My brother, William, loves Cajun cuisine. While deprived of his favorite foods during quarantine, he set out to create his own gumbo recipe. It's truly the best thing to come out of quarantine. My family requests this every time he comes home from college. This recipe is high maintenance and needs to be babied, so proceed with caution.
Gumbo is quintessential Louisiana cooking. The word "gumbo" comes from a West African word for okra, while roux, the base of the dish, is French. The only thickeners used in this are okra and the roux. While simmering, the okra disintegrates, thickening the soup. Will doesn't traditionally use a recipe, simply eyeballing his ingredients, but I measured and wrote down all of the quantities he used in this last batch (you're welcome). It goes to show that this recipe is flexible and you can make it to your taste.
Look at that perfectly executed mise en place -- nicely done, Will
William's Chicken Gumbo
1 pound boneless skinless chicken thighs
1/2 cup vegetable oil, plus more for brushing
1/2 cup flour
1 sweet onion, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
1 green bell pepper, cored and diced
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and diced
6 garlic cloves, minced
4 bay leaves
1 cup dark beer (such as Dos Equis Amber)
1 teaspoon diced fresh thyme
4 cups chicken stock
1 pound andouille sausage, sliced (such as Rajin’ Cajun)
1/2 pound okra, sliced (frozen okra is fine if you can’t get fresh)
Freshly ground black pepper
Scallions for garnish, both white and green parts
Ground filé, to taste
Place chicken thighs on a baking sheet, brush with vegetable oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and broil for 10 minutes. Set aside.
For the roux:
Heat oil in a medium Dutch oven over medium-low heat, add the flour, and whisk continuously. Do not let the flour burn, you’ll have to start over. Continue whisking until the roux reaches the color of milk chocolate. The darker the roux, the more flavor your gumbo will have.
Add the onion, celery, bell pepper, and jalapeno to the roux, sauté for about a minute. Add the bay leaves and garlic, cook for 30 seconds. Add the beer and thyme, bring to a boil. Add the chicken stock, chicken, including pan juices, sausage, 1 teaspoon pepper, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Bring to a simmer, then turn the heat to the lowest setting, cover, and simmer for 1 hour, stirring halfway through. After an hour, add the okra, and continue simmering for 2 more hours, stirring every half hour.
After 3 hours, discard the bay leaves. The chicken will be tender and fall apart (you may have to “help” it shred with your spoon). Serve with a scoop of white rice and garnish with scallions and ground filé.
If you're wondering, "does this kid only wear Purdue shirts?"-- the answer is yes.
He literally only wears Purdue shirts.
A Note from the Chef: Gumbo and soup recipes really highlight the difference between my sister’s and my style of cooking. Whereas Sam uses precise measurements (occasionally whipping out a scale just to ensure she gets the perfect amount), I’m more of a fan of the “eyeballing and winging it” method. Of course, this means that Sam can "out-bake" me any day of the week. However, eyeballing it makes every gumbo unique and fun, and makes the cooking experience an adventure. Isaac Toups, whose recipe I based mine on, has many different iterations on the internet that have different ingredient ratios
The only real danger of ruining gumbo comes with burning the roux, but if you take it low and slow, you won’t have an issue. Beyond that, you really have lots of freedom to mess with this recipe as you see fit. The okra was an add-on that wasn’t part of the original recipe; one hour into the simmering may be too much or not enough time, depending on how done you like it. Try using a different beer. Use more or less of the various elements of the “Holy Trinity.” There’s a reason that onions, celery, and bell peppers got this nickname: they make a divine gumbo base. Double, triple, or quadruple how much garlic I used. (Maybe only I think this would be good, since I love garlic. We refer to it as “The Pope” alongside the Holy Trinity). Make it spicier by adding in a dash of cayenne pepper or a bit of tabasco (Becky has banned me from using these, though). If you can’t handle the spice, try using a milder andouille sausage. At Purdue, I can’t even find andouille (the freaking Midwest, am I right?), so I make do with whatever smoked sausage I can find.
To start, we enjoyed some Cajun spiced boiled peanuts. While there's a plethora of boiled peanut recipes online, I'm perfectly content to buy them. We picked these up from R&A Orchards in Ellijay, GA. They have the perfect amount of spice. Through trial and error, we've found that peanuts keep in the fridge for a long time and can be rewarmed in the microwave. We pick up a new stash whenever we're in Ellijay and enjoy them until we can go back for more.
Boiled Peanuts: R&A Orchards
We also enjoyed a simple salad of mixed greens, tomatoes, cucumbers, and Greek dressing.
For dessert, I made Ina Garten's vanilla brioche bread pudding topped with crème anglaise. Bread pudding is one of my family's favorite desserts and this recipe is one of the best we've tried. (This is some high praise, we take our bread pudding very seriously!) You soak toasted brioche in custard, then bake. Ina's recipe calls for slices of bread as well as cubes but, having prepared it both ways, I could tell no difference in texture and now just use cubes to make it easier. I'm also too lazy to remove the crusts, but again, can't tell any difference. An easy trick for crème anglaise is to melt vanilla ice cream (seriously, it's that easy). This dessert would also be delicious topped with raspberry sauce.
Get the Recipe: The Barefoot Contessa's Vanilla Brioche Bread Pudding
While baby's breath may be seen as a cliche in the floral world, I love how delicate it is. It's typically used as a filler, but I think it looks lovely on its own. I placed small bunches in mason jars, off-set by tealight candles. I recently got these Estelle wine glasses, and decided that gumbo was an appropriate time to take them on their maiden voyage. I added some herringbone napkins, woven chargers, and white china to finish this simple yet elegant table scape.
Thanks for reading! And thanks to Will for letting me share his gumbo recipe!!