At long last… Here is my gumbo recipe!
Gumbo is by far my favorite meal to make. My mom is from Southern Louisiana and I was raised between Louisiana and Mississippi, always learning from my mom about Cajun food. The Cajun version of gumbo (which I was taught was the original, but creoles will argue that theirs was first of course), came about a very long time ago, when trappers in Louisiana needed to make food that would last in their tummies but not break the bank. So, you add a few vegetables, lots of protein, some fat and flour all in a soup, eat it with rice and you can feed a bunch of people with a long-lasting, comforting meal.
At least from what I was taught (I’m no expert, I only know what I was told from stories passed down), Cajuns originated from French Canadian exiles who lived out in the country and on the bayous and made a living from trapping, crabbing, fishing, etc. Creoles were the Louisiana city folk. I don’t know much about creoles other than the difference in food, however; I grew up with Cajun roots, stories, recipes, etc.
Now, first things first: The number one question I get asked when I tell people I’m making gumbo is ALWAYS, “Do you put okra in it?” So, to answer that question: No, I do not. Those of you who happen to be from Louisiana, who are screaming at me through your screens right now, let’s just get that out of the way before we move on.
When I served my gumbo to my aunts and uncles one summer out on our porch and the poor unsuspecting souls saw a bowl of what I called gumbo with NO okra in it… Let’s just say my neighbors got just as much of an earful as I did. But here’s the thing: Believe it or not, most normal people (Cajuns excluded) do not enjoy the slimy texture of okra and the full texture that it gives to the gumbo. Hard to believe, I know.
Growing up, we hated okra in gumbo, and so did my mom. My dad loved to add it; but when my mom made the gumbo, she never did. I learned to cook it without okra, grew up cooking it without okra.. many of my mom’s very Cajun (as crazy Cajun as they come) family members did not like it with okra. And although I love okra nowadays, I know most other people in most places around the world–except Louisiana–do not. So I leave it out. Or, I serve it on the side, fried. Everyone loves fried okra, including my picky toddler. Now that we got that out of the way…
There are MANY different ways to make gumbo. Aside from the Creole vs Cajun versions of roux, there are different main ingredients (seafood vs chicken & sausage, turkey & sausage, or even hamburger gumbo). But even more than that, the beauty of gumbo–and my favorite thing about making it–is that you can pretty much adapt it however you want to, as long as you make the roux correctly and keep the main ingredients (yellow onion in the roux, celery, chicken and sausage, and green onions at the end) mostly the same. The original Cajun version that I learned only adds a few stalks of celery–more for flavor than anything. But I like more substance when I eat it, plus I love the flavor that celery adds, so I add more.
I LOVE to change things up when I cook, and with chicken & sausage gumbo, you can do that. You can customize gumbo to your own tastes, but still have gumbo. I have changed the recipe that was passed down to me quite a bit over the years and have adapted my own version. And now, this version is allergy-friendly: Wheat, soy, egg, dairy, nut, and egg free.
Now, I’m sure my Cajun predecessors would lose it if they knew I was calling a butter/lard free recipe gumbo, but I have yet to find anyone who doesn’t like it, because at the end of the day, gumbo is just good!! My mother was in horror the first time she watched me make my version because I do not use butter, I do not fry the sausage slices before cooking (I like the taste better when they are boiled, and frying them releases more fat anyway), and because I use water instead of chicken broth (I like to add my own flavor). But when she tried it, she loved it! And she has continued to love it… and now she even makes it this way herself… Especially nowadays when she has watch her cholesterol.
So, feel free to stick to my recipe exactly if that is your thing. Otherwise, stick to the basics, but get creative and have fun with the rest! Add more spice, fresh jalapenos, more poblanos, different color bell peppers, less spice, more herbs, chicken broth instead of water, fry the sausage and use Andouille.. Try it all kinds of ways and see what you like best.
However, please know that gumbo is NOT a quick recipe. A good gumbo will take you at least 3 hours from start to finish. It is a process to prepare, and then it needs to simmer for quite a while once it is all put together. But if your company doesn’t mind hanging out in the kitchen with you, it’s sure to please their taste buds in the end!
There’s just something about gumbo.. It’s made with love and great care.. It’s a special family meal… It’s you sharing yourself with others when you make it for them. For me, it’s sharing a part of my childhood mixed with a taste of who I am now. Or maybe it’s just a good soup and I’m just weird. But I did come from Cajun bloodlines, so I guess that isn’t too surprising.
Although my mom had the recipe passed down, my dad liked to cook, so he made it a fair amount, so I grew up helping him cook gumbo as well as learning it from my mom. My first major burn was when I was about 7 years old and I stirred the roux to quickly, splashing it on my knee while my dad went on a potty break; I, of course, didn’t know to wipe it off because I was too busy crying, so it continued to burn until my dad ran out to see what happened.
