It’s taken me a long time, but I’ve finally perfected gumbo. I’ve gone through countless over-complicated recipes over the years and have systematically thrown out the steps and ingredients that were superfluous. This recipe is what remained. It’s the best gumbo I’ve ever had.
There are regional, heritage-defining dishes that always bring out the purists to argue about what is authentic and what is not. This is one of those dishes. Purists will argue that gumbo should be thickened by tomatoes, roux, okra, or file powder, but never all four. I disagree. They’ll say that gumbo should be based on seafood, meat, or vegetables, but there are limits on what can be mixed together. Once again, I disagree. Good food is all about taste. If it tastes good, it’s being prepared correctly. That’s how all of these variations came into existence in the first place.
I usually do a shrimp and sausage gumbo, but you could add crab, fish, chicken thighs, smoked turkey, or anything else you like. But you have to use one pound of hot andouille sausage in this recipe or it won’t come out the same. I usually use the hot Ragin’ Cajun brand. That’s where the flavor comes from.
Chad Chandler’s Perfect Gumbo
- 1–2 pounds jumbo shrimp, halved (shells reserved)
- 1 pound hot andouille sausage, sliced
- 1 pound smoked sausage, sliced
- 2 large sweet onions, diced
- 4 large bell peppers, chopped
- 5 stalks celery, chopped
- 1 pound fresh okra, sliced, divided
- 8 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 14.5 oz cans stewed tomatoes, crushed
- 6 cups water
- 1 14.5 oz can chicken stock (1 3/4 cups)
- 14 tablespoons butter (just get two sticks), divided
- 3/4 cup flour
- 1/3 cup worcestershire sauce
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon coarsely ground pepper
- 1/8 teaspoon dried thyme
It’s easy to look at this lengthy ingredient list and get intimidated, but it’s not really as complicated as it seems. There’s a lot of chopping and stirring at first, but once the gumbo is on the stove, you can walk away. Plus, you end up with six quarts of gourmet food for around $25.
You’re going to need a 6-quart dutch oven for the roux, a large pan for the sausage (I usually use a 5-quart pot despite these pictures, and a small pot for the shrimp stock if you choose to boil the shells. So make room on the stove. I usually pour everything into a stock pot after it’s all mixed together and clean the other pots and pans.
To begin, slice the andouille sausage into 1/4 inch rounds and cut the smoked sausage into 1/4 inch half-moons. I do that so the wife knows which sausage is spicy and which is not. I throw the sausage into a large pan over medium heat while I’m chopping all of the onions, peppers, celery (known as the Holy Trinity in Cajun cooking), and garlic. You want to render the fat and let it crisp around the edges.
Once those veggies are all chopped, I pour the water and the chicken stock into a small pot and put it on the back burner. I bring out the shrimp and leave them on the counter by the stove.
Next, it’s time to make the roux. A roux isn’t difficult, but it is labor-intensive. And since gumbo gets its taste, color and texture from the roux, you can’t cheat. You melt a stick and half (12 tablespoons) of butter over medium heat until it foams. Then you gradually mix in 3/4 cups of flour. This process takes about twenty minutes, so be prepared to whisk almost constantly the entire time.
If the roux burns, it’s ruined. You have to start all over. So stir it constantly until it darkens to the color of peanut butter. Then it should get a little more watery—about the consistency of whole milk—and you can go about 10–20 seconds between stirring sessions. This is when I take the opportunity to peel the shrimp. I peel one, toss the peel into the pot of water, put the shrimp in a bowl, and then whisk the roux. Then another shrimp in hand, peel into the water, shrimp into a bowl, and whisk the roux. Over and over again until they’re all peeled and the shrimp are back in the fridge.
I should caution that cooking the roux is not only time-consuming, but painful if you do it wrong. I don’t know what is is about roux, but the pot and the contents get super hot. If any water drips off of a spoon and into the pot, the water will instantly steam and splatter. This can cause second degree burns, so be careful.
It can be a little daunting managing all of these pans at the same time, but you’ll get the hang of it eventually. Or better yet, get a helper. The wife was busy making new pillows for our den furniture, so I was on my own as usual.
Turn the heat up to medium-high on the shrimp stock. You want it to simmer, so turn it to low once it’s boiling. If it starts to foam on top, slide it off the heat and blow on it or it’ll spill over and your house will smell like burnt marine exoskeleton for a few days.
Meanwhile, you should still be stirring the roux and shaking the sausage pan to make sure it’s not burning. If the sausage does start to stick to the bottom, just pour a little water into the pan to deglaze it.
When the roux gets to be the color of a Hershey’s chocolate bar, you’re done.
Place a sieve or a colander over your roux pot and slowly pour in the stock. This is dangerous. Adding moisture at this point will result in a fury of steam. Stand back, but try to stir as the liquid mixes with the roux. Once it’s all incorporated, whisk vigorously to combine. This is the base of your gumbo. Most of the work is done.
Turn the heat to medium-low and turn your focus to the sausage. By now, the sausage should have rendered a lot of orange-colored fat. You want to remove the sausage with a slotted spoon and toss it into the gumbo pot. Pour out all of the fat except for a couple of tablespoons. Add a couple of tablespoons of butter and pour in as much of the Trinity as you can get into the pan. If you’re using a pot, pour it all in. Sprinkle a big pinch of salt over the vegetables. This will purge the water into the pan and deglaze the bottom. If you can’t fit all of the Trinity into the pan, then just toss the rest into the gumbo pot and cook the vegetables in the roux before adding the liquid.
You’re using the Trinity to deglaze the sausage pan, cook the raw taste off the vegetables, and absorb the sausage flavor. While the vegetables render and eventually cook off their water, open the cans of tomatoes. Shake out the excess liquid over the sink, but it’s not a big deal if some remains. Pour the stewed tomatoes into a bowl and squeeze the chunks through your fingers until it’s all crushed uniformly. Then pour it into the gumbo pot.
When the trinity is starting to sizzle and brown, toss in the minced garlic, stir well, and let it all cook for a few more minutes. Then toss it all into the gumbo pot. You might have to use a bigger pot, and you might not. This recipe completely fills my 6-quart dutch oven.
Cut half of the okra into 1/2 inch rounds and toss the pieces into the gumbo pot with the worcestershire, thyme, salt, and pepper. You’ll add the rest later. Bring the gumbo to a boil and then reduce the heat to low. If you taste the gumbo now, it’ll seem watery and off-tasting because of the worcestershire. That’s normal. Just trust me. Don’t add any more seasonings. Simmer the pot with the lid offset or removed for at least four hours and up to six and it’ll turn out great.
After a few hours, slice and add the remaining okra. When there’s an hour left until you’re planning to serve the gumbo, turn up the heat a little. You want to evaporate about another half-inch of the liquid. Just stir it occasionally so it doesn’t stick to the bottom and look at the waterline in the pot. When you’re fifteen minutes away from serving, add the shrimp to the gumbo. They’ll cook almost instantly.
Season to taste with a little salt, pepper, and hot sauce. Serve with white rice, hot sauce, and filé powder if you like it. I love filé. It’s just dried and pounded sassafras leaves. But you should know that it gets gummy if it boils, so you never add it to the pot. Just sprinkle 1/4 teaspoon into your bowl.
This gumbo demands a good amount of prep work, but the payout is huge. The taste should be amazing, the texture should be thick and smooth, and you should have meat in every bite.