Chicken & Sausage Gumbo

When we moved to Louisiana, I decided that I was going to embrace the experience, especially when it came to the food. I set out to try everything I could and to not be scared, even if it was something I’d never eaten before.

What I discovered was this: Louisiana is famous for their food for a reason. It can be amazing. That said, just because a kitchen is located in Louisiana doesn’t mean the food that comes out of it is going to be automatically fabulous. There are some recipes and methods that people might consider retiring (like all the times I’ve experienced un-de-veined shrimp…seriously, guys, it’s poop.)

I had some bad run-ins with gumbo. The first was a fishy (and not in a good way) shrimp gumbo. And then there was a super-bland gumbo that kind of tasted like lifeless chicken soup. And then there was the epic nightmare of gumbo with okra. Funny thing–turns out I don’t like okra. It makes food taste like morning sickness–like I knew in my brain that it tasted good, but my gag reflex was in overdrive. And then I had some at a fancy-ish restaurant in New Orleans and it was just flat-out gross. And then I had gumbo that I was pretty sure could have been good, but the roux had burned and once the roux burns, it’s all over.

So I kind of gave up on gumbo. I felt like I’d given it a fair shake. I could see how it could be good, but it just seemed like too many things could go wrong. It was like the J-Lo of Cajun cuisine and I wasn’t willing to put up with her high-maintenance antics.

And then in December, I met up with my son for lunch at his plantation field trip and one of the teachers made gumbo. And it was incredible. After an unbelievably stressful fall, heck, a stressful year, and then a house full of sick kids at home, including a baby with RSV, and Christmas on its way, I felt like it fed my soul. It was seriously comfort food at its finest.

One thing I loved about it is that her recipe was simple. I didn’t get her recipe, but from what I could tell, it wasn’t more than a dark roux, celery, bell pepper, onions, garlic, chicken broth, tender chunks of chicken, and smoked sausage. A lot of recipes call for fresh herbs, additional spices, other vegetables, and then there are the meats-gumbo can be loaded up with all sorts of meat, ranging from wild game to seafood. And the best part? It was okra-free.

So I went on a quest to try all sorts of gumbo in hopes of making my own that I liked just as much as the gumbo I had on the field trip. Turns out I do not hate gumbo. In fact, I kind of love it.

The ingredients are simple–so simple, in fact, that it’s kind of magical that it ends up tasting the way it does. The base of the flavor comes from a vegetable oil with a high smoke point (like peanut or canola), flour, and chicken broth.

gumbo chicken broth, oil, and flour

Really, you should probably use a low-sodium chicken broth because so many of the other ingredients are salty that you want to be able to control the saltiness.

You’re also going to need vegetables–the “holy trinity” (chopped celery, onion, and green bell pepper) and a whole bunch of garlic.

holy trinity plus garlic

And finally, you’re going to need meat. Lots of meat. For the chicken, I just picked the white and dark meat off of a rotisserie chicken. As far as sausage goes, if you’re living in the South, it’s easy to find really good smoked sausage at pretty much any grocery store. If you can’t find a good smoked or andouille sausage at your local grocery store, try Costco or Sam’s Club–they often have really high-quality options. Another good choice is to check with your butcher; many butchers make their own smoked sausages and they can be incredible.

chicken and sausage

Now…the scariest part of this whole experience is making the roux. This roux is totally different than any other kind of roux I’ve ever made–usually, roux is used to thicken soups and sauces and custards. Here, it is solely used for flavor; this particular gumbo is not thick at all. And it’s not made with a tasty oil like butter or olive oil, it’s made with plain ol’ vegetable oil. And yet the roux is what makes the gumbo so delicious–it gives the gumbo the rich, smoky flavor. If you make it right, you’ll have a hit on your hands. If it burns or if you don’t get it dark enough, it will be ruined.

I tried, I really did, to get pictures of this whole process, but I don’t have any natural light in my kitchen. The chances of me screwing everything up by moving back and forth between my kitchen and the window were so great that I didn’t want to risk it, so we’re going to play the imagination game here.

