This flavorful stovetop meal is packed with juicy proteins- sausage, chicken, and two types of seafood- swimming in a thick broth that I can drink on its own. A portion of rice or potato salad, yes, potato salad, is the only accompaniment you need here. Do crackers and tabasco also work? Yes. But that’s a personal preference. This Gumbo recipe will be a “hit ’em quick and fast” one because it’s pretty extensive. Don’t let that discourage you. The process isn’t overly complicated, but it takes a little time, as do all comfort food recipes.
Both the roux and the chicken and seafood stock that form the gumbo base can be made ahead of time and frozen. Doing so will cut your workday in half.
What is Gumbo?
Gumbo is a deeply-flavored stew of proteins- mainly poultry and/or seafood with chunks of sausage- aromatic veggies, and a thickener. What that thickener is varies depending on where in the region you are from and your family’s particular recipe. I’m a Black and Puerto Rican woman from the Northeastern U.S., so I use every thickening agent you can. Though I’m not a Louisiana native, I’ve been told I make a mean pot of gumbo.
Creole and Cajun varieties of the dish alter the ingredients only slightly. Tomatoes are a decidedly Creole ingredient per my very Cajun friend, John. So, between that and the okra and seafood, mine contains, I’m going to say it’s more a Creole gumbo.
For me, there’s not enough of a difference to allow me to commit to naming my gumbo recipe one or the other. I think you need to taste it, so you don’t care, too.
Where does Gumbo originate?
Gumbo is the official dish of Louisiana. Though it hails from LA, Mississippians are just as passionate about it. I remember sitting around a table with my friends, Yolanda and Neil, both from Biloxi, and having impassioned discussions about what gumbo should or shouldn’t be.
Gumbo is a development of the mix of cultures that descended upon Louisiana’s port before, and throughout, its history as a state. African slaves brought the okra. If you’re a Spanish speaker, you know the word for okra is q[g]uingombó. The word is African in origin and sounds a heck of a lot like “gumbo,” so I’m going to assume the stew got its name from there. I’m not a culinary anthropologist, though, so if you have insight, I’d love to hear from you.
More than likely, the residents of the state combined stewing methods from their countries of origin. Gumbo was born from taking those methods and the available ingredients of their new homeland. It has since morphed into the gem of the U.S. that we now know and love.
What are the most common types of Gumbo?
The most common types of gumbo are poultry, seafood, or a combination of the two. Sausage seems to make its way into both poultry and seafood gumbos. Andouille is the most used sausage type in gumbos.
The type of thickener also changes from family to family. Again, filé is a classic thickener, usually added at the very end of the cooking process. A dark “chocolate” roux is another common way to thicken the stew. It takes some finesse to perfect the chocolate roux, but it’s not a terribly difficult skill to master. Finally, okra can be a thickener in your gumbo if you’re a fan of it. Okra is one of my least favorite foods, but in gumbo, I’m okay with it.
Tomato-based vs. tomatoless is another way gumbo can be prepared. I’m a fan of the acidity tomatoes bring to a pot of gumbo.
Most gumbo recipes take hours to prepare. I’m over like, “I NEED GUMBO NOW!!” So I’ve developed, what I think, is a more streamlined process.
How do I make my Gumbo flavorful?
If your gumbo isn’t flavorful, you might as well step out of the kitchen. What inspired me to develop this recipe- besides greed- was tasting a downright trashy bowl of “gumbo” at a local restaurant. When I say this thing was an embarrassment to Louisiana cooking, I’m not exaggerating.
Your gumbo must begin with a flavorful roux and an even more flavorful stock. There’s no other option. I dislike most gumbo recipes because they leave the shells on, both the shrimp and the crab used in the recipe.
Why, though?!?! Who, in their right mind, after standing over a pot of gumbo and growing hungrier by the minute, wants to wrestle a shell off a scaldingly hot shrimp? Not I. No, thank you very much.
Instead, I want to remove the shells from both the shrimp and the crab and use them to my advantage. Because I’m also using chicken thighs in my recipe, I take the skin and bones from them to add even more flavor to my stock.
In addition to the shells from the seafood and the bones and skin from the chicken, the stock needs the scraps from the stew’s veggies (plus a little more onion), a head of garlic cut in half, salt, peppercorns, and bay leaves. This chicken-seafood stock is going to be our base.