When we had company over growing up, my dad was often times standing over the stove scooping the fat off the top of the gumbo, talking at the same time. It’s a sentimental recipe for me.
And best of all as a parent.. I have not met a child that doesn’t like it! My toddler prefers it with noodles instead of rice. But I loved it as a child, my nieces and nephews beg for it, and every child I have ever fed it to, or ate it with growing up has ALWAYS loved it!
So use this recipe and make your own family version! Make it special!
1 whole chicken cooked, chopped *
1 bunch green onions, chopped
3 lbs of Allergy-friendly link sausages, sliced **
8 sticks of celery, chopped
2 Bell peppers, chopped ***
1 poblano pepper, chopped small
10 jalapeno slices, chopped small
3/4 cup GF all-purpose flour****
3/4 cup avocado or canola oil (high temperature safe)
1 large yellow onion, diced
6 garlic cloves, minced
Water to cover
For the roux:
1/2 TBS Slap ya Mama *****
1/2 TBS Old Bay
2 tsp salt
2 tsp black pepper
For the gumbo:
2 TBS Old Bay
2 TBS garlic powder
2 TBS onion powder
1 TBS sage
1 TBS basil
1/2 tsp white pepper
6 bay leaves (remove after cooking)
Salt and pepper to taste (probably about a TBS or more of each)
*I buy a rotisserie chicken and pull all the meat off because it saves time. If you cook a whole chicken, here are a few tips:
–boil the chicken to make it a better texture for a soup
–use as much dark meat as possible, because this gives it a better flavor
**I had a VERY hard time finding sausage that was actually wheat, soy, dairy, nut, and egg free. They all at least have vinegar in them (which is often times made with wheat and always causes flare ups with my daughter). I had actually almost given up on trying to make it safe for her. And then I checked Walmart. Of all places I NEVER expected to find it there, but I checked anyway one day when I happened to have time to burn and sure enough, the Walmart brand called Sam’s Choice All Natural Smoked Sausage Original flavor is totally safe and actually tastes great!
Whatever you use, it needs to be link sausage that can be sliced, and a smoked flavor is best usually. If you want a spicier, more Cajun version that little kids will not be eating, use Andouille flavored.
***I usually use 1 red, 1 yellow. Green adds a bit of a bitter flavor (which is good if this is more your style), and is probably the worst option for people with indigestion problems, orange adds the sweetest flavor, so if you like soups more sweet, use orange.
****I use a garbanzo bean flour mixture. This works better than any other gluten free flour that I have tried for a roux. It actually cooks the same as a normal all-purpose flour. Bob’s Red Mill has this version available, although I find mine at a local grocery store for a cheaper price.
*****Once again, thank you Walmart! Slap Ya Mama is a local spice (or at least it used to be), that I never could find anywhere but in Louisiana, so when I moved away, my mother would send it to me me regularly. Now, of all places, Walmart seems to sell it no matter where that Walmart is located, so here in the very un-Cajun Northwest, the only place I find it is at our local Walmart. The yellow can is best. But you can use Tony Chacheres instead, which is usually easier to find.
NOTE: Anyone who is familiar with gumbo may notice that I do not have gumbo file in my seasonings list. Anyone from Louisiana would gasp at this and call me un-American or worse.. BUT, all gumbo file really is is sassafras.. And sage has a similar flavor. So I use what I have in my cabinet and I combine sage, basil, and bay leaves to give it what I believe is a better flavor than just gumbo file anyway. Gumbo file is not easy to find here in the Northwest where I live now, so I learned to improvise.
Chop the chicken and green onions, cover them and refrigerate until it is time to add them to the soup.
Add the sliced sausage, chopped bell peppers, poblano pepper, jalapenos, and celery to a large stock pot (10 quart or more). Fill with enough water to cover and bring to a boil.
Let this part of the soup cook on medium-low heat while you prepare the roux.
It should look something like this:
Have your diced onions nearby the stove and topped with the roux spices and minced garlic.
In a large saucepan, mix the flour and oil together and turn the burner to medium or medium-low heat (depending on how hot your stove generally runs). Continue stirring with a heat resistant spatula that you can use to constantly scrape the bottom.
You CANNOT walk away from roux while you are cooking it, so plan to stay at the stove for a good 40 minutes.
If you have a small child who needs to go potty and then makes a mess, and who just gets into everything while you’re cooking and you need to walk away (this is what happens to me), then turn the burner off, remove the pan from heat, and give it a good stir before you walk away.
If you keep the roux heating and you do not mix it constantly, it will burn.
