Gumbo, a flavorful combination of meat and vegetables, is a dish that can be found all over the South. There are as many different versions of gumbo as there are cooks who make it. I grew up with gumbos made with a roux. I remember how disappointed I was when Nanny gave me her seafood gumbo recipe and, instead of a roux, she had substituted brown gravy mix. Mama always made duck gumbo, and she used a roux and gravy mix instead of making a roux from scratch. I kind of felt cheated when I found out that’s what they did. Both Nanny and Mama made excellent gravy, so I didn’t understand why they didn’t make the roux from scratch.
One of my favorite memories is how I learned - the hard way - why they took the easier route (which I also did for quite a long time). My step-brother, Bud, was visiting one weekend and so was my niece, Cariker. Bud and I decided we were going to cook supper for everybody; and, you guessed it, we decided we were going to make gumbo. We got our list together and headed to Cleveland, a town about 20 miles away where everybody went to shop. (By this time, Drew was dying out and there wasn’t much left there in the way of shopping.)
We went to Kroger and picked up our ingredients. Then we headed to the liquor store because you can’t make a decent pot of gumbo without a good glass of wine in hand. Last but not least, we stopped by Blockbuster to rent a movie. It was October, so we grabbed Rocky Horror Picture Show. Neither one of us thought about Cariker only being 11 or 12. (Bud’s solution was to put his hands over her eyes. She watched the entire movies through his fingers!)
We came back in, poured a couple of glasses of wine, chopped the vegetables, and started to work on the roux. Bud was from New Orleans (and a pretty decent cook); and having learned from both Mama and Nanny, I made really good gravy. I thought this would be a no-brainer. Makes sense, right? We got the oil going, perfectly shimmering, then added the flour. As it started to brown, we both realized we didn’t have any idea how brown it needed to be!
Mama and Elmer were enjoying the show from the den. They refused to help. It couldn’t possibly have anything to do with us telling them earlier in the day that we knew exactly what we were doing. Cariker was back and forth between the kitchen and den making sure she didn’t miss anything. I remember thinking it was never going to get done! Bud would stir for a while, and then I would stir for a while. And in that moment (or what felt like hours), I realized why Mama and Nanny both used a mix. I think luck must have really been on our side because somehow it turned out perfectly.
I’ve made a lot of gumbo in the 30 years or so since that day, and I’ve learned a lot. So, I’m going to let y’all in on my secrets.
How do you make gumbo?
Number one. Mis en place is key! Do all of the prep work before you start, whether you think you need to or not. (I couldn’t possibly be talking about myself.) When making the roux, make sure your oil is shimmering before you add the flour. Whisk the flour into the oil so that it’s smooth. Stir constantly! It will take a few minutes to start to brown; but once it starts, it will go quickly.
When you stir the chopped onions into the roux, it will look like it’s going to seize. Keep stirring! It will smooth out and continue to brown. Only when your roux has reached a chocolate brown color do you start to add the other ingredients.
Whatever color your roux is, your gumbo will be about a half shade lighter. The most important thing to remember after the rest of the ingredients are added - stir occasionally! There’s nothing worse than spending all that effort cutting up all those vegetables and making a perfect roux, then having it stick and burn on the bottom of the pan because you forgot to stir it every once in a while.
Serve your gumbo ladled over rice with a nice chunk of crusty bread on the side!
- 1 cup vegetable oil
- 1 cup all purpose flour
- 3 cups chopped onion
- 2 pounds hot pork sausage, cooked and drained
- Meat from 1 whole cooked chicken
- 1 ½ cups chopped celery
- 2 cups chopped green bell peppers
- 1 Tablespoon minced garlic
- 2 cups diced tomatoes
- 2 Tablespoons Creole seasoning
- 3 quarts chicken stock
- 2 or 3 sprigs fresh thyme
- 2 bay leaves
- 3 cups sliced fresh okra
- 14 ounces Andouille sausage, chopped
- 2 Tablespoons Worcestershire
- Salt, Pepper, and Tabasco, to taste
- Heat vegetable oil in a large, heavy pot until shimmering. Whisk in flour, and continue stirring until chocolate brown.
- Stir in onions. Continue cooking and stirring until it turns glossy, dark brown.
- Add cooked and crumbled pork sausage, chicken, celery, bell pepper, garlic, tomatoes, and spice mix. Stir to combine.
- Add chicken stock, thyme leaves, and bay leaves. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium low and cook 45 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Add andouille, okra, and Worcestershire. Stir well. Season with salt, pepper, and Tabasco. Continue to cook for another 45 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Skim fat from top and serve over rice.
Nutrition Information:Yield: 12 Serving Size: 1 cup
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 837Total Fat: 62gSaturated Fat: 15gTrans Fat: 1gUnsaturated Fat: 41gCholesterol: 154mgSodium: 1928mgCarbohydrates: 25gFiber: 2gSugar: 8gProtein: 45g