This is a rich, restaurant style gumbo. No holds barred. Maximum flavour. No shortcuts. Totally worth it. Gumbo for when you want to impress. Dinner party gumbo.
I have a thing for gumbo. A thing for cajun really. It was trendy for a while. But I liked it before it was trendy and I like it now. Anything from the American southwest really. I like it all. It’s great regional cooking. And it’s spicy. Nothing not to love.
There’s a couple different approaches to gumbo. And the line is blurry. One is a more soupy dish. Thickened with okra. Maybe some file powder. More of an appetizer. Tasty stuff.
The other is roux based. It’s richer. The flavours are more complex. Flashier. Main course territory. This is that gumbo.
Roux makes or breaks this gumbo
The roux is the heart of this gumbo. You have to get it right. And it takes time. Constant attention. Plan on standing over a pot stirring for half an hour. Make yourself a drink. Turn on the television. It’s a grind. But it has to be done.
I like roux the colour of peanut butter. Some recipes call for a dark chocolate roux. I find that adds a hint of bitter. I don’t like that in my gumbo. You may. If you do it’s just a matter of cooking the roux longer.
Roux is just fat and flour cooked together. The fat can be oil, lard, bacon fat or butter. Each has its place. Oil doesn’t really add any flavour of it’s own.
Pork lard adds some complexity. Bacon fat is in your face smoky. Butter is rich. Depends what you are looking for. I use oil or lard. I find bacon fat overpowering.
Butter can be a challenge because butter has more than just fat in it. Same as cooking with oil vs. butter generally. Butter can burn easily. But if you pay attention I bet you can do it. Just be careful. Don’t go crazy with high heat.
No matter what fat you go with it’s all about whisking constantly. Heat the fat until it shimmers. Add the flour in a few batches. Whisk. Constantly. Regulate your heat so it doesn’t burn. Because if it does, you start again. And that just sucks.
You do have to push it a bit though. If you just go with low heat you will be there for about a year. Medium low. That’s safe. But still pretty slow. Medium is high risk territory. On my stove at least.
Pre-cook your shrimp
Shrimp is a tricky thing. It goes from cooked properly to rubbery and overdone quickly. I tend to pre-cook my shrimp whenever I can. Then I can just add it in to warm through when I serve. Takes the stress out of it. Let’s you nail it every time.
It’s an extra step but it’s easy. Peel the shrimp. Use the shells to make a quick 20 minute shrimp stock. Cook the shrimp. Plunge them into an ice bath to stop the cooking.
This technique gets you steakhouse perfect shrimp cocktail. If you’ve ever wanted to make shrimp cocktail with real wow this is how.
You need to add a bit more flavour into the stock but other than that it’s the same. And make your cocktail sauce from scratch. So easy. And so good.
Make the gumbo what you like
This is fully loaded gumbo. Everything in it. Just because. But you don’t have to follow this exactly. Want chicken and sausage? Leave out the shrimp. Don’t feel like chicken. Go with sausage and shrimp. It’s all good.
Doesn’t really matter. It works any way you want. Some purists will say dark roux with seafood. Light roux with dark meat. The roux in this gumbo is right in the middle. So it works with everything.
No matter what, you need the holy trinity of cajun cooking. Onion, green bell pepper and celery. I’ve always thought garlic was the fourth ingredient but it just doesn’t sound as good. The holy quaternity just doesn’t roll off the tongue…
A lot of gumbo recipes are really light on the seasoning. Salt, pepper and maybe a bit of cayenne. I’m going back to Paul Prudhomme style gumbo here. And that means more spice. But when is glebekitchen not about more spice?
Doesn’t matter what combo you go with this is good gumbo. Bon appetit, cher. Laissez les bons temps rouler!
gumbo with chicken and shrimp
- 8 chicken thighs boneless, skinless
- 1 lb large shrimp
- 8 oz smoked sausage - andouille or kielbasa
- 1 1/2 cups onions chopped
- 1 cup green pepper chopped
- 2/3 cup celery chopped
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- 1/2 cup vegetable oil or lard if you really want to go for it
- 1/2 cup flour plus 2 tablespoons
- 1 tsp paprika - use decent quality paprika
- 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
- 1/2 tsp dried thyme
- 1/2 tsp black pepper
- 1/2 tsp granulated garlic
- bay leaf
- 4 cups chicken stock more or less depending on how thick you want it
Prep the shrimp
- This is how you avoid rubbery overcooked shrimp.
