Cooking With Confidence
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Chicken, Economical, Main Dishes, Soups, Spicy

Bettyjean’s Gumbo

by Nick

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.

Yield
Serves 8.
Prep Time
Total Time

Just a moment please...

Print Recipe Bettyjean's Chicken Gumbo

Ingredients

  • Stock:
  • 1 whole chicken or 3 pounds pieces with bones
  • 2 onions, quartered
  • 2 carrots, quartered
  • 3 stalks celery, quartered
  • 20-30 black peppercorns
  • 1 head garlic, halved
  • A handful of parsley stalks
  • Roux:
  • 1 cup peanut oil
  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • Finished Gumbo:
  • 1 large sweet onion, diced
  • 1 bell pepper, diced
  • 3 stalks celery, diced
  • 6-8 scallions, diced (reserve green parts for garnish)
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • Hot sauce
  • Long grain white rice
  • File powder
  • 1 pound sausage (andouille is best), sliced and browned (opt.)

Directions

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.

stock

Taking stock.

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.

simmer

This will smell great in an hour.

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.

done

The real stuff.

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.

base

Chicken and stock.

The Roux

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.

roux

Just two ingredients.

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.

close

You could stop here.

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.

done

You could maybe even go darker.

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.

stop

Stop that cooking!

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.

sauteed

More veggies.

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.

done

Don’t forget to taste and season.

Serving Gumbo

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.

file

Good stuff.

I garnished my gumbo with some of the greens from the scallions.

This was a really great winter meal.

gumbo

Really good!

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?

People who know gumbo – leave a comment with tips/suggestions/etc.

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19 comments on “Bettyjean’s Gumbo

  1. Love it! Great Job… I order from Penzy’s very often, and ordered the Gumbo file months ago. You are right to say that it gives it an authentic flavor. It takes the dish from great to fantastic.

  2. You did the roux correctly, I think. One thing that you don’t have to do is to saute the veggies before putting them in the roux. Just throw them in chopped up, it will sizzle like all get out, but they will cook just fine that way. The veggies will exude a little moisture, so it thins the roux out a little. Cook them to desired softness then proceed with the rest of the recipe.

    1. Ahh… yea… that wasn’t very clear. I did it as you said. So I chopped a bunch of veggies and split them into two batches. One batch went in raw with the roux to stop cooking. The second batch was sauteed and added to the gumbo at the end.

  3. Nick: You are correct on the point that “everyone” has a specific way to make gumbo. It’s much like the recipes for red beans and rice…there really is no one “right way” to do it. I make mine several ways, adding either a good quality smoked sausage or preferrably, andouille sausage if available, to the other meat ingredient, whether it be chicken, shrimp, crawfish, alligator, or whatever. I also add to the roux, while it’s cooking, my own “Cajun spice”, similar to Emiril’s “essence”, but with less salt and more paprika. Another comment or two on the file powder…the file is used as a thickening agent, and should never be mixed in until the last minute, after the gumbo has been taken off the heat and stopped simmering. If you add it too soon, it will become “stringy”. Usually, the file is set on the table and each person can add what they want and stir it in after the gumbo is in the bowl. In lieu of file as a thickening agent, one could also use sliced okra, which can be added early on, after the onion/pepper/celery combo (“Holy Trinity”) has been added, and simmered with everything else. One, therefore, could have “Gumbo”, or “File Gumbo”, depending on whether or not file powder was used. In any case, all gumbo is good…some is just “gooder” than others! One of the most important things during prep, however, is the roux! I usually make what is called a “Chocolate Roux”, which is just about the color of Cocoa Powder. It takes a little longer, but the flavor is heavier (more umami-like). The secret is to not get the heat too high as to burn the roux. If that happens, throw it out, turn down the heat some, and start over. All that being said, your gumbo looks delicious!

    1. Thanks Larry for the comment! I thought I could maybe make my roux a bit darker but was just worried about burning it! :)

  4. Hey Nick – man, this looks awesome. I remember the first time I saw my Mom making stock from scratch as a kid. It wasn’t until much later in life while watching an Alton Brown episode that I really gained an appreciation for the process of “making” a great stock. Now the roux, well… let’s say I have “ru”ined a few batches in our kitchen. Never quite got the hang of that.

  5. Hi Nick!
    I’m married to a Cajun whose grandparents on BOTH sides owned French+/or Cajun restaurants in Louisiana. Don’t even get them started on their gumbo/roux theories – it will NEVER end! My momma in law’s secret to a dark roux is oil AND butter. That woman will stand at that stove & stir for… perhaps hours it seems. So get a book & be patient for dark roux I guess? She said there is a “quick” dark roux method out there but she doesn’t like the flavor it imparts. I will say her seafood gumbo (shrimp & crab w/ okra) is superb! Good roux luck to you! :)

  6. Nick, I have enjoyed your blog with your wonderful pictures of the process….very helpful.
    I was thrilled to see you moseying into gumbo land, a place I have enjoyed for years. I first learned my basic recipe from a Cajun in Eunice, La. who was a great teacher. I think you have the basics down well, now just a matter of tuning them to your taste. I do like a darker chocolate colored roux, and it does make a difference in taste. I would commend John Besh’s book My New Orleans with its killer recipes. His stories that surround his recipes are priceless. I did two gumbos over Christmas and they were both hits.
    Thanks again for your continued work. Blessings.