In a large, heavy pot (like a Dutch oven), heat the oil over medium heat until very hot (about 3-4 minutes). Add the flour and whisk until smooth, then use a wooden spoon or spatula to stir the mixture until it becomes the color of caramel (about 15-20 minutes). You may need to reduce to heat to medium low if you start feeling like you can’t stir fast enough to keep it from sticking on the bottom or burning. If it burns (and you start seeing black flecks–not 1 or 2 black flecks, but several), you’ll need to toss it and start over. If you don’t start over, you will be sad 3 hours from now when your gumbo is horrible.

When the roux is brown (approximately the color of melted caramel or turkey gravy, or darker–you can go as dark as chocolate if you like it and you know you can pull it off), add the onions, celery, and bell pepper. Cook for 4-6 minutes or until fragrant and the vegetables are tender. Add the minced garlic and cook for another 2-3 minutes. Add the chicken broth and bay leaf and whisk until the roux and broth are combined. Bring to a boil, then add the sausage and chicken. Cover and reduce to a simmer. Cook for 1 hour. Skim the oil off the top, then simmer for another hour. Skim for oil again. Season to taste with Cajun seasoning (look for Tony Chachere’s and skip the tiny expensive jars) and Tabasco sauce (the Cajun seasoning is salty and spicy, and the Tabasco is just spicy, so if you have enough salt, but need a little more heat, add some Tabasco).

To serve, place about 1/2 cup of hot white rice in the bottom of a bowl. Ladle the gumbo on top of the rice, making sure to get sausage, chicken, and broth in each bowl. Serves 10-12 (or 8-10 very large servings).

final gumbo

Now…the very best things you can possibly make your gumbo in is a large cast-iron Dutch oven or in an enamel-coated cast iron pan (often called a French oven) like a Le Creuset pot. They retain heat well and distribute it evenly, so you’re less likely to run into burning.

It’s February. If you live in the Northern Hemisphere, pretty much no matter where you live, it is dreary and dark and blah-ish. Perfect gumbo weather. “But alas,” you say, “I don’t have anything to cook my gumbo in.”

That’s why you need one of these:

Click on the picture for details on how to enter–comments on this post are for the gumbo only and any giveaway entries on this post will be deleted.

So happy Mardi Gras to you! For other Mardi Gras-friendly recipes, click here. And since Valentine’s Day is also this week, click here for all sorts of awesome Valentine’s Day ideas. Apparently it’s also the Chinese New Year (maybe THIS year will finally be the end of the world since all this magic is happening at once). We don’t have tons of Chinese-specific recipes, but if you’re looking for a little Asian flair, here are some ideas!

woman in denim shirt holding a salad bowl
Meet The Author

Sara Wells

Sara Wells co-founded Our Best Bites in 2008. She is the author of three Bestselling Cook Books, Best Bites: 150 Family Favorite RecipesSavoring the Seasons with Our Best Bites, and 400 Calories or Less from Our Best Bites. Sara’s work has been featured in many local and national news outlets and publications such as Parenting MagazineBetter Homes & GardensFine CookingThe Rachel Ray Show and the New York Times.

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Questions & Reviews

  1. “Coming back”…it was awesome. Never made gumbo before. Will totally make again. Mine looks nothing like your picture; much more muddy. T’was delish! Will not hesitate to make again. I used three links of sausage, a package of chicken tenderloins and simmered them prior to adding to the boil. At the very end I added 1/2 pound shrimp for the heck of it. We had four people eating and there is enough for two people for a light lunch tomorrow. Excellent and easy. Thank you!!!

  2. So funny! I am from Thibodaux, LA (now live in TX) and that is the exact way I make gumbo! Don’t worry I hate okra too. It is all slimy and gross. So glad you are bringing this dish to everyone. It is my winter time staple. The best thing is to put a little file (fee-lay) on it when you put it in the bowl. PERFECT!!!

