To roux or not to roux... don't laugh, that really is the question.
Ask yourself, before selecting your gumbo recipe...
- “Will this be a roux-based gumbo, or not?” There’s no right or wrong answer since the results can be tasty either way. Tasty, but different.
- “Will I use okra, or file powder, or both or neither?” Individual preferences dictate the answer here. My response is bring it on! I love the flavor and thickening power of both ingredients and have used them separately and together. I do realize that some diners have issues with the taste or texture of these items, so it's a personal choice.
When DaringCooks announced this month’s Gumbo Challenge, I knew I was in cooking heaven. We love seafood gumbo and it’s frequently on the galley menu. Fresh prawns and crab are featured in many of the gumbos prepared aboard the boat, while chicken and sausage are more common in my gumbos ashore. The current challenge was to move beyond my favorite recipes and try something new… or maybe not. What to do? I decided to cook more than version, a somewhat healthier non-roux version that’s an old standby, and a roux-based gumbo adapted from a recipe by Leah Chase. The suggested John Besh recipe was appealing, but the new-to-me Chase recipe called to me more strongly.
When dealing with a roux, preparation is key, so step one was to season the chicken and chop the meats and vegetables into appropriate bite-sized pieces. We haven't gone prawning or crabbing yet this season, so chicken and pork were my protein choices for this batch, even though the recipe listed crab, shrimp and oysters. Oysters?!
The fresh okra at the nearby market looked too sad and tired to use, frozen would be a better choice. I was surprised to find two frozen okra packages, one from Egypt and the other a product of the USA. The origin and brands were different, but the pods inside looked and tasted the same.
I browned the sausages and chicken pieces and cooked them in a covered pot while I tackled the roux. Roux is just flour cooked in an equal amount of very hot oil and stirred constantly until it reaches the desired color. The darker the roux, the nuttier the taste and the less the thickening power of the flour. This recipe called for roux "the color of pecans". It was tempting to stop cooking at a medium beige stage, but achieving the pecan coloration didn't take too many minutes longer.
Chopped onions were quickly added to the skillet. They help to lower the temperature in the pan and stop the roux from burning. There's no recovering a scorched roux, it will always taste bitter and burnt - not a flavor you want in your gumbo.
The roux was slowly added to the pot of cooking meats, followed by all of the remaining ingredients except file powder and rice. Chicken stock covered them all as they gently bubbled along at a low simmer for an hour. To finish I stirred in the file powder, let the gumbo rest for a few minutes and served it around a mound of cooked rice.
The flavors will mellow and blend with an overnight hold, so leftovers are a special treat. Gumbo freezes well too, so don't hesitate to make an extra-large batch. I'll defrost a quart or two, top each serving with some Cajun spiced, pan-seared fresh prawns and this gumbo will be beyond heavenly.
Chicken and Sausage Gumbo (with a roux)
based on Creole Gumbo by Chef Leah Chase in The Oprah Magazine Cookbook (link)
1/2 lb hot sausage (andouille, chorizo or Italian) cut into bite-sized pieces
1/2 lb kielbasa, cut into bite-sized pieces
5 or 6 chicken drumsticks or thighs, bone-in and skin-on
2 Tbs Cajun Seasoning*
1/4 cup canola oil
1/4 cup all purpose flour
1 medium onion, chopped
1 bell pepper, chopped
3 stalks celery with leaves, chopped
3 quarts chicken stock
1/2 lb smoked ham, diced
2 cups okra, chopped if large
1 Tbs sweet paprika
1 tsp ground thyme
1 tsp salt (optional)
1/4 cup flat-leaf parsley
3 large garlic cloves, minced
1 bay leaf
1 Tbs file powder
5 cups hot cooked rice
- Cut up the sausages and chop all of the vegetables before you begin.
- Sprinkle Cajun Seasoning* over the chicken pieces; rub in and set aside.
- Heat a large heavy-bottomed Dutch oven over medium heat; add the sausage and sear until browned and fat is rendered. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside. Add the chicken pieces to the pot and brown on all sides. Add the sausage chunks back to the pot; cover and cook over a medium-low heat for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove the chicken pieces; discard the skin and bones and shred the chicken meat back into the pot.