Most gumbos take so long to cook because the cook wants to extract the flavors of the ingredients into the stock. We cut down about an hour and a half of the cooking time by making a chicken-seafood stock, to begin with.
What other types of seafood can I use?
You don’t have to stick to only crab and shrimp. In fact, you can omit the chicken and create a seafood gumbo by adding crawfish and oysters. I’ve even seen catfish added. I’m not a fan, but try it and see what you think.
Because crab and shrimp are readily available and don’t require purging or intense shucking like crawfish and oysters, I’m happy with the two of them.
To make the stock, shell the shrimp. I prefer to use shrimp from the Gulf in my recipe, which I buy frozen and deveined. No one wants to deal with deveining shrimp if they don’t have to. You can buy them fresh, but frozen is more convenient for me. I leave them to thaw in the fridge overnight, and the next day I rinse them really well under cold, running water. The key with shrimp is to rinse them in cold water until they no longer foam.
Pinch the tail right where the flippers meet the meat. Once you separate the tail from the body, pinch the shell’s underside (where the swimmerets are) and pull the thin shell away from the body.
Throw all of the shrimp shells you remove into a large stockpot.
What is the easiest way to extract crab meat?
I spent a fair amount of my life living in Maryland, which is known for its love of crab. I even worked in a crab house from the ages of 13-15. Crabs are things I know about. Maryland is known for its blue crab, but they’re so small and require too much effort to extract the meat. Instead, I prefer the flavor and size (and price) of Dungeness crab. It’s not as sweet as snow crab, and it’s not as expensive as king crab.
The easiest way to extract the meat of any crab is to separate the individual legs from the cluster. Next, separate the segments of the legs at the knuckles or joints. This frees the meat inside up, which makes it come out easier.
Crack the segments of the crab legs with your hands, kitchen shears, or a crab cracker. Pull the meat out, leaving it intact as much as you can- you want chunks of crabmeat. Don’t forget to extract the meat from the white skeletal-like section that holds the cluster together.
Put the meat in a dish and refrigerate it until later and add the shells to the pot with the shrimp shells.
Debone and skin the chicken thighs and add the chicken bones and skin into the pot as well. You can also skip the boning and skinning of the thighs and boneless skinless chicken thighs instead. If you do this, replace the water coming up with chicken stock.
Can I use canned crab instead?
Yes, you can use canned crab instead of fresh. I mean, “fresh crab legs” is a relative term because they have been cooked to make them safe for transport.
I don’t like to use canned crab meat because it never comes in big chunks like I get when I extract the meat myself. You also miss out on the ability to use the shells for your stock. You still have to pick through the crab meat to get rid of any shells that may have found their way into the meat. So, I think extracting the meat from the legs is about the same amount of effort with more return on flavor.
How long do I have to simmer the seafood stock?
Add the trimmings from the veggies you’re going to use in the gumbo recipe later to the pot. Throw in an additional onion and a cut head of garlic. Don’t worry about peeling veggies used for this stock. You’re going to strain it, so don’t do the extra work. Rinse them and cut them in half to expose the flavorful interior. Add the spices and bay leaves to the pot as well.
Cover the shells, bones, and skin in the pot with cold, filtered (if possible) water. Filtered water has less sediment, which makes your stock clearer.
Bring the water in the pot up to a boil over medium-high heat. Allow the stock to boil for 10 minutes. Scum will rise to the surface of the stock. Use a large spoon to skim that grey foam off the surface and decrease the stove’s temp to medium-low.
Allow the stock to simmer for another 45 minutes to 1 hour. Seafood stock doesn’t need long for its flavor to develop, but the chicken bones do. As a result, we’re going to simmer it for at least 1 hour in all.
Can I make the stock ahead?
Once the stock has simmered, strain it through a cloth-lined strainer into a larger bowl or container. You now have a bold stock that will flavor your gumbo like no other.
This chicken-seafood stock can be made up to six months ahead! You can prep the veggies for the gumbo and freeze them to get the trimmings, or you can just chop up ones to use for the stock. Just cool the stock and transfer it to freezer-safe containers.
Take a day to make this chicken-seafood stock, and your work on the gumbo-making day has just decreased by an hour and a half.
