Chicken, Sausage and Okra Gumbo

Gumbo - The Most Traditional Cajun Food
Gumbo is probably the most traditional cajun food.  A gumbo is basically a soup cooked with a roux base.  Because of their availability, gumbo is frequently made out of chicken, and the older the chicken the better the gumbo.  Because of this, you can make a better gumbo out of a hen as opposed to a fryer.  However, you can make gumbo out of many foul (guinea, pigeon, goose, duck, woodcock, dove, quail), game (rabbit, squirrel) or seafood (shrimp, crab and oyster).   You can also add any smoked sausage, andouille sausage, tasso, and chicken gizzards and hearts to the gumbo.  Gumbo is a soup and it is usually served over cooked white rice.  But don't use a lot of rice, because it is eaten as a soup and not as rice and gravy.

File' (sometimes called gumbo file')
File' (pronounced fee-lay) is the traditional table garnish used on gumbo.  The early Cajuns learned to use file' from the Choctaw Indians of the Gulf coast, who evidently used it to thicken soups.  File' is ground sassafras (Sassafras albidum) leaves. Go to File' for instructions on how to make your own file'.

File' is sprinkled on the surface of  your gumbo at the table.  File' makes the gumbo thick if you let it set for awhile.  Don't add file' to the gumbo during cooking or else it will make the gumbo thick and stringy.  You can add a pinch to the pot at the very end of cooking to thicken the gumbo - but don't add too much or or add it too early while the gumbo is still boiling.

Gumbo is Cold Weather Food
Gumbos are cooked when the weather gets cold.  When the first cold spell moves through in the fall is when gumbo season starts.  Gumbo is better the next day, so you can eat on it several days during the cold spell.

Cooking for a Crowd
Late last century, I headed up a Gumbo Cook Fundraiser for St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church in College Station, TX.  The following is the recipe used for the chicken and sausage gumbo.  One year we cooked about 200 gallons of gumbo.  We had about 15 pots of assorted sizes (from 12 to 20 gallon) going at once - boy was that a 3-ring circus or what. The basic recipe is for a family sized serving , and the 12-gallon recipe is for feeding a whole bunch of people. 
chicken (cut into whole pieces)
smoked or andouille sausage, diced
bell pepper
green onion tops
Worcestershire sauce
bouillon (if using a fryer)
Cajun seasoning mix
Basic Recipe
1 gal
1 chicken (3-4 lb)
2 lb
1.25 cup (10 oz)
1.25 cup,  chopped
1.25 cup, chopped
1.25 cup, chopped
3 cups (12 oz), chopped
0.5 cup, chopped
0.5 cup, chopped
2 tbs, minced
2 tbs (1 oz)
 1/2 strength to make 1 gal
1 tsp
to taste on table 
60 Qt Pot Recipe
12 gal
8-12 chickens (36-48 lb)
24 lb
3.75 quart (7.5 lb)
1 gal,  chopped
1 gal, chopped
1 gal, chopped
2.25 gal (9 lb), chopped
1.5 quart, chopped
1.5 quart, chopped
3 cups, minced
12 oz
 1/2 strength to make 12 gal
6 tbs
   to taste on table

Make the Roux: 

  • Roux is made  by browning white flour in oil or margarine.  My wife and I usually use margarine.
  • You use equal volumes of flour and oil/margarine.
  • For the basic recipe, use 1 cup flour and 1 cup oil/margarine.  You can make extra roux and store it in quart jars.  It does not have to be refrigerated, but I feel it keeps it fresher.
  • Use a heavy walled aluminum or cast iron pot.  If you use a light pot, the roux will burn easily.
  • Heat the oil in the pot, then slowly mix in the flour, stirring constantly.  A thick paste will form.
  • Continue to stir constantly, and reduce the heat to the point that the flour/oil mixture lightly bubbles.
  • Continue to stir until the mixture becomes a chocolate brown. 
  • As the roux forms it will become more fluid, and you must scrape the roux that sticks to the bottom and sides of the pot, otherwise it will burn.
  • If you burn the roux, throw it away and start over.
  • The secret is to stir a lot and not let the pot to get too hot.
  • Once the roux is made, transfer it to the pot in which you are going to cook the gumbo.  If you leave the roux in the pot in which it is made, it will continue to cook and burn. 
  • Allow the roux to cool, before you add water.  If you add water to really hot roux, it will thicken and turn an awful looking black (trust me, I know from experience).
  • Some people add the onion, bell pepper and celery to the roux to cool it down, and this also sautés' the vegetables.
Commercial Roux:
  • Commercial roux is available in pint and quart jars in most major grocery stores.  Most brands work well to make a gumbo.
  • A few places sell 15 pound tubs of roux (for example, Savoie's in Opelousas, LA)
Start the Gumbo:
  • Add the water to the pot and heat it.  You do not need a thick walled pot for the gumbo.
  • Add the warm (but not hot) roux to the warm water and stir to dissolve the roux.
  • Lightly boil for awhile until you get a nice uniform brown colored roux base (a half hour or so).
Brown the Meat and Sauté the Okra:
  • Brown the chicken in a little oil if you like, but we usually don't. 
  • If the okra is fresh, you might want to sauté it in a little oil.  You may sauté the okra with a bit of fresh diced tomato.  My mom cooked the okra with tomato as it was picked during the summer, and canned or froze it to use for gumbos in the winter. Okra adds thickness and body to the gumbo.   If  you do not like okra, you may omit it.  But, to me all gumbo needs okra.
Add Everything Else and Simmer: 
  • Add all the remaining ingredients, except the green onion tops and parsley. 
  • Usually, we add the whole sausage link, and cut it into 1/2-inch pieces when the gumbo is almost done.
  • Simmer 2-3 hours, stirring occasionally. 
  • Once the chicken gets tender, you can take it out early and set it on the side.  Otherwise, the meat may fall apart in the gumbo.  Add the chicken back to the gumbo just before serving.
  • After the gumbo is cooked, turn off the heat and let it set for awhile.  Skim off the extra grease that floats to the top.
Add the garnish: 
  • Stir in the chopped green onion tops and parsley, and heat the gumbo back up to serve.
  • Serve over cooked white rice.  Don't use too much rice - remember it's a soup.
Add File', Hot Sauce and Spice to Your Taste:
Gumbo condiments
  • Sprinkle file' on the surface of the gumbo in your bowl.
  • File' floats.  So sometimes Isprinkle the file' on the rice before adding the gumbo, and this keeps the file' down in the gumbo.
  • Add Tabasco sauce and more cajun seasoning mix (homemade, Chachere's or Zatarain's) to taste at the table.
©David Wm. Reed