- Heat the oil in a medium-sized iron skillet over medium heat. Add the flour all at once, stirring constantly and cook until the flour mixture (roux) turns nutty brown, about the color of a pecan. (Be careful to avoid splattering your skin, the oil will produce a bad burn). Reduce the heat to low and add the onions all at once, stirring constantly, until the onions soften, about 3 minutes. Add the bell pepper and celery and stir to mix.
- Stir the roux with vegetables into the meat mixture, scraping up any brown bits from the skillet. Gradually add the chicken broth, stirring to combine and incorporate the browned bits from the bottom and sides of the meat pot. Add the ham, okra, paprika, thyme, parsley, garlic, and bay leaf. Simmer 1 hour, stirring occasionally.
- Remove pot from the heat and stir in the file powder. Let stand 5 minutes. Serve over a mound of rice.
*Cajun Seasoning: Mix 2 TB sweet Hungarian paprika, 1 tsp each dried basil and dried thyme, 1/2 tsp each freshly ground pepper, garlic powder, and onion powder, and 1/4 tsp cayenne. You will have more than you need for this recipe: store in a tightly lidded container for up to several months.
Gumbo Number Two
Below is a favorite old standby, the reliable basis for countless gumbo variations. Tomatoes give it a rich color and a nice flavor boost without any roux. It may not be traditional, but this gumbo is much faster to prepare and still very tasty.
Chicken Gumbo (without a roux)
from Creole Gumbo in Eat Light by Susan Deeming (link)
1 1/2 cups water
1 chicken-flavored bouillon cube
3 5-oz chicken breast halves
3/4 cup chopped onion (divided)
1/4 cup chopped celery leaves
1 (16-oz) can tomatoes with juice (Cajun flavored recommended)
1 thick bacon slice, diced (not Maple flavored)
1 cup diced green bell pepper
2 TB all-purpose flour
2 bay leaves
1/2 tsp dried leaf thyme
1/8 tsp red (cayenne) pepper
8 oz fresh or frozen medium shrimp (about 18), shelled, deveined (use shells to season chicken broth)
cooked ham hocks or spicy sausage chunks
1 (10-oz) pkg. frozen cut okra – or 3/4 lb fresh okra, chopped
1 tsp gumbo file powder
- In a large pan, combine water and bouillon cube. Bring to a boil over high heat; reduce heat until water barely simmers. Crush bouillon cube with the back of a spoon. Stir until completely dissolved. Trim fat from chicken. Add chicken, 1/4 cup chopped onion and celery leaves to bouillon mixture. Bring mixture back to a simmer. Cover, simmer 15 min. Use a slotted spoon to remove cooked chicken breasts. Pour broth mixture through a sieve into a large saucepan; discard vegetables. Set broth aside to cool. Cut cooked chicken from bones; discard bones. Cut or tear chicken into bite-sized pieces; set aside.
- Fry bacon in a heavy skillet until crisp. Drain cooked bacon on paper towels. Sauté sausage chunks or cooked or smoked ham hocks to brown; remove from pan and set aside. Add remaining 1/2 cup chopped onion and bell pepper to skillet. Sauté over medium heat until onion is soft, but not browned. Sprinkle flour over sauteed onion mixture; stir in. Cook about 1 min.; remove from heat. Gradually stir reserved broth into onion mixture. Return skillet to heat. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Pour broth mixture back into large pan. Add canned tomatoes (broken up) and their juices, bay leaves. Thyme and red pepper to pan. Cover; reduce heat to low. Simmer 15 min.
- Add chicken pieces, shrimp and okra. Simmer 10 min. longer. Remove 1/2 cup liquid from saucepan; stir file powder into liquid. Return file mixture to saucepan; stir to blend.
- Ladle gumbo into soup bowl (over or alongside rice mound); top with crumbled bacon pieces. Serve hot. Serve additional hot sauce and file powder separately to add to taste.
Note: I usually double the recipe, but triple the tomatoes.
Blog-checking lines: Our May hostess, Denise, of There’s a Newf in My Soup!, challenged The Daring Cooks to make Gumbo! She provided us with all the recipes we’d need, from creole spices, homemade stock, and Louisiana white rice, to Drew’s Chicken & Smoked Sausage Gumbo and Seafood Gumbo from My New Orleans: The Cookbook, by John Besh.