The Classic Cajun Gumbo is Louisiana’s love language. This modest southern stew signifies the marriage of cultures, subtleties of tradition, local ingredients, and, above all, community.
For many families in South Louisiana, gumbo is a weekly ritual. I had my fair share of gumbo when I was growing up in New Orleans, but the classic Cajun gumbo is the one I make on repeat.
Classic Cajun Gumbo
My recipe has been advanced over the years to receive the respected thumbs-up from locals of the Louisiana river parishes where this Cajun dish is entrenched. The river parishes embrace the banks of the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge and New Orleans, and it is here that the soul of authentic Cajun gumbo resides.
With much deliberation for tradition, my recipe is a definitive take on the good-for-your-soul chicken and andouille sausage gumbo.
What is Gumbo?
Gumbo is a dark stew made with a roux base, holy trinity veggies (bell peppers, onions, celery), and proteins extending from andouille sausage to chicken to seafood. Andouille sausage and chicken are traditional to Cajun gumbo.
To amp the expediency factor in this recipe, the raw chicken thighs can be substituted with shredded rotisserie chicken, and the holy trinity vegetables can be acquired pre-chopped at closely all huge grocery stores.
The dark roux, on the other hand, needs endless stirring on medium heat, so this part you do not want to rush. Rushing the roux or snowballing temperature will result in a burnt roux.
In a pinch, busy cooks can opt to slowly bake the roux in the oven which requires less attention but more time. With time and patience, the roux should develop to the color of milk chocolate, resulting in a more flavorful and authentic Cajun gumbo.
Where Did Gumbo Originate?
The beginnings and ends of gumbo are ever-evolving. Due to conflicting sources of its origin, gumbo cannot be attributed to one culture but is the amalgamation of many distinct cuisines that found their way to South Louisiana, including but not limited to African, Native American, and European.
Despite a rather complicated origin story, we do know that gumbo is emblematic of the people who built their lives in South Louisiana. Since gumbo is often synonymous with Cajun culture, Cajun gumbo features ingredients accessible to the river parishes: produce like bell peppers, okra, and sassafras (file powder), plus shelf-stable flour and oil for the roux.
Different Versions of Gumbo
Come to New Orleans, and you will find gumbo served at every Cajun or Creole restaurant, whether it’s a classic version or an interpretation.
To say there’s one recipe for gumbo does a disservice to the spirit of the beloved Southern dish. And while yes, there is often a roux base and holy trinity, gumbo celebrates local ingredients and subtleties of tradition, so gumbo takes many forms.
What’s the Difference Between Gumbo and Jambalaya?
The main difference between jambalaya and gumbo is the role of rice and the presence of roux. Jambalaya is the Louisianian equivalent of a Spanish paella where rice is the main base.
For jambalaya, rice is lightly simmered in broth and mixed with various proteins like chicken, sausage, or seafood.
What meat or seafood is typically in Gumbo?
- Andouille sausage.
- Crab legs.
- Hearty greens in lieu of meats in the vegetarian version, Gumbo Z’Herbes.
How to Serve Gumbo
Gumbo is often enjoyed with a scoop of white rice, scallion garnish, file powder, and a few spurts of Tabasco hot sauce. It is often made in bulk, as the roux is such a labor of love so serving groups of people is ideal.
- 1 medium green bell pepper
- 3 stalks celery
- 1 medium yellow onion
- 6 cloves garlic
- 2 teaspoons dried thyme
- 1/2 bunch fresh parsley (optional)
- 2 to 3 tablespoons salt-free Cajun seasoning (see Recipe Notes), divided
- 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, plus more as needed
- 2 bay leaves
- 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper, plus more as needed
- 1-pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs, or 1 rotisserie chicken
- 14 ounces andouille sausage
- 1 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
- 1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon neutral cooking oil, such as canola or vegetable, divided
- 6 cups (48 ounces) low-sodium chicken broth, at room temperature
- 2 teaspoons file powder (optional, see notes below)
- 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour.
- 1/2 bunch medium scallions
- 3 cups cooked white rice
- Crystal or Tabasco hot sauce
- Prepare the following, placing each in the same medium bowl as you complete it: Trim and dice 1 medium green bell pepper (1 1/2 cups), 1 medium yellow onion (1 3/4 cups), and 3 celery stalks (1 1/2 cups).
- Prepare the following, placing each in the same small bowl as you complete it: Mince 6 garlic cloves; coarsely chop the leaves from 1/2 bunch fresh parsley, if using, until you have about 1/2 cup; add 2 tablespoons of the salt-free Cajun seasoning, 2 teaspoons dried thyme, 2 bay leaves, and 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper; stir to combine.
- If using raw chicken, dice 1-pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs into 1-inch pieces. Season with 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, 1 1/2 teaspoons black pepper, and the remaining 1 tablespoon Cajun seasoning. If using rotisserie chicken, pick the meat and shred (about 4 cups); discard the skin and bones. (No need to season the rotisserie chicken meat.)
- Cut 14 ounces andouille sausage crosswise into 1/2-inch-thick rounds. Cook in a large pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat until the sausage is browned all over and releases its fat, about 5 minutes. Transfer the sausage to a plate.
- If using raw chicken, add 1 tablespoon of the neutral cooking oil and the chicken to the pot. Cook, stirring often, until the chicken is browned all over, about 10 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the chicken to the plate of sausage.
- Reduce the heat to medium. Scrape up any browned bits from the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon. Add 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, the remaining 1/4 cup neutral oil, and 1/2 cup all-purpose flour. Cook, stirring constantly and scraping the bottom of the pot with the wooden spoon, until the roux resembles the color and texture of melted milk chocolate, 10 to 20 minutes. It will go from smelling like flour to toasted popcorn to nutty coffee. Don’t turn your back on the roux or it will burn!
- Increase the heat to medium-high and add bell pepper mixture. Stir to coat in the roux. Cook, stirring frequently, until the onions are translucent, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic mixture and return the sausage and chicken and any accumulated juices to the pot. Cook, stirring frequently, until the garlic is fragrant, 2 to 3 minutes.
- Add 6 cups low-sodium chicken broth. Increase the heat to high and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer uncovered until the gumbo is thick and the flavors have meld, 35 to 45 minutes. Meanwhile, thinly slice 1/2 bunch scallions and cook white rice for serving if desired.
- Taste and season with more kosher salt as needed. (You’ll likely need to add more salt if starting with rotisserie chicken.) The gumbo can be served immediately or the day after (which is when it tastes best). Serve with a scoop of cooked white rice, scallions, a dash of Crystal hot sauce, and file powder as desired. File powder adds herbal notes and thickens the gumbo a bit.