Now, if you don’t want to deal with making your stock- boooooo– you can pick up a carton or two of seafood stock and chicken stock from the store and use that in the gumbo instead.
What fat is the best for making a roux?
Southerners, especially, are passionate about their roux. A roux is a thickening agent made from all-purpose or cake flour and a fat of some kind. The two are stirred together to form a paste, then slowly cooked to varying degrees of color. The darker the roux, the more flavorful it is, but also the less it thickens the recipe it’s used in. The roux for gumbo falls in the range of chocolate to dark.
Lard is my preferred fat to use when making a roux for use in my gumbo. Because it has a high smoke point, I don’t have to babysit my roux as much as when I use butter, which has a much lower smoke point. Most people use oil (canola, peanut, or vegetable) to make their roux, but I think it’s a missed flavor opportunity. Oil just doesn’t contribute anything to the dish. But feel free to use it if you don’t feel like grabbing lard just to use here.
Choose lard that’s rendered well, though. You don’t want lard with tons of impurities in it because that will cause your roux to take on a weird flavor.
Melt the lard over medium heat in a cast-iron skillet.
You can’t rush a dark roux by blasting it with heat. What you’re doing when you make a roux is cooking the flour in the paste to varying degrees of toastiness. It has to happen gradually, or you’re going to scorch the flour and burn your roux.
Why does the flour foam up when I’m making a roux?
Once the lard melts, sprinkle the all-purpose flour over it. Use a whisk or a spatula to stir the two together to create a paste.
The roux is going to foam up when you start the roux. That’s perfectly normal. All that’s happening is the hot lard frying that flour. As you stir and heat the flour, the foam will dissipate. Continue to stir, cooking the roux, as it develops in flavor and darkens in color.
How long does it take to make a chocolate roux?
My Earlywood spatula is my “roux spatula” because it’s lightweight, gets into the corners of my skillet, and is an excellent indicator that my roux has reached its optimum color.
It generally takes a roux 10 minutes to go from different stages. Because we need a dark roux to add color and flavor to our gumbo, we’re going to spend about 40-50 minutes cooking our roux. If you feel confident enough in your stirring quickness, you can crank the heat up slightly and cook it faster. You’re going to have to stir non-stop, though.
Instead of overworking myself, I prefer to keep the heat on medium and stir for 30 seconds. After 30 seconds, I leave the roux to cook for 2 minutes, then stir again for 30 seconds. I repeat this method as the roux grows darker and smells nuttier.
Try to keep it at the darker color in the bottom right image. You can go a shade darker, but be mindful you don’t go too dark, or your roux will taste burnt.
Can I make the roux ahead?
You can most certainly make your roux ahead of time- a day or two- and store it in the refrigerator. I’ve frozen my roux but since the darker the roux, the lower its thickening power, I try to avoid freezing it because doing so also decreases its thickening power. If you choose to freeze it, only do so for 2 months. Thaw it in the fridge until soft before using it.
Once your roux has reached a chocolatey-brown color, set it to the side and allow it cool while you begin the main event. The roux should resemble a thick paste. Some of the lard may or may not separate as it sits. If it does, just whisk it together just before adding it to the pot.
What do I need to make the Gumbo?
The ingredients to make the actual gumbo are pretty easy to prep. Of course, the trinity- green bell pepper, celery, and onions- makes an appearance. I add garlic because I have to use garlic in everything. You also need okra, gumbo filé, bay leaves, thyme leaves (not pictured), tomato paste, the shelled seafood, chicken thighs (seasoned with creole seasoning), and sliced andouille sausage.
You need a large stockpot for this recipe. If you made the stock the same day, don’t even bother washing it. Just rinse out any shells and plop it on the stove. You’ll also need a whisk and a mixing bowl for the filé later.
Can I replace the pork andouille?
Chicken andouille sausage can replace the pork sausage in this recipe. Just slice it the same way.
Heat just a tablespoon in a stockpot over medium heat. Avoid adding too much fat, or you’ll need to skim it off of the gumbo later. Add the pieces of seasoned chicken thighs and brown them in the fat for 3-4 minutes. Next, add the andouille to the pot and brown it for 2-3 minutes. Though the sausage is already cooked, you do want to give it some color. The chicken just needs to brown but will finish cooking through in the stock later. Transfer both the chicken and sausage to a platter. You don’t want to continue cooking it right now, or it’ll be tough.
