This recipe, as you’ll see, is long and labor-intensive, partly because it includes making your own chicken stock. The flavor at the end, though, is like nothing else; gumbo was my brother’s favorite food, growing up. I’ve divided the recipe into segments, and the instructions, though lengthy, are fairly easy; the only tricky bit is the roux. As a side note, you’ll see that this gumbo contains no tomatoes, seafood, or gumbo filé; feel free to add those if you like your gumbo that way!
As a bonus for plodding through the gumbo recipe, I’ve included my rice-making method at the bottom. I believe in the power of really good rice, which requires both quality dry rice and careful technique. It’s largely a matter of practice, particularly getting the ratio of rice to water exactly right, but the results are worth it.
Homemade Sausage and Chicken Gumbo
(makes 10-12 generous servings, but freezes very well)
Chicken and Stock (can be prepared the day before)
- 4 lbs whole chicken thighs
- 1/2 lb coarsely chopped carrots
- 5 celery ribs, broken in thirds
- 2 medium onions, unpeeled, cut in thick slices
- salt and/or chicken broth powder
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Wash the chicken thighs and season with salt and pepper.
- Scatter the vegetables on the bottom of a large roasting pan, and place the thighs on top, skin side up, in a single layer.
- Bake until the juices run clear when you poke a thigh with a fork, or about 45 minutes.
- Remove from oven and wait until they are cool enough to handle. (The crispy skin on top makes a naughty but delicious snack while you wait!)
- Pick apart the chicken thighs, removing the meat in large chunks and returning everything else – skin, bones, gristle, etc. – to the roasting pan with the vegetables. Refrigerate the chicken meat.
- Return the roasting pan to the oven and bake at 350 degrees until the vegetables and bones are deep brown, though not burned – perhaps 30 minutes.
- Scrape everything in the roasting pan into a large pot. Add water to the pan and stir it around to pick up all the brown bits stuck to the bottom. Add that to the pot, too.
- Add more water to cover everything; bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a slow simmer, removing any foam that accumulates on top. Cook for as long as you have patience; 1-2 hours is a minimum, but even 4 or 5 won’t hurt.
- Strain the stock through a fine-mesh strain, and discard all the solids. Taste, adding salt or chicken-broth powder until it has a balanced flavor, then cool.
- If you’re using the stock the same day, carefully skim the fat with a spoon from the top of the stock and set it aside. If you’re making the stock ahead of time, refrigerate it overnight; the fat will solidify into a hard layer on top that you can spoon off easily.
- 1 lb smoked sausage, cut into 1-inch pieces (andouille or another cajun sausage if you can get it, which I couldn’t)
- vegetable oil
- Add a little oil to a heavy pot and heat it to medium-high. Add the sausage pieces and stir until browned and cooked through.
- Remove the meat and refrigerate. Reserve the fat, straining out any browned bits with a fine-mesh strainer.
Roux (Note: feel free to double or triple this part and store the extra roux in your freezer or refrigerator, since roux takes so long to make!)
- 1/2 cup animal or vegetable fat (see below)
- 1 cup flour
- Get together 1/2 cup of fat, as flavorful as possible. This could come from the chicken stock, the sausage, bacon drippings you’ve saved, butter, or olive oil.
- Heat the fat at medium-low in a heavy, large pot, perhaps even the one you just cooked sausage in. Add the flour and mix in.
- Slowly cook the roux, stirring and scraping up the bottom constantly, until it reaches the deep brown of dark chocolate. The entire process should take about 45 minutes; at a half hour, the roux should be the color of caramel or peanut butter. If the roux is browning too fast, lower the temperature. If it burns, you’ll have to throw it away, clean the pan, and start over. You may smell something like burning popcorn or roasting coffeebeans as you near the end; don’t worry about it. You’ll know that the roux is burned if you see black bits starting to float around in it, or if you taste the roux and it tastes charred instead of deep and rich.
- 2 medium onions, diced
- 5 celery stalks, cut in small chunks
- 2 green bell peppers, cut in small chunks
- 1/2 lb peeled carrots, cut in small chunks (optional and unauthentic)
- 1/2 cup parsley leaves, coarsely chopped
- 5 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 habanero pepper, seeded and minced (Note: habanero will cause intense pain if it touches you, particularly if it gets on your eyes or mouth. Use gloves or a plastic bag so you don’t touch it, and wash the knife and cutting board thoroughly afterward!)
- 1 tablespoon ground paprika
- 1 tablespoon ground cumin
- 2 quarts chicken stock (see above; if you have extra stock, save it for another recipe, and if you have too little, make it up with canned or powder-based chicken stock)
- 1 teaspoon ground cayenne
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme
- 3 bay leaves
- 1 lb chopped okra (either fresh or frozen)
- cooked sausage (see above)
- cooked chicken (see above)
- salt and pepper
hot long-grained rice (see recipe below)
- Once the roux is chocolate-colored, add the onions, celery, bell peppers, and carrots and increase the heat to medium. Stir constantly until the onion is softened, about 10 minutes.
- Add the parsley, garlic, habanero, paprika, cumin, and cayenne. Continue to stir for a minute or two, until the garlic becomes nice and aromatic.
- Slowly add the stock, a cup at a time, stirring until each cup is absorbed before adding the next cup.
- Add the oregano, thyme, bay leaves, okra, and pepper to taste. Stir, cover, bring to a boil, and reduce to a simmer.
- Once all the vegetables are tender, about 30-45 minutes, add the sausage and chicken. Return to a simmer.
- After ten minutes, remove the bay leaves and taste for seasoning, adding salt if necessary. Serve over rice, and enjoy!
Bonus recipe: Esther’s Rice
(2-3 servings per cup of dry rice; this recipe can be multiplied easily)
- dry long-grained aromatic rice (jasmine or basmati are my favorites)
- Thoroughly rinse the rice at least three times in water, until the water runs fairly clear. Drain.
- Melt butter over medium heat in a saucepan; I use at least 1/2 tablespoon per cup of rice, but the amount is really up to you and your arteries!
- Add the rice and saute for several minutes, until the rice is dry and starts to turn an opaque white.
- Add water. There are two ways of measuring the correct amount of water. One is to see what the bag suggests and add a little bit less, since the rice gained some water while rinsing it. The other is to add water until the depth of the water over the rice is approximately equal to the first segment of your forefinger. This latter method, obviously, requires a bit more practice to get right, but once you have it, it’s quicker and often more reliable.
- Add salt to taste (perhaps 1 teaspoon per cup), cover, and bring to a boil.
- Stir the rice once, to remove any clumps or grains sticking to the bottom, then cover again. Reduce heat to the stove’s lowest setting.
- Wait ten minutes. Turn off the heat. Wait another ten minutes. Do not, for any reason, remove the lid during this entire twenty minutes!
- Remove the lid and fluff the rice, so it releases its steam. Serve and enjoy.