  3. As an add-on, don’t feel bad about the gumbo. I grew up in New Orleans, but the first time I ever made dirty rice, after helping my mom make it for years and years, I ended up with a pot of it big enough to feed an army. I knew what it was supposed to taste like, but didn’t exactly know the right proportions!!!!

  4. I made gumbo once, and it was just kinda of meh. I wanted it to be incredible, so I was disappointed. But your recipe makes me want to give it another go.

  5. What’s really good about gumbo is that people with diabetes can eat it, if you cook brown rice and limit the amount of rice in your bowl. And heck, gumbo is good all by itself. Johnsonville has a wonderful new andouille sausage too that goes really good in gumbo.

    I’m glad it’s February because we’re beginning to be able to play golf again, since it’s not raining every day here in the Northwest. And it’s not so frigidly cold. Along with that, we’ll start seeing fresh fruits and veggies again real soon. Although we have a lot better luck here, because we have the fresh apples and pears and things like that still going for us.

    Another thing, if people would like a spicy cajun seasoning, have them look for Benoit’s Best. It’s made in Baton Rouge and we quite literally use it on everything and in everything,

  6. Let’s see, the best thing about February is Valentine Day. Then you are closer to Spring coming, my favorite season! Knowing that things will soon start to warm up and green up! Your gumbo sounds good, I don’t think that I’ve ever had any, so I must try this soon.

  7. Thanks for the recipe. I will give it a try. My tried & true one comes from a Louisiana cookbook I purchased from a group of church women. Nothing like recipes from a southern woman’s kitchen.

  8. Simmering away…the roux took longer even at gas mark 6. I added one box low sodium chicken broth and four cups water so I can control the sodium. Lots of flavors going on. I know it is going to be awesome. Thanks for making it tangible.

  9. This looks yummy! I noticed you didn’t list the Cajun seasoning an tobasco in the list of ingredients but its in the recipe description.

  10. Glad that you found a gumbo you like ! I’ve been making gumbo for more years than I’d like to admit. My Mama grew up in the Jennings , La. area, and I still have family in the area. I’m in Southeast TX. If you keep “practicing” , you’ll find that the flavor of your gumbo will evolve and develop a richness and different flavor over the years. Mine has. My roux is a little different every time I make it. Sometimes it’s really dark, and sometimes it’s a little lighter. I found a wonderful sausage , made in Buna, TX, Beasley’s sausage, that has green onions and jalapenos in it and it is wonderful in chicken gumbo. It adds just enough of a kick without being too hot. I make my gumbo several gallons at a time and freeze it in 2 quart containers. When we’re in the mood for it, we just take out a container and make some rice !

  11. I am Glad you love gumbo! This is basically the way I make it so simple and yummy. My kids adore it too, I just have to tell my 5 year old it’s rice and gravy. Another easy way to do it rather than the rotisserie chicken is to just throw what ever pieces of chicken you want raw into the pot and let it cook in there. Then you get the bones flavor too. I always make my roux caramel colored mostly because once it starts browning, I get scared I’m going to burn it, lol!

    1. That’s TOTALLY how I am–once I spend 20 minutes chopping and meat-picking, and another 20 minutes in a complete panic that I’m going to burn the roux, plus knowing it has 2 hours of cooking to go, I’d rather have a lighter roux than start over. 🙂

  12. Gumbo without okra? I’ll have to give it a try but I think I’ll miss the okra. Your recipes are usually very good.

    1. You’re TOTALLY welcome to add okra–it’s not going to hurt anything. I just HATE the texture.

  13. Yay!! I JUST got back from the grocery store and bought everything in the recipe. I’m making gumbo tomorrow for my inlaws and really needed a fail proof recipe. Thank you!

  14. This looks wonderful. I love soups in the winter and this looks easy to throw together and perfect for a dreary day.

  15. I grew up in Texas and my Dad and his family are all from the Opelousas/Ville Platte area and my gumbo recipe has been passed down for at least 4 generations. You actually need a dark roux like Theresa mentions to be authentic gumbo, not caramel color. It should be like chocolate and the taste is magnified greatly. I guess for most people that haven’t had gumbo before your caramel way is fine. I don’t really care how other people make it.