Remove all but a tablespoon of the fat from the pot.
Add the holy trinity and garlic to the oil in the bottom of the pot. Cook these down for 10 minutes, or until they begin to soften considerably.
Stir in the tomato paste until it’s combined with the veggies.
How do I avoid clumps of roux in my Gumbo?
Add all of the roux to the pot and stir it into the rest of the ingredients.
To avoid your roux from clumping as you add the liquid, only add the stock by the ladleful (or a cup at a time). Stir constantly as you add the stock, and your gravy will be as smooth as silk. Add the remaining stock to the pot along with the thyme and bay leaves, stirring to combine. The liquid may foam up as the flour in roux heats up but will dissipate as you stir and cook it.
Bring the liquid up to a gentle boil, skimming off any excess oil, which will appear as dark spots on the surface of the liquid. Once it comes to a boil, reduce the heat to medium-low and return the chicken and sausage to the pot. Simmer the gumbo for 30 minutes.
Can I use fresh okra?
I don’t bother with fresh okra because it’s not always as easy to find as frozen is. Frozen also requires less prep. Because frozen okra is blanched before being frozen, you can add the okra straight to the pot of gumbo without pre-cooking it.
With fresh, you need to blanch it in a cup of water to remove some of its sliminess. You won’t get rid of it all because of its biological make-up, but that’s okay. Remember, that “sliminess” will help thicken the gumbo later on.
Whichever you decide to go with, add the okra to the pot after the gumbo has simmered for 30 minutes. Continue to cook the stew for 15 minutes.
How long do I have to cook the seafood?
Remember, the crab is already cooked, but the shrimp isn’t. Because shrimp shouldn’t be cooked for a long time (it becomes tough), you’re going to add the seafood at the very end of cooking.
Carefully lower it into the pot and allow it to cook for only 5 minutes. Add a few dashes of tabasco sauce and turn the heat off.
What is gumbo filé?
Gumbo filé, or simply filé, is the ground leaves of the sassafras tree. If you like root beer, you like sassafras because that’s what root beer was first made with.
Indigenous Americans introduced us to the leaves as a natural thickening and flavoring agent. You don’t need to use filé in your gumbo, but I’ve heard it’s not an authentic gumbo without it. You can find gumbo filé in the spice aisle next to the cajun or creole spice blends.
What does the filé do and why is it so slimy?
The filé is the final thickener added to our gumbo. The reason why it’s so slimy is the same reason why the okra is: mucilage. I actually had the twins do the chemistry research because I got my diploma and don’t need any mo’ school. Mucilage is a bipolymer that protects the plant and leaves from damage and helps it store water. Obviously, it’s not harmful since I’m telling you to add it to the gumbo, but it doesn’t look that attractive either.
It looks like snot. I’m sorry, but it does.
Add the filé to a mixing bowl and use a small whisk to combine it with cold water. The filé will thicken quickly, so whisk it into the gumbo as soon as it begins to. Some of it may lump, but the more you stir it, the better it will blend.
You can also sprinkle the filé onto the gumbo’s surface in the pot and stir it in, but that leaves more clumps. You can also leave the filé on the side and let your diners sprinkle theirs on to suit their tastes. Omitting the filé altogether is okay, too, but your gumbo won’t be as thick.
How do I serve the Gumbo?
All that’s left is to ladle your Gumbo into a bowl with a serving of rice Steamed White Rice. Garnish the servings with chopped parsley or green onions or leave it plain.
My bowl of gumbo is always accompanied by a few dashes of tabasco and saltine crackers. Yolanda and Neil said Cajuns like to serve their gumbo with potato salad. I tried it the last time I made this gumbo, and the Cajuns know what the hell they’re doing.
You can also serve your gumbo with sliced bread.
Can I leave it on the stovetop after it’s finished cooking?
The picky thing about gumbo is that it doesn’t hold well at room temperature as chili does. With all of the seafood and the gumbo filé in it, it will spoil quickly if left out too long.
Go ahead and serve what you’re going to eat and pack up the rest.
How do I store it?
