This is by no means a "definitive" gumbo recipe. There are an almost infinite number of ways of making gumbo, but this is the way I make it. (There are several other gumbo recipes on my gumbos and soups page.) I say with no trace of arrogance and with complete honesty that this may well be the best gumbo you've ever had.
I call this my "everything" gumbo. It's a bit unusual in that the chicken stock is also infused with a seafood flavor from the shrimp shells and heads, and that it contains chicken, sausage and seafood. I believe this makes for a much richer and more complex set of flavors for the gumbo. Get this recipe while you can -- if I ever end up serving this in a restaurant I'm not going to give my secrets away anymore ... :-)
Remember that you MUST go through the stock making process for this dish; plain water or a canned stock will simply not do. I cannot overemphasize the importance of this step. Yes, you'll see gumbo recipes that call for plain water, but I do not believe that it's worth it to make a gumbo this way. You simply cannot get the depth and multi-layered complexity of flavors without starting with a homemade stock. Don't believe me? Listen to one of your fellow Gumbo Pages readers who wrote me and said,
"Just wanted to tell you that I used your recipe off the Gumbo Page, and went ahead, on your pleading, and spent a whole day making the stock. It's the best gumbo I have ever made."
-- Bill D.
The stock can be made in advance and refrigerated or frozen.
A couple of alternate versions: Some people really don't like okra. I feel sorry for these people. You can convert this from an okra gumbo into a filé gumbo by omitting the okra, and when the gumbo's finished turning off the heat, sprinkling 1 to 2 teaspoons of filé powder over the surface of the gumbo. Cover and let stand for 15 minutes, then stir the filé powder into the gumbo. Once this has been done, any leftover gumbo may only be gently reheated; if this is brought to a boil again, the filé will turn stringy and have an unpleasant consistency.
Also, if you want a more elegant-looking gumbo (rather than this version, which is rather rustic), remove the chicken from the bones, cut into chunks and add the meat back to the gumbo; also, instead of using whole crabs that you have to crack, omit them and add a pound and a half of good white crabmeat along with the shrimp near the end of cooking. DO NOT under ANY CIRCUMSTANCES use the artificial crab substitute known as "krab" or "surimi". If you ever serve anything like this to a Louisianian, you'd better be prepared to run for your life.
FOR THE STOCK:
- 8 quarts cold water
- 8-10 pounds chicken parts (backs, necks, etc.) and bones, or a whole chicken, cut up and skillet-browned
- Shrimp shells and heads, reserved from the 4 pounds of shrimp that have been peeled for the final step of the gumbo (the heads are very important!)
- 8 ounces onions, chopped
- 4 ounces celery with tops, chopped
- 4 ounces carrots, chopped
- 2 heads garlic, cut in half horizontally
- Sachet d'épices: In a small cheesecloth bag or tea ball, place:
- 1 teaspoon or so black peppercorns, cracked
- A few parsley stems
- 1 bay leaf
- 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
- 1/2 teaspoon dried tarragon leaves
- 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano leaves
- 1/2 teaspoon dried basil leaves
(If at all possible, please try to get shrimp with the heads on. Shrimp heads impart a wonderful flavor to the stock, and it just ain't the same as a real New Orleans gumbo without them. Do whatever you have to do. In many cities you'll have better luck at Asian seafood markets.)
Remove the skin from the chicken and chop into 3-4 inch pieces, making sure to cut through and expose the bones. Brown the chicken parts and bones in a skilliet with oil, or in a 350°F oven for about 20 minutes.
Put the chicken in the stockpot with the water and bring slowly to a simmer. Periodically skim off any scum that forms, and if you wish use a skimmer to skim off the fat. (This stock simmering process makes your house smell REALLY good!) Let this simmer for at least three, and preferably four hours. It is this long simmering process that extracts the maximum flavor from the chicken meat and bones, as well as the natural gelatin from the bones. When refrigerated, a good chicken stock will be clear and gelatinous (and in fact will set like Jello when refrigerated, if you've done it properly).
Add the onion, garlic, carrots and celery. Place the peppercorns, parsley sprigs and dried herbs into a 4-inch square piece of cheesecloth or large tea ball (making what's called a sachet d'epices) and tie it into a little sack; add the sack to the stock (you can tie the sack closed with some twine and tie the long end of the twine to the handle of the pot; this makes the bag easier to retrieve.) Simmer for one more hour, then add the shrimp shells and heads. Simmer an additional 30 minutes.
Remember that during the simmering process, it's best not to stir the stock. The end result will be much clearer if it is not agitated while simmering.
Strain thoroughly; the best way to do this is to ladle the stock out and pour it through a strainer which has been lined with a couple of layers of damp cheesecloth. If you're using the stock immediately, skim off as much fat as you can with a fat skimmer or a piece of paper towel, otherwise cool the stock right away by placing the container into an ice-water-filled sink, stirring to bring the hot liquid from the center to the sides of the container. Don't just put hot stock in the refrigerator; it won't cool enough to prevent possible multiplication of harmful bacteria. (A neat trick I learned recently -- fill Ziploc freezer bags with water and freeze them, then place the bags of ice into the stock; this will cool the stock without diluting it!) To defat the stock easily, refrigerate so that the fat solidifies on the surface, then skim off.
