Peasant Palate: I Will Make You Gumbo

We’re a family who for 40 years flowed back together for Thanksgiving, there in a little house on the coast of California. But people, they do get old, and so the woman who rented the place to us all those years, for a modest, reasonable fee, was recently forced to pass the property on to her children, who, it develops, are Robbers. They want rent achievable only by folks who serve on the board of directors at Goldman Sachs. So this year this family will stay scattered.

A few years ago I developed a serious gumbo jones, and one year took my spike to the coast for Thanksgiving. There I succeeded in hooking all the junior members of the family. Since this year I will be unable to stand and deliver, I’m posting here the recipe, so all the scattered family can brew the drug in their own homes.

My recipe is a variation on that of the folks in the photo above, Maudice and Bill Gentry, presently of Oakland, California, formerly of Texas and New Orleans. Gumbo, associated most with New Orleans, is a West African, Afro-Caribbean dish, with French and Choctaw Indian accents. Some folks think gumbo must contain okra, but in this they are Wrong. You can put okra in it, but it’s no more necessary than is owl or monkey, which some folks also like to see floating in their gumbo.

First you have to make chicken stock. My stock recipe comes from a Frenchwoman, but that’s acceptable, because, as I said, there are already French people in gumbo.

5 pounds chicken wings/backs
4 medium onions, quartered
green part of 2 leeks, washed and chopped
4 medium carrots, cut into eighths
4 bay leaves
20 parsley stems
4 cloves garlic, smashed
roughly 6-7 quarts water
6 sprigs fresh thyme
1 teaspoon black peppercorns

Heave the chicken wings/backs into a stockpot. Add the onions, carrots, bay leaves, garlic, and parsley stems. Run enough water into the pot to submerge these ingredients, with an inch or two of water atop. Place on burner. Bring to a boil. Add the thyme and peppercorns.

Reduce heat to very low, so that the stock bubbles very gently. Partially cover and cook, for at least two, but no more than three, hours.

Strain stock into a large bowl. Mash down on the meat and vegetables in the strainer to ensure you get every drop. You’ll secure at least the 4 quarts of stock you’ll need for the gumbo. The rest will refrigerate for up to five days, pushin’ it; after that, it’s into the freezer.

Gumbo time.

4 quarts homemade chicken stock
2.75 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts
2 tablespoons Old Bay seasoning
1.5 teaspoons garlic salt w/dried parsley
1 tablespoon coarse-ground black pepper
1.5 pounds uncooked medium/large prawns, peeled and deveined, shells reserved
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
6 andouille sausages, sliced into 1/2-inch rounds
6 Louisiana-style hot links, sliced into 1/2-inch rounds
6 medium jalapeno peppers, diced
7 medium serrano peppers, diced
2 green bell peppers, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
7 green onions, diced
1 large yellow onion, diced
4 stalks celery with tops, diced
9 cloves garlic, minced
more olive oil, maybe
1 cup all-purpose flour
1.5 tablespoons Zatarain’s gumbo filé

Cut the chicken breasts into 14-18 large pieces. Dump in a bowl and mix with the Old Bay seasoning, garlic salt, and pepper. Cover and place in the refrigerator for four hours.

Dice the hot peppers, bell peppers, green onions, onion, garlic, and celery. Combine well in a large bowl.

Slice the sausages into rounds.

Get the shrimp naked by stripping off their shells.

Okay. In a large stockpot, bring the chicken stock to a boil. Add the reserved shrimp shells. Reduce to a simmer, cover, keep slowly simmering.

In a cast-iron dutch oven heat the olive oil and brown the chicken on medium-high heat. Remove. Next saute the andouille and hot links, for about 8-12 minutes. Remove.

You now need 3 ounces of fat (6 tablespoons) in the dutch oven. If you weren’t able to produce that much in browning the meat—and you probably weren’t—add olive oil to make up the difference.

Adjust the burner to medium. You’re going to make a roux.

Add one-third of the vegetable mixture to the hot fat/oil in the dutch oven, then sprinkle 1/3rd cup of the flour over the veggies. Let the flour dissolve some into the vegetable juice and fat before stirring to incorporate. Then keep stirring patiently, letting the vegetables soften and the flour brown. Some flour will insist on sticking to the bottom of the dutch oven; when that happens, ladle in some of the simmering stock, and scrape the flour loose.

After about 10 minutes or so of arm-wearying stirring, and occasional ladling and scraping, you’ll be ready to add another one-third of the veggie mix, sprinkled with another 1/3rd cup of flour. Do what you did in the previous paragraph. After 10 minutes or so, do it again, with the final one-third of the veggie mix, and the final 1/3rd cup of flour.

Your veggie/flour roux should be a light caramel color. So now you’re going to turn it green. Turn the burner down to low, and sprinkle the gumbo filé atop the roux. Allow the filé to dissolve some, before starting up the stirring again. Stir till everybody’s all mixed up.

With a slotted spoon, remove the shrimp shells from the stock. Bring the stock to a boil, then add 2 cups of the stock to the roux. Return the stock to a simmer; meanwhile, back in the dutch oven, allow the roux to thicken again. Then pour the roux into the stock. Add to the roux and the stock the cooked chicken and sausages. Bring the whole mess up to a simmer, then cook, simmering slowly, for at least 4 hours, preferably all day.

Just before serving, add the raw shrimp, turn off the burner, cover, and wait five minutes.

Serve. Eat.

Below is Jimmy Buffet performing his song “I Will Play For Gumbo.” In it he refers to someone called “The Sauce Boss,” who, it develops, is an eccentric, even disturbed musician who cooks gumbo as he performs on stage; at the conclusion of the show, he serves up the gumbo to the audience. A brief video from this character appears below the Buffet. The “Sauce Boss” website can be accessed here.

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3 Responses to “Peasant Palate: I Will Make You Gumbo”


  1. 2 Jill December 16, 2009 at 10:24 am

    Thanks for the great recipe. It was the hit of the party.

  2. 3 jumar63 December 10, 2010 at 7:06 pm

    I think I will try to make this for Christmas this year, as long as I am healthy and able!


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