It’s October and this chicken and sausage gumbo has a special place in my heart. Not only do I hail from Louisiana, but this was the very first meal I made for my now husband, that (in his own words) persuaded him to put a ring on it. As we celebrate our anniversary this month, we cuddle up together, have a bowlful and get warm fuzzies all over again.
While gumbo is a cozily comforting dish for fall and winter, it manages to work its voodoo magic any time of the year. With a cold beer and a patio fan, gumbo can give you the kind of meat sweats that you just don’t mind in the middle of summer.
As with any recipe, adjusting gumbo to your tastes is a-okay. This recipe features the “Holy Trinity” of onion, celery and green bell pepper. However, many people add a lot more to their gumbos, including leftover meats and other veggies, such as okra (which also works as a thickener).
Some people back home in Louisiana prefer it more mild or liquidy. Some people eat gumbo and rice all mixed together in unpretentious styrofoam bowls. Others will class it up proper dinnerware with a perfectly portioned, starchy scoop on top.
Andouille? We do.
But what exactly is in gumbo’s magic potion? It’s a spellbinding powerhouse of seasonings mixed with broth thickened by a rich and nutty roux. This particular version showcases chicken (seasoned in advance) and spicy andouille (an-do-we) sausage. A twice smoked pork sausage, andouille is synonymous with Cajun and Creole cuisines.
Thankfully andouille is well-traveled. You’re likely to find packages in the sausage section of your grocery store or at your local butcher shop. But keep in mind that any savory sausage (like kielbasa) will do. If andouille is not an option, you can also go the seafood route (to be blogged at a later date!).
Regardless of how we make it, we eat it all. Once you’ve stirred a dark roux or two, you’ll understand why we don’t let a single drop of gumbo go to waste.
The roux plays a critical role in this dish, acting as thickener and major flavoring agent. The science behind roux’s deliciousness is fascinating too. With equal parts fat and flour combined over heat, fat droplets evenly surround the starch granules. The fat gently fries the starch until the mixture becomes nutty and fragrant. This toasty flour ultimately also acts as a thickener when liquid is later added. And because the cooking process helps coat the individual starch granules, the transformation will be silky smooth instead of clumpy. In fact, this is one reason why four of the five “mother sauces” of classic French cooking utilizes a roux.
Roux comes in different colors and complexity. A “blonde” roux (off-yellow in color) has been cooked for a shorter amount of time, while a dark roux (the color of chocolate) has been cooked longer, imparting much stronger flavors to the dish. Some roux, especially those cooked for a shorter duration, are made with butter. Deeper, darker roux, like those in Southern cuisine (this recipe included), lean on sturdier oils that are less likely to burn.
The key from getting from blonde to dark is constantly stirring until you’ve achieved the desired color. A lapse can mean burnt, bitter roux. For a very dark roux like the one featured here, that may mean stirring twenty minutes straight. Take it from me and turn up the radio or download a good podcast before you get going!
But First, Find Filé.
One thing you may want to check your pantry for before you begin is filé (fee-lay) powder, or ground up sassafrass tree leaves. Filé, like a roux, is also a flavoring and thickening agent. Historically, gumbos will use only one or two of three thickening agents- roux, okra, or filé powder. Personally, I use roux and Penzey’s filé powder since these ingredients are in my pantry more often. But it will not ruin your gumbo pot if you make a Holy Trinity out of the three thickeners (just remember to adjust the broth as needed).
Ready to get started? Turn on the zydeco station, give your stirring arm a good stretch, and let’s whip up some husband gettin’ gumbo.
For the seasoning
- 3 Tablespoons coarse sea salt
- 3 Tablespoons garlic powder
- 3 Tablespoons onion powder
- 3 Tablespoons paprika
- 3 Tablespoons dried oregano
- 3 Tablespoons dried thyme
- 1 Tablespoon black pepper freshly ground
- 1 1/2 teaspoon cayenne
For the gumbo
- 5 pounds boneless skinless chicken breasts or thighs about 6 to 8 pieces, seasoned overnight or as soon as possible in advance
- 2 1/4 pounds andouille sausage about 3 store-bought packages
- 2 large green bell peppers
- 6 stalks celery
- 1 white onion
- 1 cup vegetable oil plus extra for browning meats
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 84 ounces chicken broth (or substitute 12 ounces of broth for 12 ounces of amber beer)
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 Tablespoon gumbo filé powder
- 1/4 cup fresh parsley chopped, plus extra for garnish
- 1/4 cup green onions sliced thin, plus extra for garnish
- salt to taste
For the rice
- 2 cups long grain white rice
- 4 cups chicken broth
- 1 Tablespoon salted butter
- 1 teaspoon coarse sea salt
- 1 bay leaf
For the gumbo
- With a paper towel, pat the chicken pieces dry and trim or remove any excess fat.
- Combine all ingredients for the seasoning making sure that the salt crystals are evenly distributed. Coat both sides of chicken evenly and place seasoned chicken in a large bowl or sided pan. Cover seasoned chicken with plastic wrap and let sit in the refrigerator overnight, or for as long as possible before cooking.
- When ready to begin cooking, take sausage and seasoned chicken out of the refrigerator to allow to come up to room temperature. Slice the andouille sausage on a bias (at a slight angle so that the pieces are less circular and more oval-shaped).
- Rinse and prepare the vegetables. Small dice the onion and deseeded green bell pepper, and slice the celery stalks thin. If the stalks are very wide, you can first cut these in half.
- Heat a large dutch oven over medium to medium-low heat, and add 1 cup vegetable oil. When the oil is hot, add the 1 cup of flour and stir continuously with a wooden spoon until the roux deepens to a dark chocolate color, about 20 minutes. Be careful not to let the roux burn- turn down the heat if you notice it changes color quickly, is sticking easily to the bottom of the pot or is very smokey.
- Once the roux is a dark chocolate color, add the onion, bell pepper, and celery to soften for 1 to 2 minutes, while continuing to stir.
- Add the chicken stock (and optional beer), and stir to incorporate the roux with the liquid. Turn up the heat and allow the mixture to come to a boil being careful not to bubble over. Then reduce the heat to a slow simmer, and add the bay leaves.
- While the gumbo is simmering, heat a separate pan over medium-high heat. Add a couple of Tablespoons of vegetable oil or just enough to coat the bottom of the pan. Once the oil is heated, brown the outside of the chicken being careful not to overcrowd the pan, about 4 to 7 minutes per side. Once the chicken has been browned, place the chicken into the gumbo. It does not have to be cooked through since it will continue to cook in the liquid.
- Next, brown the sausage, also in small batches. Once the sausage is browned, add them to the gumbo as well.
- Allow the gumbo to simmer with vegetables and meats, stirring occasionally, for about 2 hours or until meat is tender and starting to fall apart in the pot. Towards the end of the cooking time, remove the bay leaves, skim any excess grease from the top with a spoon, and shred the chicken in the pot. Add the filé powder, fresh parsley, green onion, and any additional salt to taste.
For the rice
- Place rice, broth, butter, salt, and bay leaf in a large saucepan over high heat and bring to a boil. Stir, reduce temperature to low, and let simmer with the lid on for 20 minutes. Do not open the lid while the rice is cooking.
- Take the rice off the heat and allow to sit with the lid still on another 10 minutes. Remove lid and fluff the rice with a fork.
- Plate the gumbo and add a scoop of rice. Garnish with chopped fresh parsley and green onions and serve hot.