Any Creole cook worthy of his salt has at least one standard gumbo recipe in their apron pocket that’s been time and taste-tested over the years, with unique tips and touches guarded as closely as Buckingham Palace. Or Commander’s Palace. This one is mine, and I’m spillin’ (most of) my secrets right here, y’all. Pull up a chair.
Gumbo ya-ya traditionally refers to what is considered the standard bearer for modern gumbo, chicken and sausage. It’s the gumbo upon which creole cooks cut their teeth. At worst, a bland, pedestrian bowl, at best, a transcendent sense experience, it should not be looked upon as any lesser a gumbo without the seafood. It’s the mother of all others.
Legend has it that late chef Paul prudhomme brought this particular gumbo into popularity at His New Orleans-based K-Paul's louisiana kitchen. Ya-Ya is Cajun-speak for ‘everyone talking at once’, like at a party on the bayou, the dinner table down south, or a bowl of lively individual elements that come together like a celebration in one’s mouth. You can find Chef Prudhomme’s original recipe, here.
Gumbo, for this girl, is an art. It’s a bowlful of love that’s worthy of time and attention to detail. I set aside a day (maybe even 2!) to get every element just right. Details which include atmosphere. You’ve got to be in the mood. For instance, Billie Holiday and Otis Redding are great choices for the Gumbo-making playlist. Details which include creature comforts. For instance, it takes 2 ice-cold Dixie Beers to make roux (substitute the beer of your choice. Or wine—2 glasses. Okay, okay….dark coffee if you’re
stuffy a teetotaler.) Details like tools. For instance, standard utensils
and pots and pans will do, but a whisk, my dedicated roux spoon and a cast-iron
something are not options in my
kitchen. They are essentials.. Details like protection. For instance, clothe yourself properly. Roux is not
called Cajun napalm for just any reason. It’s crazy-hot like asphalt and even a
speck of it, landing on bare skin during cooking, will blister almost
immediately. Be careful, y’all.
Let’s get cooking.
Gumbo Ya-Ya: Traditional Chicken and Andouille Sausage
Served over Maggie’s Simple Potato Salad, recipe following
Serves 6 (or 3 Cajuns)
Ingredients: See ingredient notes, below, for substitutions, prep hints, and more.
1 small roasting chicken (roasted, see below), with 1 quartered onion or lemon, or a handful of favorite herbs, plus salt and pepper. Optionally, see ingredient notes, below.
2 large ribs celery, chopped
1 yellow onion, chopped
1 bell pepper, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound andouille sausage, sliced on the diagonal
2T lard (or grapeseed oil)
½ c lard
½ c All-Purpose flour
1 quart chicken stock
2 c. water
+/- 1T Cajun seasoning
1 bunch scallions, green tops only, sliced
1 bunch parsley, chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
It is important to prepare your mise en place before beginning any cooking. Once roux is begun, the process goes fast and there is not one appropriate second to look away. So get chopping, and have ingredients prepared and set aside, covered, within reach.
Early in the day, or preferably the day before…..
Roasting Chicken: First you melt a stick of butter…… (hat tip to Ms. Deen)
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Wash chicken well, inside and out. Pat dry with paper toweling. Season inside and out with salt and freshly ground pepper or salted seasoning mix of your choice. Quarter an onion, a lemon, or gather some fresh herbs and stuff the chicken cavity. On a roasting rack (you can use carrots underneath in a pinch), place chicken, breast side up, tucking wings underneath, and baste with melted butter. Roast chicken at 350 degrees, basting every 5 minutes or so, until skin is crisp and golden brown, about 30 minutes. Remove from oven and cool until you are able to handle the meat (which will be undercooked—it will continue to cook in the gumbo, when added.) Bone chicken, reserving discards for stock. Reserve roasting juices for roux. Cut breast into bite-sized pieces. Reserve chicken meat in refrigerator until time to add to gumbo.
Stock: Reduce oven heat to 350 degrees. Return chicken bones to roasting pan, and pan to oven for 30 minutes. Remove from oven, transfer to a large stockpot. Add seasonings and discards from chicken boning, cover with 2 quarts water, bring to a boil on stovetop, then reduce heat to medium and continue a rolling simmer for one hour. Remove from heat, strain through a sieve, and reserve, refrigerated, overnight if possible. Skim fat before using in gumbo.
Or heck, use store bought broth and a rotisserie chicken if time is short. Your secret is safe with me.
Gumbo: In a heavy pan (I use a deep cast iron Dutch Oven) over medium heat, brown sliced andouille in lard or cooking oil. Remove when browned and reserve.
