Sunday, 25 June 2017

Gumbo - The Hunt For Sausage

Nothing holds more mystique than the food of New Orleans.

The blend of flavours, history, culture and nationalities creates a cuisine that is so much more than just substance, but is a whole lifestyle.

On my quest to understand the North American kitchen, there was no other meal that speaks more about a location than Gumbo, but it isn't without its controversies. Many have argued about it's origins or even how it should be made?

Cajun or Creole? Seafood or Meat? Filé, Roux or Both?

I spent weeks going through books, watching youtube and reading articles on the dish, and I came out of it feeling so intimidated that I left it for weeks before I attempted it (but more on that later). 

What I did learn from weeks of research was that to appreciate Gumbo, you have to know its history.

Gumbo - A brief (and probably inaccurate) History.

Who brought the Gumbo to Louisiana is an argument that has raged since the dish was first served, but it is recognised as being brought to the region over 300 years ago with West African slaves. 
Ki ngombo is a West African term for okra, which has always been one of the key thickening ingredients in many a Gumbo, which many food historians credit to giving the dish its name.

"Pardon!" The French cry, "But if this is the case, how do you explain the roux"?

The French also lay claim to having their part in the history of the Gumbo. French cooks have been using the roux (a fat and flour mixture) since the 14th Century and as the main base of a Gumbo. Some food history buffs believe that it is much closer to a french bouillabaisse than any other dish. 

"Suffering Sassafras...What about the leaf"?

Let's not forget that the Native American tribes of the area also share part of the Gumbo history with the addition of the ground Sassafras Leaf. This leaf is known in New Orleans as Filé and is credited as being introduced by Choctaws Tribe. This ground green mixture is added to give a little earthy flavour and you guested thicken. All parties involved are very concerned with the thickening element of the stew. 

Whoever brought this simmering pot of deliciousness to the area serves the highest reward, but it is the ones who spend the time keeping the traditions of the Gumbo pot alive deserve the crown. I could not write this without mentioning the high priestess of Gumbo, Leah Chase of Dookie Chase restaurant in New Orleans. Miss Leah is one of my absolute female icons and one of the first people to spike my interest in regional American food, when I saw her on TV here in the UK many years ago talking about "The Holy Trinity". This being the marriage of onions, bell peppers and celery, the base of many amazing dishes.  Miss Leah is in her 90's and still cooking in the kitchens of Dookie Chase, she has cooked for not only the rich and famous, but also is known for feeding and supporting the leaders of the Civil Rights movement. If that isn't enough, she is said to also be the inspiration for the Disney princess, Tiana

So What is Gumbo?  

For us Brits, the closest we have to a Gumbo is Stew, but this fragrance dense dish is a little thinner and maybe more akin to a soup. Served with around a mountain of rice, a beautiful blend of spices is added to a stew thickened with a dark roux. Some gumbos are seafood based, some chicken, some sausage and even some with both. 

The Hunt for Sausage and Supermarket Gumbo 

So after being completely intimidated by the wealth of gumbo variations I found online, I decided to make my own. Trying to be as authentic as I could be, I managed to get my hands of some File, but one ingredient that I could not get my hands on is Andouille. 

Andouille sausage is a spicy smoked sausage that is used as the main ingredient in Chicken & Sausage gumbo. It is near on impossible to get in the UK, to the point of me throwing a tantrum. I tried supermarkets, mail order companies and even tried to find someway to get it posted to me from Louisiana. Nothing was fruitful and at one point I was going to get my hands on some french Andouillette sausage, which after some research I thankfully didn't as it is nothing like Louisiana Andouille, it is actually a sausage made of course pig colon. Lovely.

It was at this point I decided to make Supermarket Gumbo, although not completely authentic it has good intentions. Tomato paste and Tabasco will probably get me shouted at by purists, but this is my interpretation and surely that is what cooking is all about? Most importantly, you should be able to get all these ingredients in an UK (and beyond) supermarket. 

The Making of The Dark Roux (aka I can't feel my arm anymore)

No Gumbo can be made without a dark roux, which is so different to any roux that we use in Europe. First it is a blend of oil and flour rather than the butter that we are used to. The Dark roux like the classic french roux is equal parts oil and flour blended together over a medium heat, but remains more like a liquid and must continue to be cooked until it turns a rich chocolate brown.
This process takes time and heed my words, IT. MUST. BE. STIRRED. CONTINUOUSLY! I stirred non-stop for 45 minutes on my first attempt, I turned my back for a single second and *puff* it had turned into tar. I had to do it all over again, and I did not take my eye off this pan for one single second. 

This Roux takes mental and physical preparation and by that I mean you need to go to the bathroom before, not drink anything, warm up your arm muscles and have some music on that is at least 45 minutes long.

The  Roux goes through stages as it changed tone from light to dark, the best thing I did was watch the charming youtuber and New Orleans Native Charlie Andrews make a roux from start to finish and I suggest you do the same before any attempts. 

Supermarket Sausage & Chicken Gumbo 

Serve 6 Very Generously 


For The Roux - 
1 Cup of Plain Flour
1 Cup of Vegetable  Oil 

The Holy Trinity - 
1/2 Cup of Celery - Diced
1/2 Cup of White Onion - Diced
1/2 Cup of Green (Bell) Pepper - Diced 

1 lbs Skinless and Bonesless Chicken Thighs 
1 Smoked German Sausage - Sliced into Half Inch Rounds
1 Cup of Kielbasa Sausage - Sliced into Half Inch Rounds
1 Cup of Chorizo - Sliced into Half Inch Rounds 
1 lbs Raw Prawns - Skinned and De-vained  

1/2 tsp Cayenne 
1/4 Cup Creole Seasoning 
A tsp of Tabasco
3 Bay Leaves 
3 Cloves of Garlic 
1/4 Cup of Tomato Puree 
2 Lt of Chicken Stock 
1 Tbsp of Filé Powder 


  • Prepare your Dark Roux by combining Flour and Oil together in a non-stick pan over a medium low heat. **Top Tip** Prepare the day before and pop into the fridge once cooled in a airtight container.
  • Get your Chicken and sprinkle half of the Creole Seasoning upon it. Cover in cling film and pop in the fridge for 30 minutes.
  • In a large frying pan, brown the Sausages and then leave to drain on paper towels. Set aside.
  • Take a large heavy stock pot (at least 12 quarts) and warm up your Roux, add the Holy Trinity and then cook until soft. This should take at least a few minutes and will look like a thick paste.
  • Add the Bay Leaves, the Tomato Puree and keep moving!
  • Add the stock and stir until everything is combined. Then add the Sausage, the remaining Seasoning, the Cayenne and Tabasco. Bring to a boil for 10 minutes.
  • Add the Chicken and then simmer for at least 50 minutes, giving it a stir every now and again. If it seems a little thick, just add some more stock.
  • Grab your Prawns and pop into the pot, once pink, add the Filé and stir again. Add a little more Filé if you wish a thicker consistency. Then your Gumbo is ready to serve.
  • Take a soup bowl and pop a serving of rice in the centre, spoon the Gumbo around the rice.

Have you made Gumbo? Am I completely off the mark? Pop some words in the comments...old family recipes, as always, will be gratefully received! 

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