Wednesday, April 9, 2008

New Yorker Gumbo - How to Make Great Gumbo

This article and gumbo recipe was created out of necessity. To start with, making Gumbo was the given answer to my asked questions of "what the heck to do next with a leftover roasted chicken to other well-seasoned foodies, and secondly, I needed to learn a little thing or two about Gumbo making and creating. I learned a lot and I thought so highly of the dish and about Gumbo I had to share it with you.

I may have been born in the south, but moved up north long before I began to teethe, so I never got to try authentic gumbo when I lived down South. That has never stopped me though, to eat and try several gumbos in my life up until now. A few nights ago, I made my first gumbo - I was visiting a friendly food website called where we all share in our recipe and food stories and I had left over chicken from the lemon hoisin roasted chicken I had made the night before.

So I put a question out to the other foodies, what can I do with left over chicken - to my surprise and to their generosity, I received lots of ideas - make chicken pot pie, chicken salad, chicken quesadilla but one idea in particular stood out: Make a Gumbo.

Now, I knew I never tried making gumbo before and I knew enough that it is all about the roux. I read several recipes that night and learned there are as many gumbo recipes out there as there are excellent cooks who really know how to make not only the perfect roux for gumbo, but the best gumbo out there their side of their county.

History of Gumbo:
Now what the heck is gumbo I thought and where did this dish come from, what was its history? Gumbo is always served with rice and always is thickened while dark in its color (not like the color of a chicken pot pie filling). I primarily knew it as not only a popular dish from the South but that Gumbo is a huge staple signature dish of Southerners, many who will share their Gumbo with you with their Southern hospitality at any time but will covet their recipe and keep that a secret and that's the truth.

I also learned during my research is that there is some disparity in the history as to whether this gumbo dish is of creole or cajun origin or even if it was a take off from the bouillabaisse (think fish stew) that the French Settlers loved. Recall the Louisiana Purchase from your history class? The French Settlers story suggests that since some of the ingredients were not readily available that they were used to having in their beloved bouillabaisse, the French Settlers substituted from the local fare, and after a hundred years, this dish turned into it's own signature stew which we now know as Gumbo.

Though the more popular history is that Gumbo takes its' history from West African Cooking since the word gumbo is derived from the word, "okra" which was not only introduced to America by West Africans, but as it was then and as it is now, Okra is still used to thicken 'gumbo' in many recipes. This is far closer to the truth of the origin of Gumbo and many of the related recipes still continue to use okra as an additional thickener along with the roux.

Furthermore, Gumbo is a particular important food of choice during Mardi Gras, and most beloved chefs of gumbo regardless of class, status or selected choice of ingredients will make Gumbo on a fairly regular basis.

There are several main types of Gumbo: chicken and sausage, seafood and all vegetarian. But do note, you will see a huge combination of ingredients as well as different recipes for Gumbo as you peruse for Gumbo ideas out there in cyber land. And although it is a one pot 'Cajun' or 'Creole' communal concoction, it can contain as many or as few main ingredients but it all begins with a well-made roux.

So what in the world in a roux?

Roux is a thickener, and is used to make everything from pan gravy, sauces to the obvious point here Gumbo. Roux is a mixture of oil/butter and flour, slowly cooked almost always in the same pot the gumbo will be cooked in. This mixture is cooked slowly over the stove top until it is (depending upon recipe I noticed) milk chocolate color to dark chocolate color - but never burnt! I ready many times, if the roux is burnt, throw out and start again. Also interesting, the time it might take for the roux to get its color can be anywhere from 12-60 minutes all depending upon your pan, the heat under it and even the type of oil and shortening you use. Imagine, stirring for the length of time of 60 minutes. Yikes! But I am sure there are few Gumbo Perfectionists out there that swear (if they were to share) that is takes them no less than 30 minutes to make their roux.

Lastly about the roux, I did noticed that I took it slowly, and at about 17 minutes, the roux quickly turned the correct color - it was all of the sudden - I note this in particular, since nothing seemed to be happening, and as soon as I turned my whisk over to the boyfriend, it quickly happened - so be forewarned. Since it is obvious and stated in many recipes, you do not want to burn the stuff - but the cooked and browned roux is what the base of any great gumbo is. After that, it's all downhill as for the ease in making your gumbo.

So, I wanted not only to make Gumbo tonight, but being me, I will happily share my recipe, the flavors were complex, the gumbo thick, and with the extra effort needed, it was sure well worth all of it. The list of ingredients (for the Gumbo Purists especially) please forgive my New York nature as this recipe will contain some 'Italian' known ingredients minus the beloved okra, but it made for one heck of a Gumbo I am proud to serve and have named my recipe The New Yorker Gumbo!

This is a dish you might want to make on a weekend, since fresh broth really makes the dish, and the needed time it might take you to get the roux perfect - so let's get to it already! But it really only took a total of an hour and half - but I am sure the longer you cook your Gumbo, the better it is.