Makes about 5 quarts of stock. Use it all for this gumbo recipe. If you want extra, double it and freeze the rest.
(Except for the shrimp shells, this is an excellent general-purpose chicken stock. The shells and heads are added at the last minute for the additional seafood flavor for that I like especially for this dish; for general use, though, it's best to make separate chicken or fish stocks. The stock will keep for a few days in the refrigerator or 6 months in the freezer.)
FOR THE ROUX:
- 1-1/4 cups flour
- 1 cup oil
Blend thoroughly in a thick skillet and cook over medium-high to high heat, stirring CONSTANTLY. BE VERY CAREFUL NOT TO BURN IT!! If you see black specks in the roux, you've screwed it up. Dump it out and start over. Keep cooking and stirring until the roux gets darker and darker. It's best to use a very heavy bot or skillet for roux-making, especially cast iron. With a good cast iron Dutch oven or skillet, you can get a beautiful dark roux in only about 20 minutes.
New Orleans people tend to like a blond or peanut butter colored roux, so feel free to make it that way if you like. Cajuns tend to like it dark, and so do I -- if you feel comfortable that you won't burn the roux, cook it until it's a dark, reddish-brown, almost but not quite as dark as milk chocolate. The roux, when finished, almost smells like roasted coffee ... yum!
If you prefer a blond or medium roux, cut down on the amount of roux you use; dark roux does not have as much thickening effect since the starch is so thoroughy cooked.
You should turn the fire down as the roux approaches the right color because the heat from the pan will continue cooking it. Add your onions to the roux as it's near the end of cooking to arrest the cooking process and to soften and caramelize the onions (this is the way I like to do it). KEEP STIRRING. Once the roux is at the color you want add the bell peppers and celery and continue to stir until the roux is relatively cool. Add the roux to the stock.
They don't call roux "Cajun napalm" for nothing. Don't let any splatter on you, or you'll get a nasty burn. Stir carefully.
If you don't have a heavy enough pan, or if you're nervous about cooking roux at high heat, remember that a dark Cajun-style roux will take about an hour of constant stirring at low heat, so if you're pressed for time, a nice blond Creole-style roux will still do nicely, and will take about half the time. Also remember that the roux can be prepared in advance, and refrigerated or frozen. With a little practice, you'll get good at it.
FOR THE REST:
- 1 chicken or guinea hen, without giblets, cut up
- 1 to 1-1/2 pounds andouillesausage, sliced about 1/4" thick on the bias (you may substitute hot or mild smoked sausage if good andouille isn't available) and/or fresh Creole hot sausage, browned
- 4 pounds shrimp, peeled and deveined
- 6 blue crabs, cleaned, broken in half and claws pulled off (or for a more elegant looking gumbo, omit and instead add 1-1/2 pounds lump white crabmeat, picked over for shells and cartilage)
- 3 pounds okra, sliced (leave out if you don't like okra, but be sure to add filé at the end if you leave out the okra)
- 2 onions, chopped
- 1 bunch green onions with tops, chopped
- 2 bell peppers, chopped
- 5 ribs celery, chopped
- several cloves garlic, minced
- 3 bay leaves
- 1 bunch fresh parsley, chopped
- Creole seasoning to taste, OR black, white and cayenne peppers, to taste
- Salt to taste
- Few dashes Tabasco, or to taste.
- 1 - 2 tablespoons filé powder (ONLY IF YOU DON'T USE OKRA!)
- Steaming hot Louisiana long-grain rice
Sprinkle the chicken pieces with Creole seasoning and brown in the oven. Slice the sausage and brown, pouring off all the fat (especially if you're using fresh Creole hot sausage).
Sauté the onions, green onions, bell pepper and celery if you haven't already added them to the roux, and add to the stock. Add the chicken and sausage(s). Add the bay leaves and Creole seasoning (or ground peppers) to taste and stir. Bring to a boil and immediately reduce to a simmer; let simmer for about 45 minutes. Keep tasting and adjusting seasonings as needed.
Add the okra and cook another 30 minutes or so. Make sure that the "ropiness" or "stringiness" from the okra is gone, add the parsley, crab halves and claws (if you're using them). Cook for another 15 minutes, then add the shrimp (and if you've omitted the hard-shell crabs, add the lump crabmeat now). Give it another 6-8 minutes or so, until the shrimp are just done, turning pink. Be very careful not to overcook the shrimp; adding the shrimp should be the very last step.
If there is any fat on the surface of the gumbo, try to skim off as much of it as possible.
Serve generous amounts in bowls over about 1/2 cup of hot rice -- claws, shells, bones and all (if you've made the original "rustic" version). Remember that the rice goes in the bowl first, and it is not an optional step, despite the trend among some New Orleans restaurants to serve a riceless gumbo.
You may, if you like, sprinkle a small amount of gumbo filé in your individual serving for a little more flavor; just remember that if you're making a filé gumbo, it should be added to the pot off the fire for its proper thickening action.
I labored for years refining this recipe. If you make this gumbo and serve it to your guests without crediting me and singing my name, very VERY bad voodoo gris-gris will be sent in your direction (I've got a gris-gris daemon running as a background process) ... so watch it!
(Okay, just kidding ... all I really want is for you to enjoy it! :^)
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Chuck Taggart (e-mail chuck)