have issues with it, please take it up with Bettyjean, the creator of the recipe. Who’s Bettyjean you might ask? I have no idea.
A friend (Hi Jess!) let me borrow a cookbook to browse through called Old Biloxi Recipes and this was the recipe that caught my eye. The book is basically a collection of really wonderful recipes that have been handed down generation to generation. Some of the recipes don’t even have amounts. It’ll just say stuff like “Carrots” or “Celery”, but you can figure it out.
Anyway, Bettyjean apparently let them publish her gumbo recipe and I’m glad she did. I made a few changes to it, but nothing major.
1) Add stock ingredients to a large pot with enough water to cover everything, 8-10 cups. Bring to a simmer and simmer on low, covered, for at least 2 hours.
2) Remove chicken pieces from stock. Remove skin from chicken and shred the pieces into large chunks. Strain the stock.
3) Add stock and chicken back to large pot.
4) To make roux, stir oil and flour together over medium-low heat until it turns a nice dark color. The lightest it should be is the color of peanut butter, but you can go much dark. Stir regularly while it's cooking so it doesn't burn. It will take at least 20 minutes to get to the right shade.
5) Dice up onions, bell peppers, and celery for finishing ingredients. Split into two piles.
6) Add one pile of diced veggies to the roux when it's the shade you want. That will stop the cooking process for the roux. Stir together veggies and roux.
7) Saute the second pile of veggies in a skillet over medium-high heat with a drizzle of olive oil and a pinch of salt. Cook until softened, about 4-5 minutes.
8) Bring stock and chicken to a simmer and start adding roux mixture to it. Add it in large spoonfuls and make sure it dissolves completely before adding more. It'll take 5-10 minutes to add all the roux to the stock. Continue to simmer for 20 minutes uncovered to thicken the mixture. If you're using browned sausage (like andouille) add it now.
9) Add sauteed veggies to gumbo and white wine. Season with hot sauce and salt and pepper.
10) Serve gumbo over rice sprinkled with file powder. Garnish with scallion greens.
Adapted from the Old Biloxi Recipes book.
Starting with Stock
I got into a brief comment debate recently on an old post about how I’m a hypocrite. Basically, I talk a lot about how people should make their own stock and stuff and then I sometimes use store-bought stock.
This is true. At the end of the day, I’m a human being and try to have a life outside of the kitchen. Even when I do use store-bought stock though, I’m well aware that there’s a better way to do it. I don’t kid myself.
But when I do have time, I always try to make my stock. This is especially true for soups (although Macheesmo detectives will be able to find examples of soups on the site that I used store-bought stock to make).
This is really especially true though when the soup involves chicken because you have to cook the chicken anyway so it’s not a too much extra work to just make stock at the same time.
For this recipe, you can either use a whole chicken or about 3-4 pounds of chicken pieces. Whatever you do, don’t make stock out of boneless skinless chicken breasts. There will be no flavor!
You need bones and skin to make your stock. So if you’re doing pieces (which I did for this version), use some thighs or legs and make sure to get breasts with the bone in.
Then just add everything to a large pot and bring it to a simmer.
Let this simmer, covered, for at least two hours. The longer you go, the deeper your stock will be. Two hours is the absolute minimum.
When you’re happy with it, remove the chicken pieces and let them cool. Then strain the stock you’ll have a nice dark chicken stock that will smell delicious.
Once your chicken is cool enough to handle, remove the skin from the pieces and shred the chicken into large pieces. Then add the chicken back to the pot with all the stock. You should have about 8 cups of stock here. If you have less, then add water or a good store-bought stock to make up the difference.
I make a lot of roux for recipes. Most importantly, it’s how I make queso dip. The roux for gumbo though is a much different beast although the idea is the same. Basically, it’s just fat and flour, cooked together and used to thicken something.
Instead of butter though, I used peanut oil. You also need much more of it and it’s good to get it much darker than when you’re making a light cream sauce.
Add your oil and flour to a medium pot and get it cooking over medium heat. Stir it frequently while it cooks to make sure it doesn’t burn.
After 15-20 minutes, it’ll resemble the color of peanut butter. This is about as light as you can go for gumbo. You could stop here if you wanted and proceed with the recipe.
Generally though, you’ll get a more flavorful gumbo if you continue to cook your roux for another 5-10 minutes so it gets really dark.
Like I said, this was my first gumbo so I wasn’t sure exactly how far you could go before burning the flour, but I got mine a few shades darker before deciding it was done. You might be able to go even darker, but this was the stage I stopped at and it made for a great gumbo.
It’s really important to stop the cooking of the roux when it reaches the color you want. It could keep cooking and possibly burn.
The easiest way to stop the cooking is to stir in about half of the finishing veggies that you’ll need for the finished gumbo. Stir these in and it’ll stop the roux from cooking and actually cook the veggies a bit at the same time.
Finishing the Gumbo
The gumbo is really easy to finish at this point.
Take your other half of the finishing veggies (onions, scallions, pepper, celery) and saute them on medium in a drizzle of oil until they are soft. You don’t want them browned, just soft. This will bring out some of the sweet flavors of the veggies.
Just 4-5 minutes of cooking should do the trick.
Bring your stock and chicken mixture back to a simmer and slowly start adding your roux to the stock in large spoonfuls. Make sure each spoonful gets dissolved before adding more.
Once all your roux is incorporated into the stock, let the gumbo simmer for 20 minutes or so to thicken up. Then add in the sauteed veggies, white wine, and sausage if you’re using it. Brown the sausage and slice it up before adding it to the gumbo.
Season the gumbo with hot sauce and salt and pepper. It’s really important to taste it and adjust the seasoning. I probably added 2-3 tablespoons of hot sauce to mine and a few big pinches of salt and pepper.
While there is a lot of different ways to make gumbo, I’m not sure how many different ways you can serve the stuff. It’s really made for rice.
I just used normal long grain white rice and sprinkled on some gumbo file which gives the finished dish a very distinct gumbo flavor. I think this stuff is worth ordering if you want your gumbo to taste authentic, but you could definitely forego it and still have a pretty good meal.
I garnished my gumbo with some of the greens from the scallions.
This was a really great winter meal.
Besides being delicious, this also makes a metric ton of gumbo. Betsy and I ate it for multiple meals. It would also freeze really well if you wanted to keep it for longer than a week.
The next time I make it, I do think I’ll try adding some sausage to it, but I was pretty happy with this as my first gumbo attempt.
Ok. What did I miss?