My grandmother was known for creating large elaborate meals when given short notice that company was coming or when guests would simply “stop by.” Mother White would call this “throwing together a little la-la.” “La la” could be anything from a rib eye steak cooked atop the stove, a pot of red beans, and of course a pot of gumbo. Why gumbo? Gumbo is a great meal for a large crowd. Now, when most people make a pot of gumbo, they might do chicken and sausage OR shrimp and crab. My grandmother’s gumbo was usually all seafood, but boy was it delicious! Gumbo crab, lump crab, shrimp, and oysters all fresh from the gulf coast.
A pot of gumbo is not complete on its own. Oh no! When preparing a pot of gumbo one must also prepare side dishes of steamed rice AND potato salad, and of course dried parsley and gumbo file powder (sassafras leaves used for thickening) sprinkled over the gumbo before serving. I’m not posting a potato salad recipe, because everyone thinks that their mother makes the best. LOL I suggest using Blue Plate mayonnaise, a little bell pepper, a little green onion, a little creole mustard, a little sweet relish… you get the idea. But use Blue Plate mayo (found in New Orleans), it’s the best!
Often, people are hesitant about making gumbo because of the first major step, which involves making a roux. The roux is what thickens the gumbo and adds a necessary depth, which simply thickening with okra will not accomplish. Roux is often made with butter and flour, but for gumbo use vegetable oil. A large stock pot full of gumbo requires approximately 2 cups of roux, which is made from 3 cups of vegetable oil and 5 cups of all purpose flour. I will show you how to make roux below, but for now I’ll tell you that roux can be various colors from light brown similar to apple sauce to dark brown like chocolate. The color simply depends on the length of time that you cook it, I like my roux somewhere between a rich peanut buttery color to a milk chocolaty brown. In many families, mine included, the rule is that the color of the roux should be the same shade of the cooker’s back hand side (smile).
The second aspect of gumbo making that often scares people away is not knowing what to add. With most Creole cooking you always start with the trinity: bell pepper, celery, and onions. So, gumbo starts with the trinity with a few additions such as garlic, bay leaves, homemade (or purchased) shrimp/chicken stock, among other seasonings and meats such as andouille sausage, chicken, shrimp, oysters, and crabs depending on what type of gumbo you’re making. I usually add okra ti my gumbo no matter if it’s seafood or chicken because I love okra.
The final thing that you should know about gumbo is that like any other soup or stew, it tastes much better as it continues to cook and of course tastes amazing on the second, third, or fourth day (if you can wait that long lol).
*Please find my “recipe” for gumbo below. Now, full disclosure- this is not a typical recipe like the others you’ll find on this blog. You see, every single time that I make gumbo I make it differently. Also, like many of my other recipes I don’t measure. If I was to create a “standard recipe” for this it would not be correct because sometimes the roux is too thick and may require more stock. Sometimes the gumbo may taste like flour so you may need to increase the cook time. Therefore, what you’ll find below is simply a recipe guide. This “recipe” serves 10-15 people.
3 cups prepared roux
2 whole yellow onions diced
5 stalks celery peeled and diced
2 green bell peppers seeded and diced
5 cloves garlic minced
2 lbs okra cut into 1/4 inch slices (ends and tops discarded)
4-6 chicken thighs (skin removed)
2 lbs andouille sausage cut into 1/4 inch circles
2 lbs lump crab claw meat
3 lbs gumbo crabs (found on the gulf coast)
1 lb oysters in their “liquor”
2 lbs shrimp (heads and shells removed and saved, deveined)
20 cups (5 quarts) of chicken AND/OR shrimp (seafood stock) – to make a stock boil 20 cups of water with shrimp heads or raw chicken pieces (1 whole chicken cut up) and 1 whole onion quartered, 4 stalks celery coarsely cut, 1 tablespoon of salt. Boil for 10 minutes, then simmer for 3-4 hours without top on pot. Strain. Allow it to cool and if using chicken skim fat off of surface.
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
5 bay leaves
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
2 tablespoon dried parsley
1.5 tablespoons Creole seasoning such as Tony’s or Slap Your Momma
1 teaspoon Cayenne pepper
Prepare your roux by placing a heavy pot over medium heat. Add 3 cups of oil and heat until almost smoking. Whisk in by the 1/2 cup full the flour. Whisk to fully incorporate each 1/2 cup before adding next cup. The roux will become smooth and thick. Keep whisking constantly. Once all flour has been added, use a spoon to continue stirring over medium low heat. Cook until roux is the desired color. Cook light brown color cook for an hour or so. For dark chocolate colored roux cook for almost two hours. Please note, times will vary based upon your stove.
Remove 3 cups of roux and add to large heavy stock pot. Heat over medium high heat. Roux will be thick. Add diced yellow onions, celery, and bell pepper (the trinity). Stir to incorporate seasonings and cook for 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook another minute. Slowly pour in 15 cups or 4 quarts of stock, whisking as you add. This will prevent lumps from forming in your roux.
In a separate pan, brown sausage. Remove sausage using spotted spoon and add to roux/stock mixture. Stir. Ass bay leaves, Worcestershire sauce, and other seasonings.
Bring pot to a boil for 5 minutes, stirring constantly scraping the bottom of pot.
Meanwhile, in the same pot where sausage was cooked, add 2 lbs of sliced okra (fresh or frozen) over medium heat. Okra will be slimy, which is alright because slime will cook off once added to roux/gumbo pot. Too reduce slime, dice up one tomato and add to okra. The acid will reduce the slime. Once okra is tender add to pot with roux and other ingredients.
After 5 minutes reduce pot from boil to simmer. Cook on low with top off of pot for at least one hour. Taste it. If it still tastes like flour continue to simmer and add remaining 4 cups/1 quart of stock (liquid). Cook another 30 minutes. It should no longer taste like flour.
In separate heavy pot brown chicken thighs in a little oil with skin removed. Once brown, remove chicken thighs and set aside to cool. Once cool, shred chicken meat from bones. Add shredded cooked chicken to gumbo pot. Stir. Add all crab meats, oysters, parsley, and thyme. Stir. Add more Creole seasoning if needed.
Lastly, add shrimp. Cook until shrimp turn pink. Taste. If more seasoning is needed it, add it. Gumbo should look like a medium thick gravy. This is how I like my gumbo, not soupy.
Place gumbo in bowls. Sprinkle with extra dried parsley and file powder. Serve with rice and or potato salad.