The roux will begin to bubble once it heats up; it will also feel thick and gritty at the bottom.. Keep stirring, side to side, front to back, making sure to keep scraping the bottom.
The color will slowly change from white, to tan, to brown. Keep stirring. It will take at least 20 minutes before the roux is dark enough (could be up to 40 if you are not comfortable cooking it at a high enough heat).
Over the years, I have burned a few batches of roux, melted a few spatulas, I’ve had the roux boil over and almost start a fire on the stove, and I have even caught a skillet on fire.. (no matter what people claim: never use cornstarch for the roux. I learned that the hard way). So I am pretty cautious when it comes to the heat myself, but don’t worry, it’ll smoke before it catches on fire. But if you’re not using cornstarch in place of flour, you’re skillet shouldn’t burst into flames anyway. 😉
Once the roux is dark brown (like the color of the crust of bread), turn the heat off for about a minute or so until it cools down just a little, but continue to stir and allow it to continue to darken.
It needs to look darker than what is in the following picture. Unfortunately, the picture makes it look lighter than it really is. Remember: The color of bread crust. Dark brown. Unless it is literally burnt black, you can’t over cook it, so don’t worry about it getting too dark; worry about it being too light.
THIS is the difference between Cajun and Creole roux. Creole’s don’t cook their roux very long; they like it lighter brown. Cajuns cook it until it is pretty much black. I’ve tried the creole way when I’ve been in a hurry. It creates a completely different flavor of gumbo. It gives it a bit of a “nutty” flavor. But it just isn’t nearly as good. The creole version is just weak to me; it tastes like any ole soup with just a little added flavor. It’s noting like the gumbo I know and love, so my recipe will be for a Cajun roux. Sorry Creoles.
Throw in a few pieces of onion, making sure your roux will not boil over right away (bubbling and frying is fine.. that’s what you want). Slowly add the rest, stirring at the same time. It will bubble; and it will want to boil, just keep stirring. Turn your heat back on to medium. You’re basically frying the onions in the roux. It will smell amazing, like fried onion rings and then some if your roux is right!
Continue stirring until the roux is a very dark brown (almost black) and the onions have softened. Remove from heat.
Continuing on with the Soup:
Your other ingredients in the stock pot should be nice and softened and blended together in flavor by this time. Now, SLOWLY add the roux to the stock pot. Be careful not to just dump it all in because it can make your soup boil over.
Add the gumbo spices also and mix well. Continue cooking the gumbo over low-medium heat for at least 30 minutes (an hour of simmering on low is ideal, but often I find myself short on time and I make do with half an hour, I just cook it on medium and keep stirring).
While the gumbo is cooking, the fat will keep floating to the top. Take a big spoon and keep carefully scoop off the fat, making sure to not scoop out any other parts of the gumbo. Continue to do this as the gumbo cooks. Dump the fat into a coffee cup or bowl and discard. You can skip this step if you like, but it will be a very greasy soup if you do.
In a rice cooker or on the stove top, prepare your rice (Jasmine rice has the best flavor).
Once your gumbo has cooked for at least 20 minutes, do a taste test.
Don’t do it before 20 minutes or you will not be able to taste all of the flavors yet. Trust me, I have made this mistake a number of times and ended up adding WAY too much spice because I just didn’t give it enough time to cook before adding more.
Add whatever spices you would like, or think it needs (if any) and continue cooking for the rest of the time (30 minutes on medium or 1 hour on low).
Now add the chicken and green onions and mix well. Once you add these, cook the gumbo for about 30 minutes, and remove from heat. Do not cook longer than that with the chicken, or it will get tough, but on simmer, you can cook for up to 3 hours before adding the chicken. The longer you cook it, the more the flavors will blend together, and the better it will be.
Don’t ever let anyone tell you that you are eating “gumbo” if the vegetables are still crunchy! The vegetables should be so soft that you barely even notice their presence when you’re eating it! I have tried 2 “Cajun” restaurants outside of Louisiana in my life, and they were a complete embarrassment to Cajun food! The vegetables in the gumbo were crunchy!! Cajun AND creole tradition is to cook the gumbo for a long time, so please tell me how in the world your recipe is anything from Louisiana if they’re still crunchy?? But, I digress.. And I do not visit so-called Cajun restaurants anymore. I just make my own food for people that come over.
Scoop about 1/2 cup of rice in a bowl, fill the rest of the bowl with gumbo and serve! You can add more rice if you choose, but the Cajun way is to eat it nice and soupy.
If you like this recipe, check my out other recipes, like, share, and comment!
I will also be adding a recipe for allergy-friendly Crawfish Etouffee soon, so check back in and look for it!