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After all, gumbo is one of Louisiana’s most famous and popular culinary dishes.
You’ll find gumbo on the tables of the wealthy as well as the poor. And serious gumbo lovers tend to be passionate and picky about their gumbo ingredients. So, the last thing I wanted to do was offend any gumbo aficionados out there.
Lucky for me, I learned that gumbo can be made many different ways, despite the strong opinions. Louisiana gumbo has included everything from oysters, shrimp, chicken, sausage, turkey and even squirrel over the years (although the last ingredient isn’t as popular these days...).
Stanley Dry, of Southern Foodways Alliance, explains that versatile gumbo is “very forgiving of the cook. Measurements do not have to be exact, ingredients may be changed to use what is on hand, and unless the diners are so set in their ways that they can’t appreciate change, the result will be quite good.”
His words gave me hope. So, I decided to branch out into the world of gumbo.
Basically, gumbos tend to follow two rules:
1) They include rice, and
2) They are thickened with something, usually roux, okra or filé powder. (Okra and filé are rarely used together, say gumbo purists.)
Most of us think of gumbos are filled with seafood, or perhaps chicken and sausage. My husband doesn’t like seafood, so we made a gumbo with chicken, sausage, okra and other garden-fresh ingredients. We were inspired by Rachael Ray’s recipe but changed a few of the ingredients and directions.
Okra and Gumbo
You don’t have to include the vegetable okra in your gumbo. Many don’t.
But in Africa the term “gumbo” means okra (Hibiscus esculentus) and is one of the main ingredients in a soup or culinary dish. In fact, okra can be found growing wild in Ethiopia and along the upper Nile area of Africa, according to Texas A&M Extension Service. So, using okra in gumbo seemed only appropriate to me.
Although okra is popular in the south, it’s not as well known in other parts of the United States. When I asked for okra in a California grocery store, I received blank stares from the produce staff. Luckily, I found okra frozen and sliced. So, I used frozen, defrosted okra in my recipe.
I’ve never grown okra. But if you decide to grow okra, remember this advice from Texas A&M Extension Service: Harvest your okra pods quickly, before they grow old and tough. Okra grows very fast, especially in hot weather conditions. For best results, check your okra plant every two days and harvest pods when they are three to five days old.
Okra is rather “gooey” or mucilaginous, but you’ll find it adds flavor and great thickening power to this gumbo.
Fresh and Frozen Garden Ingredients
This gumbo recipe features onions and thyme picked straight from my garden, as well as tomatoes I froze last summer. (Learn how to freeze fresh foods as well as some of my fun ways to preserve foods. You can also read how to grow onions and make French onion soup.)
Tomatoes are a controversial topic to some gumbo lovers. Some reject them as ingredients, others want them. I added frozen tomatoes from my summer garden to my winter gumbo, and I’m glad I did.
Other recipes use canned tomatoes. I present both options in this recipe.
By the way, I didn’t peel and chop my tomatoes. I just dropped the entire slightly defrosted tomatoes into the soup pot. They quickly melted into the hot soup in a few minutes, adding flavor and color.
Some purists insist you must peel and deseed tomatoes before adding, but gumbo is a chunky dish and there are plenty of okra seeds already. So, why add extra work?
A Chicken and Sausage Gumbo Recipe
2 tablespoons extra virgin oil
2 lbs boneless chicken breasts, cut in bite-sized pieces
1 ½ lbs andouille sausage, cooked and sliced in rounds
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons fresh thyme or 2 teaspoons dry thyme (Use a sprinkle when browning chicken, and add remainder when cooking gumbo later)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 celery ribs from heart of the stalk, chopped
2 red bell peppers, seeded and diced
1 cup onions, peeled and chopped
2 bay leaves
1/4 to 3/4 teaspoon cayenne powder (we used 1/2 teaspoon and it had a bite)
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 quart chicken broth
3 cups chopped okra, fresh or defrosted frozen
2 cans (14 ounces) crushed tomatoes, or 8 medium-sized tomatoes
2 ½ cups of rice (we used brown balsamic rice)
1) Preheat a large soup pot over medium-high heat. Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil and turn the pan, adding 1 pound of the diced chicken. Season with salt, pepper and a sprinkle of thyme. Brown chicken on all sides for a few minutes.
2) Transfer chicken to a big dish, and repeat with the rest of the chicken. Add remaining olive oil, turn the pan and season the chicken pieces again, as you brown them.
3) Spoon chicken pieces and sliced sausages into another pan. Set aside.
4) Return soup pot to heat, and melt the butter. Add onions and cook for a few minutes until they soften slightly. Add celery, peppers and bay. Season with salt, pepper and cayenne, and let veggies cook 3 to 5 minutes over medium heat. Add flour and cook a couple minutes, stirring frequently. Slowly add in the broth, and bring to a boil.
5) Add okra and sausage to boiling broth. Add tomatoes and rest of thyme. Bring back to a boil. Reduce heat to a slow, gentle boil. Cover pan partly with lid, and simmer for hour. Stir regularly.
6) Add chicken and simmer 15 to 20 minutes more.
7) Spoon rice into the center of each bowl of gumbo, using an ice cream scoop or small measuring cup. Serve immediately.
This nutritious soup tastes even better the next day. Enjoy!