Guys, something happened last night that changed my world forever. I made the most EARTH SHATTERING gumbo. Not just any ole' gumbo; I'm talkin' eyes-growing-wider-with-every-bite-I-want-to-eat-this-forever-and-ever kinda gumbo. YES! It was that fantastic. I'm salivating just thinking about it. It's a flavor explosion in a bowl. A thick, spicy, tangy sauce is the perfect base to cradle juicy pieces of sausage, tender morsels of chicken, plump shrimp. All surrounded by tiny pieces of sweet onions, celery, green pepper and okra, the star of the show. As a result of being simmered on low heat, the vegetables develop a sweetness that complements the fiery sauce and meat. It is THE ULTIMATE stew.
You know how else I know it was good? My lovely offspring were 100% quiet for the entire 5 minutes it took them to inhale this stuff, breaking the silence to ask for seconds. Okay, really that NEVER happens. At least 1 out of 4 children always has to complain or refuse to eat dinner. No, a 7, 5, 3, and 1 year old all devoured it in minutes, without a single complaint. And you know what else? the 5 year old's first question this morning, as soon as she got out of bed, was "Can I PUHHHHH-LEASSSSEEE have gumbo for lunch? I promise I'll be extra good!"
No, seriously, that actually happened.
I deeply love cajun food. I love gumbo, jambalaya, beignets, crawfish etouffee ...you name it, I love it. It deepened when I first saw Disney's The Princess and the Frog. I'm dead serious. The way the characters talk about gumbo and prep the vegetables, I was hooked. Then, when the animated form is served, it looks incredible so I could only imagine the real stuff being nothing short of delectable! That movie pretty much sealed the deal for me. I live in the absolute wrong place; I should be living in New Orleans!
Any time I'm at a cajun restaurant, I look at the gumbo longingly. Because you see, my family doesn't eat pork and gumbo almost always has andouille sausage, which is made from pork. Over the years, I have had to experiment and come up with an alternative. I've got one word for you: soujuk.
What is this soujuk, you ask? Soujuk is a turkish sausage make of lamb and/or beef and uses similar spices to that of andouille sausage. Most middle eastern grocery stores carry them. I have at least two in my freezer at any given time because I end up making A LOT of cajun food. It comes in hot and mild; the hot can be pretty spicy so if you don't do well with spice, opt for the mild. If you've never worked with this kind of sausage before, it comes stuffed in a waxy, paper casing- you have to cut it off before slicing the sausage.
The key to great gumbo is to get the roux right. Roux is the quintessential component of gumbo. Roux is flour that is cooked in fat, sometimes just to cook away the "raw" taste of flour, while other times, it is slowly cooked until it turns a deep brown color. Normally, for gumbo you have to babysit the roux, stirring constantly to prevent scorching, cooking on very low heat, until it turns into a deep, rich, nutty brown. It's a lot of work and requires a lot of fat. My method is a lot easier and also omits the need for an entire cup of oil, without taking away from the flavor. Imagine that, so many calories slashed!
I toast all-purpose flour in a 400 degree oven for 45-50 minutes, until the flour becomes a deep, nutty brown. And your kitchen will fill with this wonderful aroma. Toasted flour is not only a great alternative for a healthier roux, you can use it in baked goods too. It gives a deep, nutty flavor that regular flour can't compete with. Try it the next time you bake!
Gumbo seems like an intimidating dish. I worked myself up to gumbo because it seemed so tedious and a 'professional chef grade' dish. Let me stop you right there and tell you it is neither; anyone can make gumbo. There are some complicated recipes out there for making gumbo but I've really simplified the process. If you follow my directions, you will end up with a meal that LOOKS gourmet and good enough for company but without that much actual work for you!
A few suggestions to simplify the process:
*use a dutch oven, if you have one. You will need to simmer the gumbo on very low heat and a dutch oven, or a heavy bottomed pot with a lid, cooks evenly and keeps the heat trapped in the pot. If you don't have a dutch oven, use the heaviest bottomed pot you have. Make sure it has a lid.
*don't skip toasting the flour; it will take an average dish from satisfactory to amazing and gourmet. You NEED to have toasted flour to make the roux for gumbo.
*add the shrimp at the very end of the cooking process. I have seen way too much overcooked shrimp ruin dishes and it is very unappetizing. Shrimp cooks very quickly; in about 3-4 minutes. Add the shrimp in, close the lid, and check in 3 minutes. If the shrimp is lightly pink or opaque, it is cooked. Take it off the heat!
*if you don't end up using soujuk...then you might as well not make the gumbo. I'm serious. The deep, smokey flavor in the gumbo comes from cooking the vegetables in the soujuk fat, after browning the soujuk. In fact, you cook the chicken in the fat too. So really, there is no gumbo without the rendered fat of soujuk.
*serve the gumbo with rice. I highly recommend just a half serving of rice because gumbo is meant to be soupy, not dry. The rice to gumbo ratio should be 2:1. I used brown, long grain basmati and I thought it worked perfectly. The nutty flavor of the brown basmati rice really adds another layer of depth to the gumbo but if you are one of those "I can't eat any whole grain starches" then feel free to use white rice; it works just as well.
Lightened Up Chicken Gumbo
- Prep Time: 20 mins
- Cook Time: 1 hour 10 mins
- Total Time: 1 hour 30 mins
- Yield: 8 1x
- 1 lb soujuk (andouille sausage substitute), cut into 1" thick, angled slices
- 1 ½ lbs boneless, skinless chicken breast (or boneless, skinless chicken thighs)
- 1 lb peeled and deveined raw shrimp
- ¾ cup all-purpose flour
- 3 cups sliced okra (frozen or fresh)
- 1 large green bell pepper, chopped
- 4 ribs celery, coarsely chopped
- 2 medium onions, coarsely chopped
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes
- 4 tbsp tomato paste
- 2 tbsp distilled white vinegar
- 2 tsp Cajun seasoning (like Zataran’s) or to taste
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp paprika
- 1 tsp hot sauce (like Tabasco) or to taste
- 2 tsp dried thyme
- 4 bay leaves
- 2 chicken bouillon cubes
- 4-5 cups water
- 2-4 stalks green onions, finely chopped (for garnish)
- chopped parsley for garnish
- cooked rice (white or brown)
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
- Spread flour on a baking sheet evenly. Toast in oven for 30 minutes. Stir flour to ensure even browing. Return to oven and cook for 15-20 minutes, until the flour becomes golden brown and develops a nutty smell. Remove from oven and set aside.
- Heat a dutch oven on high heat and add soujuk in an even layer and brown each both sides. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside.
- Add chicken to the rendered fat and cook until chicken is no longer pink on the inside, about 5 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside.
- Reduce heat to medium low and add onions into the rendered fat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onions become translucent. Add garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Add celery and green pepper and cook until vegetables are softened, about 5 minutes.
- Slowly add in toasted flour and mix well. Add browned soujuk and stir to coat with flour mixture. Stir in tomato paste and diced tomatoes. Add 4 cups water, stirring to dissolve lumps. Add in vinegar and chicken bouillon cubes, stirring to dissolve. bring to a boil and reduce heat to lowest setting.
- Add in thyme, bay leaves, salt, paprika, hot sauce, cajun seasoning, and okra. Cover and simmer for 30-35 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Remove lid and shrimp and chicken. Cook for 5 minutes, until shrimp turns opaque. Remove from heat.
- Serve with rice. Garnish with green onions and parsley.