Put on the music. Gather beer and a bottle opener (or alternative wine or….coffee. (sad face). Grab a stool and drag it to the stove. Put on an apron or your boyfriend’s shirt or something that can get grubby, just in case. Go to the bathroom. Now you’re set.
Wait! Wash your hands! Okay, now you’re set.
Estimate andouille drippings left in pot or pan. Add lard to equal 1/2c. Over medium heat, as lard melts, gradually add 1/2c flour, whisking constantly to prevent sticking or burning. (important note: if your roux scorches, toss it and start again. Gumbo is roux. Roux bad, gumbo bad. Start over.)
Stirring constantly, while singing or humming or dancing in place, bring roux through the stages to the color you like. I like mine as dark as you’ll find creole gumbo—mahogany. Some cooks stop at milk chocolate. You may want to practice, beginning with milk chocolate and working towards mahogany. There’s a sweet spot you’ll come to discover where roux is the darkest brown without scorching at all. (Did you know that the darker a roux, the less thickening ability it holds. Lighter roux thickens more. Darker roux might call for okra or filet to help thicken, optimally.)
Once roux has developed to proper color, carefully add chopped ‘trinity’ of bell pepper, celery, and onion. This serves to cool the (scorching hot!) roux down. Stirring constantly, (this is when I trade my trusty whisk for my trusty roux spoon.) cook until vegetables have wilted and are transparent.
Add stock, water, and Cajun seasoning (if you and/your diners are sensitive to a little heat, start light and season as you go. Spices and salts will intensify with cooking, and positively bloom overnight.) Stirring well and scraping any sticky bits from the pot. Bring to a hard, rolling boil for 5 minutes. Reduce heat to medium, add chicken. Cook for 15 minutes at a healthy simmer. Reduce heat to medium-low and add andouille and parsley, simmering 15 minutes. Correct seasoning. Remove from heat and stir in green onions. Allow to cool a bit before ladling into soup bowls.
I frequently serve this particular gumbo as many Cajuns do—over potato salad! Cooked white, brown, or Louisiana popcorn rice are perfectly fine options, too, but should potato salad intrigue you, I’ve provided the simple recipe at the bottom of this post.
· My favorite roux is made with leaf lard, but you may also substitute an equal quantity of the fat of your choice: vegetable oil, duck fat, schmaltz (chicken fat), butter--- I know old-school cooks who even use bacon “grease”. (Olive Oil is not a good choice for roux. It has a low smoke point that is not appropriate for the intense heat or extended time required for roux development.)
· Andouille, a highly-seasoned sausage made of smoked pork butt, can be difficult to find outside of Louisiana, and sadly, what passes for andouille in the meat case of your local grocery bears little resemblance. In absence of a trip to, or a friend’s trip from South Louisiana, I recommend consulting a trusted butcher. In Austin, try Dai Due and/or Salt and Time—but call ahead. It’s not a regularly stocked choice. Mail order sources I have used include Jacob’s World Famous Andouille & Sausage, D’artagnan, Nodine’s, or Cajun Grocer.com. As a last resort, substitute a good quality smoked kielbasa.
· There are several options for cooking the chicken in your gumbo. The roasted chicken, with instructions provided above, along with the stock created from roasting the bones, and the addition of its roasting juices to the roux create layers of flavor that enrich the gumbo. Roast the chicken earlier in the day, or preferably the day before preparing your gumbo. If time is a concern, in absence of roasting your own, you could bone a store-bought rotisserie chicken, even roasting those bones for a stock, or you could brown seasoned chicken pieces on each side then add to gumbo after stock is added. If using store-bought chicken, use the highest-quality bird you can afford. You’ll see the difference in stock, as well as finished gumbo.
· Chop celery, onion, and bell pepper into equal, uniform sizes for a more professional finish and pleasant mouthfeel. The ‘trinity’ is designed to flavor the gumbo, not to be an actual ‘bite’.
· If using store-bought chicken stock or broth, use low-sodium varieties to regulate the saltiness of the finished soup. Above, find the process for a relatively simple roasted stock. Or take a stab at making your own broth—something I do frequently and pressure can or freeze to have on hand when needed. A great primer on chicken stock, this Alton Brown method is a winner. Also, see notes following Maggie’s Simple Potato Salad for more discussion about Stock vs. Broth, below.
· Cajun seasoning could be store bought, such as the popular Tony Chachere ‘s, or you could make one of your own and regulate seasonings according to your own preferences. The homemade seasoning I use has less salt, no garlic powder, a touch more celery salt, and a favorite cayenne pepper. A quick internet search will give you scads of seasoning blend ‘recipes’, like this recipe for Emeril Lagasse’s ESSENCE.
