The secret to good gumbo? Starting with the perfect roux. Try my trick for oven-toasting your flour to free up your hands, time, and sanity!
Oh, gumbo. You mysterious creature.
On the surface, it seems so simple. Just chicken, vegetables, sausage, and sauce, right?
Nope. Gumbo is much more complex than the sum of its parts. The reason? The roux. (say it with me: “roo”)
Gumbo is just ALL about that roux.
The first time I ever tried gumbo was this past January in New Orleans. Before that trip, I had little-to-no interest in Cajun or Creole cuisine, likely due to my shellfish aversion. In my mind, the food of New Orleans was an endless parade of shrimp, oysters, and soft shell crab. Ick.
While I was there, I enjoyed some of the best food of my life! You can read more about my food adventures in New Orleans in this post.
One of my favorite memories of New Orleans was attending a cooking class where we learned to make crepes suzette and classic gumbo.
The main point that the instructors kept repeating was to start with a good roux. Making a good roux is a source of pride for many home cooks, as well as restaurateurs, and it can take some time to get it right.
You’re probably familiar with making a basic roux if you’ve ever made homemade macaroni and cheese, bechamel sauce, or New England clam chowder (again, ick).
Basically, you heat some fat in a pan (usually butter, but you can also use oil, bacon grease, or, my favorite, fond and meat drippings), then add flour and whisk until the raw flour taste is gone and the roux has achieved the right color.
For macaroni and cheese, you only need to cook the roux until the flour has lost its raw taste, about 3-5 minutes. For gumbo (and Jambalya!) you cook the flour and fat mixture until it turns a deep brown color and the roux tastes nice and toasty. This can take about 45-60 minutes! Don’t forget, you’re supposed to be whisking almost constantly while you’re doing this.
Now, you all know how lazy I am. After 45-60 minutes of whisking roux on the stove-top I’d be hangry and nursing an almost-empty bottle of red wine. We just can’t have that.
The gals at the cooking school let me in on a little secret: you can buy dark roux pre-bottled! I haven’t tried this stuff yet, but I might pick some up and keep it on hand for emergencies 😉
For those of us who don’t keep roux on-hand, there’s another option! I read about a method for toasting flour in a Good Housekeeping Cookbook I found at a garage sale, so I thought I’d try it out for making gumbo.
Essentially you’re just baking some flour in a skillet, then using that flour to jump-start the toasty flavor and chocolate color of dark roux. Brilliant!
Confession: I don’t like okra.
I’ve tried to like it so many times, but… you guys, I just can’t. It’s a texture thing.
If you want to include it, just thinly slice two medium okras and add them in along with the onions, bell peppers, and other veggies.
This recipe is not nearly as complicated as it looks! When your whole house smells cozy and you take that first taste of velvety sauce, you’ll understand why gumbo is revered as a true comfort food.
Here’s the Recipe!
- 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
- 6 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs
- 6 ounces Kielbasa or Andouille sausage, sliced
- 3 ounces tomato paste
- 4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
- 1 medium yellow onion, thinly sliced
- 1 medium yellow bell pepper, diced
- 2 medium tomatoes, chopped
- 2 stalks celery (with leaves), chopped
- 4 cloves garlic, chopped
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 teaspoon salt + more to taste
- 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
- 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon allspice
- 1 tablespoon white vinegar
- 1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley leaves
- 1/2 cup chopped green onion (scallion)
- Preheat your oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Place the flour in an oven-safe skillet (cast iron works great!) and set it in the preheated oven for 20 minutes. Stir the flour and bake for another 20 minutes, checking every 5-10 minutes or so, until it turns nut brown in color. Let the flour cool, then press it through a sieve to remove any lumps.
- While the flour is toasting, heat a 6-quart or larger Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Pat the chicken dry then add them skin-side-down to the hot pan and cook, undisturbed, for 3-5 minutes or until the chicken releases from the bottom of the pan*. Turn the chicken and brown the other side for another 3-5 minutes. Remove the chicken and set aside on a plate.
- Add the sliced sausage to the pot and brown on one side for 3-5 minutes on one side. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the browned sausage to the plate with the chicken.
- Turn the heat down to medium-low. Stir the tomato paste into the chicken broth and set aside.
- Sprinkle about 3 tablespoons of the toasted flour into the hot fat drippings in the Dutch oven. Whisk until well combined. Repeat with remaining flour until all of it is incorporated into the fat. Allow to bubble and cook for 3-5 minutes, until it is the consistency of melted peanut butter.**
- Stir in the tomato paste and broth mixture. Add all the vegetables and seasonings to the pot, along with the browned chicken and sausage. Turn the heat up to high and allow the contents to come to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, uncovered, for 1 hour, or until the meat is tender and the sauce has thickened.
- Remove the bay leaves. Stir in the vinegar and parsley. Taste and add salt as desired.
- Serve with plenty of cooked rice and chopped scallions for garnish.
You may need to cook the chicken in batches if they won't fit in a single layer in your pot.
*If you like, you can continue to cook it until it achieves a darker color, another 5-10 minutes.
Nutrition InformationYield 6 Serving Size 1
Amount Per ServingCalories 270 Total Fat 16g Saturated Fat 5g Trans Fat 0g Unsaturated Fat 10g Cholesterol 55mg Sodium 859mg Carbohydrates 18g Fiber 2g Sugar 6g Protein 16g