Gumbo. What’s not to love? I actually have a funny story involving gumbo, so spare me a minute. The year was 2005, and we were flying down to see my husband’s (actually, we weren’t even engaged yet. He bought the ring on the trip!) mother in Texas. Since Norfolk’s airport has very few direct flights, we had a layover in Charlotte, NC. There were horrible storms over Texas, so it was delaying our final leg of the stretch. We waited for hours, finally loaded onto the plain at 1 AM, only to discover that the plane was having mechanical problems and the flight was finally canceled and rescheduled for the morning.
In all the waiting and delays, we struck up conversation with a very nice gentleman whom had been to visit his mother, and was heading home. He carried with him a plastic bag, filled with 2 containers of gumbo that had been frozen in order to transport back to Texas. By 1 in the morning, it had been thawed out for hours, and the poor guy reluctantly threw it in the trash. I remember feeling bad for him, but not really understanding what all the fuss was about in the first place.
“Gumbo Guy”, I can now say that I feel your pain. A couple of months ago, I finally broke down and made this Cajun staple. I thought it would be something I’d make for the boys, but that I wouldn’t really enjoy. So wrong. The roux is the backbone of gumbo, and adds so much depth of flavor. I’ve made this a couple of time now, once with fresh okra, and once with frozen and didn’t notice much of a difference. Some folks use okra as a thickening agent, and others use filé (ground sassafrass ro0t). But, apparently it’s a cardinal sin to use both! So, I stuck with the okra. I have some filé in my spice cabinet though, so I think I might try that next time around to see if it lends different flavor. If you’re looking for a dish to celebrate Mardi Gras, look no further. This makes enough to feed an army, and it virtually takes care of itself on the stove. Can’t beat it with a stick!
Chicken, Sausage, and Shrimp Gumbo
2 lbs. chicken legs or thighs, bone-in and skin-on
1 lb. andouille sausage, sliced (or spicy Italian sausage, crumbled)
½ cup + 2 tbsp peanut or other vegetable oil
1 cup flour
2 green bell peppers, seeded and diced
4 stalks celery, diced
1 large onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsp. tomato paste
2 tbsp. Cajun spice mix
4 cups chicken stock
4 cups water
½-1 lb. okra, sliced into discs
1/2 pound medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
3 green onions, chopped
Chopped fresh parsley, for serving
In a large stockpot or Dutch oven set over medium-high heat, add 2 tbsp oil and heat until shimmering.Set the chicken pieces skin side down to brown. Season the side facing up with salt. Cook 4-5 minutes without moving. Flip the chicken pieces over and brown on the opposite side. Remove the browned chicken pieces to a plate and set aside. Add the sausage to the pan and cook until well browned. Remove to the plate with the chicken.
The amount of fat remaining in the pot should be about ½ cup. Add the additional peanut or vegetable oil to the pot. After the oil has heated for a minute or two, stir in the flour. Stir this mixture together almost constantly for the first few minutes, then every couple of minutes or so thereafter. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook the roux until it becomes fairly dark, about the color of coffee with a bit of cream mixed in.
While the roux is cooking, combine the chicken stock and water in a separate pot and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and maintain at a simmer.
When the roux has reached the appropriate color, stir in the diced green pepper, celery and onion. Mix well. Let cook, stirring frequently, for about 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook for about 2 more minutes. Mix in the tomato paste.
Using a large ladle, gradually add the hot chicken stock mixture to the pot. It will sizzle and seize as the roux absorbs the liquid. Continue adding the stock, stirring constantly and scraping the bottom of the pot. You may not need the full amount of liquid but add enough so that it is slightly more watery than you want the final product to be since the mixture will cook down over several hours. Stir in the Cajun spice mix and add more to taste.
Reduce the heat to medium-low and return the chicken pieces to the pot. Let simmer gently until the chicken meat falls easily away from the bones, about 90 minutes. Remove the chicken pieces and let cool slightly. Return the sausage to the pot with the gumbo, and stir in the sliced okra. Shred the cooked chicken meat, discarding the skin and bones (or saving for a later use). Add the shredded chicken pieces back to the gumbo. Cook the gumbo for an additional hour or more, until the gumbo has reached your desired final consistency. During the last five minutes of cooking, stir in the uncooked shrimp. Season to taste with salt.
Before serving, stir in the green onions and sprinkle with the parsley. Serve over rice or with crusty bread.