· File powder, added to individual bowls of cooked gumbo, serves as seasoning and thickener. (Do not add to the pot. Bowling file powder results in gelatinous ribbons of yuck.) It is often used in place of okra, (Did you know the word gumbo derives from the African word for okra?) which may be out of season, or downright detested by some. File powder usually can be found in the spice aisle of your local grocer. You can also try mail order, or if you’re feeling especially crafty, you can make your own!
· Some folks add chopped tomatoes to gumbo. Not this folk, but some. Traditionally, tomato is found in Creole versions of gumbo, while the more rustic Cajun gumbo omits. One small can, drained, chopped tomatoes, if you must.
Maggie’s Simple Potato Salad
Potato salad is one of those dishes for which eaters and cooks alike have many opinions. seems like many favorites are close versions of one or two that we grew up eating--"mama's potato salad had......'. this particular recipe is a bit simpler than the potato salad my own mother prepared; no eggs, no mustard, no pickle, its simplicity is intentional-- no one flavor to interfere with the star of the show, the gumbo for which this salad serves as an enhancement. however in the base of the gumbo bowl, or all alone, I could eat bowlfuls. And I often do.
3 small wax potatoes, jackets remaining
3 small new (red) potatoes, jackets remaining
1 qt chicken stock (alternatively, vegetable stock, or water) See ingredient notes, below
2 teaspoons coarse sea salt
1 Tablespoon, +/- liquid crab boil (optional)
½ bunch Italian flatleaf parsley, minced
½ bunch scallions, sliced (green tops, only)
½ c young, tender celery (from the heart of the bunch), chopped in small dice
½ c Mayonnaise, +/-
½ c sour cream, +/-
Ground black pepper, and salt, as needed
In a large stockpot, cover whole, scrubbed potatoes, jackets remaining, with stock (or option), and enough water to cover potatoes by 3-4 inches. Add sea salt and liquid crab boil, if using. Bring to a rapid boil. Cook, covered, until potatoes are fork tender through to center. Remove from heat, drain, transfer potatoes to a large mixing bowl.. Allow to cool slightly, to prevent steam burns (yeow!).
Mix in chopped parsley, sliced scallion greens, diced tender celery, mayonnaise and sour cream. Coarsely Mash potatoes together with ingredients with potato masher or sturdy fork. Monitor level of creaminess to allow a salad moist enough to stay together, but dry enough not to have extra liquid at the bottom of the bowl (and your gumbo bowl, as well). Add more mayonnaise and sour cream in equal measure if necessary.
Season with ground black and pepper, to taste, and additional salt, if necessary. Serve warm(ish).
When using for gumbo, add a small round scoop of salad to the base of soup bowl, ladling gumbo over.
Stock/broth, broth/stock—what’s the big diff?
I may have had this discussion a dozen times this year alone. It is the question I’m most commonly asked in classes, online, by email, and market chef demos. I even launched into the conversation on the broth/stock aisle on a recent whole food’s visit. The confusion is understandable; There are differences, but the lines are blurred considerably on the grocery store shelves, and in product description. Take for instance, the paleo-popular bone broth. Guess what? It’s a stock! Vegetable stock? It’s a Broth! No wonder there’s confusion.
The official word:
A stock is made from bones and whatever connective tissue and joint material is connected to them at the time they go into the pot. a broth is a liquid in which meat has been cooked. a broth may be flavorful, but without bones there will never be substantial body.-- Alton Brown
The general consensus, however, when buying shelf-stable broth or stock from the grocer, is that the words are generally used interchangeably, with no discernible difference in product.
There. That’s that.
Breaking down the lore of tradition surrounding gumbo, or any creole/Cajun topic is colorful at best, and downright crazy-making confusing, most often. Take for instance this tutorial on Roux-making from southern foodways alliance.. If you already have some idea of what you’re doing, you might smile along with me—if you’re new to gumbo-making, you’ll begin to understand a little more about how things work around the Cajun kitchen—it’s a little method but a whole lotta magic.
Seasoned gumbo-makers insist on certain personal preferences—this particular blogger believes in his/her home-made stock (and I agree—homemade stock is a game-changer), and all of these people have opinions.. After you’ve mastered the traditional preparation, perhaps you’d like to try a few variations—like this baked roux-based bowl, or this recipe for the gumbo whose roux I strive to emulate.
If you’d like to become a gumbo student along with me, this is a great place to start And For your amusement, find these additional phrases you might hear in and around the Big Easy.
I'd love to know. Who makes YOUR favorite gumbo? Favorite style? Best Restaurant gumbo? Dark roux or light? Please join the gumbo conversation in the comments below. You'll never know where you might find your hints, tips, tricks, picks or more, cher!