Store the gumbo in a food storage container for 3 days. Again, only portion out heat up what you’re going to eat then. You want to keep the gumbo refrigerated to extend its lifetime.
Be sure to reheat the leftovers thoroughly, either in the microwave or on the stovetop. After 3 days, you need to chuck it. I don’t think it’ll come to that, though. It’s easy to kill a whole batch of this gumbo.
Can I freeze prepared Gumbo?
Yes! Neil and his husband Thad actually freeze their gumbo regularly. Mine never lasts long enough to see the inside of the freezer.
Just allow the gumbo to cool a little, then pack it into freezer storage containers. Freeze the gumbo for 3 months. Thaw it under refrigeration and reheat it on the stovetop or in the microwave until steaming hot.
Be sure to pin this Gumbo recipe to your stews board. Share with your friends and family too!
Gumbo with Andouille Sausage, Chicken, and Seafood
- 16-quart stock pot
For the Gumbo
- 2 tablespoons cajun seasoning
- 1 1/2 pounds (4 large) chicken thighs bone and skin removed and reserved for stock, meat cut into 1" chunks
- 1 tablespoon (15 milliliters) oil
- 12-14 ounces (340-397 grams) andouille sausage sliced 1/2-inch thick
- 1 large ( 1 1/2 cups or 225 grams) yellow onion diced, ends reserved for the stock
- 1 medium (1 cup or 175 grams) bell pepper diced
- 3 large (1 cup or 101 grams) celery diced, trimmings reserved for the stock
- 8 cloves (1/3 cup or 45 grams)) garlic minced
- 1/4 cup (56 grams) tomato paste
- dark roux recipe follows
- chicken-seafood stock recipe follows
- 2 large bay leaves
- 4 sprigs thyme leaves
- 1 teaspoon tabasco or to taste, optional
- 8 ounces (227 grams) okra frozen
- 2 1/4 pounds (4 clusters or 840 grams) Dungeness crab legs meat extracted, shells reserved for the stock OR 1 pound (465 grams) crab meat
- 2 pounds (907 grams) raw shrimp deveined and peeled, peels reserved for stock
- 3 tablespoon (16 grams) gumbo filé
- 1/2 cup (125 milliliters) cold water
- cajun seasoning to taste
For the Chicken-Seafood Stock (can be made up to 6 months ahead and frozen)
- crab shells reserved from above
- shrimp shells reserved from above
- chicken bones and skins reserved from above
- 1 large onion washed and cut in half, plus trimmings from above
- 1 head garlic cut across the width
- celery trimmings reserved from above
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt
- 1/2 tablespoon black peppercorns
- 4 large (or 16 small) bay leaves
- 8 cups (2 litres) filtered water
For the Dark Roux (can be made 2-3 days ahead and refrigerated or frozen for up to 2 months)
- 1/2 cup (100 grams) lard or neutral oil
- 1 cup (120 grams) all-purpose flour
- steamed white rice
- sliced green onions
- chopped parsley
- gumbo filé
- saltine crackers
Prepare the Chicken-Seafood Stock
- Add the crab and shrimp shells, chicken skin and bones, onion and trimmings, garlic, celery trimmings, salt, peppercorns, bay leaves, to a 16-quart stockpot. Cover the ingredients in the pot with the filtered water.
- Bring the water in the pot up to a boil over medium-high heat. Allow the stock to boil for 10 minutes. Scum will rise to the surface of the stock. Use a large spoon to skim the grey foam off the surface and discard. Decrease the stove's temp to medium-low.
- Allow the stock to simmer for another 45 minutes-1 hour. Once the stock is finished, strain it through a cloth-lined colander into a larger bowl or container. Use right away or store until ready to use.
Prepare the Brown Roux
- Melt the lard over medium heat in a cast-iron skillet.Once melted, sprinkle the flour over it. Use a whisk or a spatula to stir the two together to create a paste.
- Stir, cooking the roux, as it develops in flavor and darkens in color. Every 10 minutes, the roux will change color. Stir the roux for 30 seconds. After 30 seconds, allow the roux to cook for 2 minutes, undisturbed. Stir again for 30 seconds. Repeat this method as the roux grows darker and smells nuttier, or for about 45-50 minutes.