In saving some time, important tips to remember:
  • Sliced up the bacon and Italian sausages (except for the suprasatta) is easier if they are slightly frozen.
  • I cooked up my bacon, then the sausages all the while as the broth was being made as I chopped up my vegetables. This allowed me to have the necessary time to pay sole attention to the roux creating process.
  • If you burn your roux, stop, wash out your pan and start again - I have read this too many times in all the recipes I read so this really is important - as your Gumbo will taste burnt.
  • The seasoned 'oil' from the left over cooked bacon and sausage really also made a nice addition to the flavors in using simple olive oil or butter. I poured out all the oil left from the cooked meats, then remeasured and put back that which was needed to create the roux.
  • You should make your Gumbo along with the roux in a heavy deep soup crock for best results.
  • I know, that's one long list of ingredients below. Believe it or not, I had all of this available to me in my cupboards and fridge when I made my Gumbo, so some of you might have to shop a little, but again as I mentioned - this dish is so incredible you will be hooked!


  • 2-4 cups cooked riced (warm and set aside ready for serving when the time comes)
  • 2 cups fresh chicken and shrimp broth (the how to's are below)
  • 1-1/2 cup cut up cooked breast of chicken
  • 4 sweet italian sausages - sliced thin
  • 2 hot italian sausages - sliced thin
  • 2 inches or more of sweet or hot suprasatta sausage (thinly sliced and cut into fourths) (Found in your Italian Deli's - you can have them slice it or do it yourself at home, just make sure if there is a 'skin' - it's been removed)
  • 6 slices of bacon (thick sliced is best)
  • 2-3 large shrimp per person de-veined but with tails and shells still on
  • 1 large onion
  • 1 big red sweet pepper
  • 2 green sweet peppers
  • 1 large can of diced tomatoes (14.5 ounce can)
  • 1 small can of tomato paste (6 ounce can)
  • 4 shakes of red chili flakes
  • several shakes each of Tabasco & Franks hot sauce
  • 1/2 cup good red wine
  • 1-1/2 tablespoons 'better than bouillon' beef flavor - it is a thick paste and basis for broths - found in the soup section of your grocery stores - and comes in a variety of flavors.
  • 2 cups water (if you are not using the broth)
  • 1-2 tablespoons salt
  • 4 tablespoons all purpose flour
  • 4 tablespoons bacon and sausage fat
  • 4 (+) cloves of garlic - freshly minced
  • 3 scallions minced
  • 1 teaspoon all spice (whole seed pods - preferred)
  • 1 teaspoon or more cumin
  • 1 teaspoon of old bay seasonings
  • 2 tablespoon freshly chopped parsley
  • 2 bay leafs
  • 2 or 3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1-1/2 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon basil
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  1. Make your broth, add whole chicken breasts, or chicken parts, one bay leaf, a cut up carrot, a cut of stalk of celery, sage, a couple of whole all spice 'seeds', salt and pepper. Once boiling, add whole shrimp (with heads if you can find them) Let boil three minutes, then take out shrimp immediately and set shrimp aside.
  2. Once shrimp has cooled enough to handle, remove shells, heads and return all shells, heads and tails back into your broth and let it continue to cook on simmer.
  3. While your broth is cooking away, let's get going on the meats for your Gumbo.
  4. Slice up your bacon, and add a drizzle of olive oil into your cold pan that you are to make your gumbo in. Cook bacon. Once cooked, spoon out bacon.
  5. Add all sliced thin sausages into pan and let brown, turning them over now and then. Once browned, set aside.
  6. While your bacon and sausages are cooking, cut up the onions, peppers.
  7. Pour off all oil left in pan, then measure oil to have the needed 4 tablespoons of oil/fat and put back into your pan. Add your 4 tablespoons flour slowly. Over medium heat, stir with a whisk.
  8. While cooking your roux over a med-low heat, whisking constantly, for roughly 12 to 15 minutes, until it turns the color of rich milk chocolate. This may take longer - try not to rush things by putting the heat up high - you will simply end up burning the flour.
  9. Once roux is at the right color, add the onions, bell peppers, celery, garlic, and all of the 'dry' seasonings to the roux and continue cooking and stirring for 5 minutes or until the vegetables turn tender.
  10. Add the diced tomatoes from the can including all its juices along with the tomato paste.
  11. Add the drained chicken/shrimp stock and all remaining wet ingredients such as the worcestershire sauce and hot sauces.
  12. Add the smoked sausage and cut into chunks of cooked chicken and continue cooking for about 60 minutes at least, stirring occasionally. Don't forget the bay leaves. Add any and all other ingredients not already added to your gumbo in the making.
  13. Add cooked shrimp to Gumbo 3-5 minutes before serving to warm through.
  14. Serve up your gumbo and pour over your rice. Top with fresh cilantro and make sure some extra hot sauce is available to those who like the extra kick.
Interesting Gumbo-related Links and Sources for this Article:
As always feel free to leave your comments, ask questions and share your ideas. I look forward to hearing from you! -Divaliscious (aka Leah Quinn).

Leah Quinn is a writer specializing on food, health, well being and entertainment and is a multi-media artist living in New York. Stop by her food site to learn many more healthy and interesting recipes at and to find links to her other sites and blogs such as The Daily Rant and Rave or Simply Divaliscious.

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