    Becky, when I make gumbo, I put in raw or frozen chicken with my water and sausage and let it boil while I cook my roux. After the roux has been added and cooks for an hour or two I take the chicken out and shred it. That way you get all the flavors from the chicken already in your water.

    1. Yep, everyone makes it differently. I like a darker roux, but I also like it lighter like this particular go-around, which is why, in the instructions, I said you could make the roux as dark as chocolate.

  16. It’s tender and flavorful and not mushy at all, I promise. 🙂 A lot of flavor in the gumbo comes from simmering the meat for that long.

  17. I’m just wondering how the chicken turns out in this?? It calls for pre-cooked chicken and then cook it for 2 hours? In recipes like this, the directions usually call for waiting and stirring it in the last 15 minutes…

  18. Just wanted to say thanks for making my Monday, Wednesday and Friday’s exciting. I look forward to seeing what fun new recipe you’ve posted and what ramblings you’ve got for me to read! Always entertaining AND amazing to see all the stuff that you ladies do. You inspire me (and exhaust me just thinking about it!!! 😉 )

  19. As someone who grew up eating her Pop’s gumbo that was “famous” with all of our friends and neighbors- let me let you in on a little roux secret- BAKE it in the oven at 350. Start it on the stove just like you mention above but after it’s all combined- just pop your dutch oven into your actual oven and then just whisk it and check it every fifteen minutes. Voila! A dark- rich foux “the color of fudge” my pop said without burning or scorching to ruin the taste. The indirect heat allows you to cook it as long as it needs to darken without burning and without constant non-stop stirring. Another tip is that you can make up a big batch of roux at once and then store it in a mason jar in the fridge for about 3-4 months.

    1. I was born and raised in Utah, definitely not a southern bone in my body. My husband asked me for gumbo a few years back. I found a slightly complicated recipe and made that for a few years before I turned it in for this recipe when it was published. This recipe is so much simpler and sooo delicious. Each time I make it, I challenge myself to make my roux darker than the time before. Tonight, I finally tried your suggestion, Theresa! Oh my easy peasy. Thank you for helping out a Utah girl! I was able to get my roux “the color of fudge”. Although the gumbo’s still simmering, I can tell by my few taste tests that this is going to be my best gumbo, yet!

  20. This looks delicious! I am wondering if the roux would still work if I substituted almond or coconut meal for the flour in an attempt to make it gluten-free…

    1. I would google gluten-free gumbo and see what recipes use the substitutions you’re most comfortable with–there are lots of subs out there, so it’s definitely possible. 🙂

    2. I use pamela’s bread mix as an all purpose flour in just about everything. I’ve made a roux with it before and it works great.

      And Kate- I’m Louisiana born so I need okra in mine but I totally get that’s kinda gross 🙂

  21. Oh yum!! I was going to make your not-so-dirty dirty rice again this year for Mardi Gras dinner, but I may have to see if I can find some andouille here in Utah (apparently, I’d have to drive out to Colossimo’s, which is not close to me, LOL) and try it because I love gumbo!!

    1. Andouille is good, but you don’t HAVE to get, especially if it’s a pain. Make things easy on yourself and get some regular smoked sausage. 🙂

  22. Hooray! I love gumbo, but have only made my husbands recipe. He lived in Louisana for a few years and taught me to cook Cajun. I’m ready to try a new recipe! And for the record okra is a no. Just plain no.

  23. Your pic is way way better than mine! I must have okra in my gumbo, but being a Louisiana gal, I love okra. Especially when my Uncle Stan grows it for me in his garden. Have you considered bacon drippings for your roux oil? It’s pretty fantastic in any cajun stuff requiring a roux. Also, ya forgot to call it Cajun Napalm 😉 sticky and burns like crazy!

    1. Oh, my gosh, I bet bacon is amazing! I’ll have to try it sometime! You can keep the okra, though! 😉