- Once your roux has reached a chocolatey-brown color, it should resemble a thick paste.Remove it from the heat and allow it cool while you prepare the gumbo. If the lard separate as it sits, just whisk it together right before adding it to the pot.
Season the Chicken Thighs (up to 24 hours ahead)
- In a mixing bowl, season the pieces of chicken thighs with the cajun seasoning. Cover the bowl and allow the spice blend to penetrate the meat for 30 minutes-24 hours.
Make the Gumbo
- Heat the oil in a 16-quart stockpot over medium heat. Add the seasoned chicken thighs and brown them in the fat for 3-4 minutes. Next, add the andouille slices to the pot and brown them with the chicken for 2-3 minutes. Transfer both the chicken and sausage to a platter.
- Discard all but 1 tablespoon of the fat from the pot. Add the diced onion, bell pepper, celery, and garlic to the hot oil in the bottom of the pot. Cook the aromatics down for 10 minutes, or until they begin to soften considerably.
- Stir in the tomato paste and all of the roux into the veggies.Gradually add the stock by the ladleful (or a cup at a time), stirring constantly as you add the stock, to ensure a smooth gravy, until all of the stock has been added. The liquid may foam up as the flour in roux heats up but will dissipate as you stir and cook it.
- Add the thyme and bay leaves, stirring to combine. Bring the liquid up to a gentle boil, skimming off any excess oil, which will appear as dark spots on the surface of the liquid. Once it comes to a boil, reduce the heat to medium-low and return the chicken and sausage to the pot. Simmer the gumbo for 30 minutes.
- Add the tabasco and okra to the pot after the gumbo has simmered for 30 minutes. Continue to cook the stew for 15 minutes.
- Carefully lower the shelled crab and shrimp into the pot and allow it to cook for only 5 minutes.
Combine and Add the Gumbo Filé, then Serve
- In a separate mixing bowl, whisk together the gumbo filé and water. The filé will thicken quickly. Turn the stove off. Whisk this mixture into the gumbo. Some of it may lump, but the more you stir it, the better it will blend.
- Ladle the Gumbo into a bowl with a serving of rice Steamed White Rice. Garnish the servings with chopped parsley or green onions or leave it plain. Serve with a few dashes of tabasco and saltine crackers.
- Refrigerate leftovers as soon as possible. Enjoy within 3 days.
Swaps and Substitutes:
- use 1-pound of picked canned crab meat instead of handpicking the crab meat.
- use boneless, skinless chicken thighs and replace the water in the stock with 2 32-ounce (907 grams) cartons of chicken stock.
- instead of making the chicken-seafood stock, use 1 32-ounce (907 grams) carton of seafood stock and 1 32-ounce (907 grams) carton of chicken stock.
- replace frozen okra with equal quantity of sliced, fresh okra blanched for 4 minutes in boiling water.
- replace the pork andouille with chicken andouille.
- Molokhia can replace the filé.
Seafood (Only) Gumbo:
- Omit the chicken and sausage and replace both with equal amounts of shelled crawfish and shucked oysters.
- Add the crawfish and oysters to the gumbo with the crab and shrimp meat.
- Stock: prepare and strain the stock as instructed. Cool the stock and transfer it to freezer-safe containers. Refrigerate for up to 3 days or freeze for 6 months.
- Roux: prepare as instructed and transfer it to a food storage container. Store it in the refrigerator for 2-3 days.
Freezing roux decreases its thickening power. If you choose to freeze it, only do so for 2 months. Thaw it in the fridge until soft before using it.
Gumbo Filé Notes:
- You can sprinkle the filé onto the gumbo's surface in the pot and stir it in, but that often results in more clumps.
- You can also leave the filé on the side and allow your diners sprinkle theirs on to suit their tastes.
- Omitting the filé altogether is okay, too, but your gumbo won't be as thick.
Storage and Reheating Instructions:
- Store the gumbo in a food storage container for 3 days. Reheat only what you plan to eat.
- Keep the gumbo refrigerated to extend its life.
- Reheat the leftovers thoroughly, either in the microwave or on the stovetop.
- Allow the gumbo to cool slightly.
- Pack it into freezer storage containers.
- Freeze the gumbo for 3 months.
- Thaw it under refrigeration and reheat it on the stovetop or in the microwave until steaming hot.