  7. i know more about eating gumbo than making it. used to be a restaurant uptown new orleans called dunbar’s (r.i.p. & the dunbar’s at loyola doesn’t count because i can’t get to it during the day due to work considerations & they aren’t open in the evenings so no more all-you-can-eat turkey neck thursdays there). they served their gumbo with a side of crusty french bread & a small bowl of potato salad. some folks plopped the potato salad into the middle of the bowl & ate their gumbo that way. they had GREAT gumbo, but that potato salad was magnificent! i generally ate mine on the side.

  8. One way to make the roux without all the stirring and tedious babysitting is to park the pan in a 300-350F oven and stir every 15 minutes. It gets an even heat and won’t scorch as easily.

  9. Hey Nick! I am Jessica’s sister. I also received a copy of the cookbook for Christmas and am super excited to start cooking from it. Since I am from Biloxi, I feel qualified to say that if you don’t add okra, you have made a delightful chicken soup but not a gumbo. Especially because the name of the dish is derived from an African word for okra, I consider it to be essential. I guess it depends on your tolerance for slime? I personally LOVE it. I also add crawfish and shrimp, but that definitely ups the cost. Based on my comments, I am probably a gumbo snob. Loving your blog. Thanks!

  10. Hi,

    I have a super easy way to always have stock on hand without making a big project of it. In my freezer is a big tupperware container, and as I do my regular prep any veggie scraps (carrot peels, onion skins, celery leaves) go into it. If I have roasted a chicken I’ll throw the skin and bones in too for extra flavour!

    Once it fills up I dump everything into a pot with some water and let it simmer for a while. I usually don’t bother seasoning it at this point since any recipe the stock goes into will have its’ own spice profile. After straining out all the liquid I divide the stock into freezer containers, and fill a few ice cube trays. The stock cubes then go into a big ziploc and can be tossed into any sauces or stir-frys that may need extra liquid and extra flavour.

    Each batch will have a different flavour since the ingredients will vary but unless I’m making a very delicate recipe it works great.

    Keep up the great writing, I always enjoy reading your posts!

    L

  11. As a native New Orleanean I can tell you you’re right and you’re wrong about the gumbo snob thing. Yes, everyone has their way of making gumbo, but I’ve yet to see someone actually from the regions who make gumbo ever criticize someone on their gumbo technique (if you’re talking to a food snob in the north who claims to make it, that’s a different story) Some do file, some don’t. Some use okra, some don’t. Some are picky bout the protein in it, some dump whatever they have. The one thing most people I know will tell you though, is we don’t trust gumbo from restaurants. They’re usually making gumbo to try and please most diners not familiar with it and once you know how you like your gumbo, its kind of like closing your eyes, grabbing things out the fridge and cramming them in your mouth- you could get something good, or something nasty.

    That said, yep, you could get the roux darker but don’t. Classic move of recipes from people who don’t make gumbo for real is saying to make a black as tar roux. Yours looked perfect for how I do mine (dark peanut butter colored) And toss in your veggies straight to the roux, cook em down, then add your liquid. Gumbo is a one pot food. That’s part of its history and charm, so you shouldn’t have but a big ol pot on the stove to make it.

    You want to get confused, start adding a few ingredients to it and see people come out the woodwork complaining! Add tomatoes, you have what some call etouffee, some call (if made with shrimp) shrimp creole. Add less stock, more rice, you basically have jambalaya. Once you get a good recipe down for something like this, with one or 2 ingredient changes, its a whole other dish entirely. Pretty cool.

  12. I am married to a gumbo snob. Condolences accepted:) He is the one stirring the roux for at least an hour, insisting on seafood in addition to chicken and andouille sausage (no other sausage allowed, of course), and always including okra and file (in the end). Served with just a bit of rice.
    So I made my own batch, after many hours of research, and he begrudgingly admitted that it was not bad. Victory, I think!
    As far as I am concerned, food evolves and changes all the time. Only the recipes concocted by chefs might argue the “originality”. The rest is up for grabs:)
    Enjoyed your post, as usual:)

    1. sorry, no, do not agree re the “must have okra”. Just more snob’ism. Although you
      are certainly entitled to your opinion, however mistaken it may be. LOL

  13. Hey Nick! My cousin was thrilled to tell me that you had tried a recipe from my Old Biloxi Recipes cookbook. I just wanted to say thank you for trying a recipe, posting about it and giving reference to the cookbook. It’s so good to get feedback on recipes. The recipes in the cookbook originated from the Old Biloxi Recipes facebook page and this particular one was from a husband who sent in his wife’s recipe to be printed in the cookbook as a surprise to her. And now we have another pleasant surprise – that we found it right here on your site! Thanks again.

  14. Betty Jean is my wife. I followed her around the kitchen to figure out how she makes gumbo and sent the recipe to Sonya to include it in her cookbook. Would the Jess you said you borrowed the cookbook from be Jess Rowe? That’s her brother. My wife use to make gumbo every week, but has slowed down some. I don’t think she’s ever made it exactly the same twice. LOL. I’ll have to show her that you put her recipe on here. Thanks. Chuck

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