- Prepare an ice bath (ice and water) and have it handy.
- Thaw and peel your shrimp. Bring about 6 cups of water to a simmer. Add enough salt to get it to taste salty. Somewhere around 1 tsp should do it. Add the shells from the shrimp to the pot and simmer for 20 minutes.
- Remove the shells from the pot. Make sure it's simmering. Add the shrimp, turn off the heat and cover. For 16-20 count, let it sit 8 minutes. 21-25 takes 7 minutes. 31-40 are ready after 6 minutes.
- Once the appropriate time has passed remove the shrimp from the pot and place them into the ice bath to stop them from cooking any more. Perfectly done shrimp every time.
Make the roux
- This is the heart of the gumbo. It takes time. It requires constant attention. It's a little dangerous. And it can go wrong quickly. Never walk away from your pot.
- Have your onions, green pepper and celery chopped. Keep the onions separate. Combine your spices in a small bowl and set aside.
- Warm your chicken stock. You will need it to be warm as soon as the roux is done.
- Cut your chicken into large bite size pieces. Season it well with salt.
- Heat the oil in a solid pot over medium low heat. Cast iron or enamelled cast iron is great for this. Add the oil to the pot and heat until shimmering. Add the chicken to the oil carefully. Fry half the chicken until it starts to brown. You aren't trying to cook the chicken the whole way through - just brown it a bit. Remove the chicken and set aside. Repeat with the rest of the chicken.
- Now make sure your oil is shimmering but not smoking. Add a couple tablespoons of flour and whisk into the oil. Add another couple tablespoons and whisk. Now add half the remaining flour and whisk it in. Repeat with the rest of the flour.
- Now whisk. And whisk. Whisk some more. Never stop whisking. Have somebody bring you a drink. You are going to be here for about 30 minutes.
- You are going for the colour of peanut butter. Maybe a bit darker. Put a jar of peanut butter on the counter next to the stove so you have a reference. Seriously. That works. For the record, I use Kraft. I like sugar and chemicals in my peanut butter. It's not a crime...
- Roux takes time. You can nudge the heat up a bit at a time but you have to be careful. Burn it and you are starting over. Black flecks in your roux and you are starting over. There's no fixing a burnt roux.
- When you start getting close the roux smells like popcorn. At least it does to me. The closer you get the stronger the popcorn smell.
Make the gumbo
- When you get just a bit darker than peanut butter move your pot off the heat. Carefully add the onions and stir immediately. Remember, this is hot oil with flour in it. It will burn you badly. They don't call this cajun napalm for nothing. Be safe.
- Something really cool happens when the onions go in. The roux almost immediately turns the colour of caramel. No clue why but it does. Darkens up quite a bit. No need for alarm.
- Cook the onions over low heat for about 3 minutes. Add the spices and stir.
- Mix in the celery and green pepper and cook until soft. This takes a few minutes. They are soft when they are soft.
- Toss in the garlic. Cook for another 30 seconds, stirring constantly.
- Add a half cup of warmed stock. Stir until combined. Add a second half cup and repeat. Now add a cup and stir. Add the remaining stock.
- Simmer the gumbo base for 20 minutes.
- While the gumbo base simmers slice the sausage.
- After the gumbo base has simmered for 20 minutes mix in the chicken. Cook until barely done. This will take somewhere between 10-20 minutes depending on how big the pieces are and how much they were cooked in the oil. As always an instant read thermometer is your best bet. Shoot for 170F.
- Add the sausage and simmer for an additional 3-5 minutes.
- Just before serving mix in the pre-cooked shrimp to warm through.
- Serve with rice (traditional) or with bread (not traditional but really good). Garnish with a bit of finely chopped green onion if desired.