New Orleans. Man, I love that city. I must’ve sat for hours and hours in front of my laptop just laughing to myself reminiscing about all those wonderful food memories we had there. One day, the laughing turned to growling, as I realized the nostalgia had traveled to my stomach. Hunger is a strong emotion I know well. Naturally, I had to scurry over to the grocery store (though I had to get my sausage at the butcher’s), run back home to my stove, turned on some New Orleans jazz, put on my striped apron, and start on a roux.
In order to make gumbo, there aren’t any “magical” ingredients you need, but there are some that definitely help. For example, you don’t need Andouille sausage, but it sure helps with that extra kick of Creole flavour. Or, some recipes might tell you that okra is optional, but you just won’t get that slimy oozy goodness without it. And finally, most recipes will call for “Creole seasoning”. When I was in New Orleans, I picked up some of both Tony Chachere’s and “Slap Ya Mamma”, and have used them here and there in my cooking. However, if you read the ingredients, it really is just a blend of salt and a variety of peppers. Now, I prefer to grind up my own mix of seasoning (I use Emeril’s ESSENCE recipe sometimes) because it keeps the flavour fresher, and I can ease up on the salt in favour of more pepper.
Above all else, never add carrots (any recipe that tells you to do so is not an authentic New Orleans gumbo, even if it’s delicious). Most of Louisiana was a French territory at one point, and at the heart of French cooking is the “mirepoix”: onion, carrot and celery. Lo and behold, the French found that growing carrots in the swamp was next to impossible, and realized that sticking to a base of onion, celery and bell pepper would be much more appropriate. Down in the Bayou, they call these three ingredients the “Holy Trinity”, and along with a good roux, are found in the base of all proper gumbos.
My recipe is the result of a few years of experimenting with different Pinterest recipes, and incorporating tips I learned at the New Orleans School of Cooking. It’s a delicious recipe for sure, but what makes it more special is that it’s a recipe that always gets me dancing in the kitchen. Trust me, your gumbo will taste better if you do.
Most of the time, I choose to serve gumbo ladled over a bed of rice. However, I will opt to serve it this way (“restaurant style”) when I have guests coming over and I want to be a little more elegant with my presentation. All you have to do is ladle some hot rice into a small ramekin and turn it over carefully onto the gumbo. Always make sure to garnish with some chopped parsley on top!
- A small chicken (if you want to save time, go with a rotisserie chicken that’s already cooked, otherwise, you can also use two legs, two breasts and two thighs)
- 3 links of Andouille or other smoked sausage, cut lengthwise and across into “half-moon” pieces
- ½ pound shrimp, peeled, deveined and cooked slightly (leave tails on for extra flavour)
- ½ cup butter
- ¾ cup all-purpose flour
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 1 large green bell pepper, seeded and chopped
- 3 stalks celery, chopped
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 cup okra, chopped (just chop them into little rounds)
- 3-4 bay leaves
- 1 bunch of fresh thyme (or 1 tbsp dried thyme)
- 2 cups hot water
- 4 cups chicken stock
- 1 tbsp Creole seasoning (see intro above for more info)
- Salt and pepper to taste (keeping in mind that Creole seasoning is already very high in sodium!)
- In a large pot, heat the butter at medium heat, and when it starts to bubble slightly, slowly whisk in the flour, a ¼ cup a time. This is the foundation of your roux, and you will have to keep stirring (like, every 30 seconds or so) for a good 20-30 minutes. Everyone has a different opinion about how dark a roux should be, but it’s generally acceptable to keep it the colour of peanut butter (some people like to use “coffee” as a colour marker, but I don’t like my gumbo too dark). I’ve done a little image above to show you my ideal colour. The consistency should be like a loose cookie dough.
- While the roux is cooking, you can use a pan (a wok is actually ideal, though you won’t find it in the traditional Creole cookbooks!) to cook your meats. If the chicken is raw, you’ll want to cook that first. Simply throw it onto a non-stick surface and fry until done. Depending on how much skin you have on your chicken, you may need to drain a bit of fat before tossing in your sausage and shrimp. Sauté the three meats for about ten minutes. Set aside.
- When your roux is done, add your Holy Trinity (onions, green peppers, celery), and stir to incorporate. Next, add all your meats from the pan (or wok!) and stir for another 5 minutes.
- Add your chicken stock and hot water, cover, and bring to a boil.
- Add all your remaining ingredients (bay leaves, garlic, thyme, Creole seasoning) other than okra, and turn it down to medium heat for another 10 minutes.
- Add the okra in after about another 20 minutes.
- Simmer for about another 40 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes or so and adding a bit of water if necessary.
- Serve over a bed of hot rice and garnish with parsley (and/or green onion if desired).
- If you prefer to make gumbo in a crockpot, transfer over all your ingredients at step 4 and just let it cook on its own for 4-6 hours. The timeline for this recipe is totally an estimate. You just gotta make sure you watch it carefully, and above all, you gotta cook with love for this one!