Chicken & Turkey Andouille Gumbo

IMG_2674Where I’m originally from, in South Louisiana, there are probably as many different recipes for gumbo as there are people who say “y’all” as a pronoun. In other words, far too many to count! In a state made up of so many strong cultural influences (Spanish, French, German, Irish, African, and Native American to name just a few), it’s no surprise that there would be so many takes on a relatively simple idea.

The story of gumbo is such an ingrained part of Louisiana folklore and heritage that no one is sure which group deserves credit for having “created” it. It was the Choctaw Indians who taught the French about kombo (the crushed sassafras leaves we now call filé). It was likely the French who added the flour-based thickening process called roux. It probably was the Cajuns (the exiled Acadian French) who decided to blacken the roux. Most likely, too, it was the slaves from West Africa who added okra to the pot to sometimes replace or enhance the filé or the roux.

Whomever might rightfully lay claim to these additions isn’t clear, but one thing is for sure: Louisiana invented gumbo. A single taste of good gumbo can transport you. One minute you’re sitting in your office chair, looking at a spreadsheet. Next, you’re sitting in a pirogue drifting lazily down the bayou on a sultry summer evening with strains of zydeco flowing on the breeze. You probably think I’m exaggerating!

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Gumbo is no ordinary soup or stew — this is culinary alchemy at its finest. Not a single ingredient is added by chance. Instead, each ingredient added is a very purposeful layer of flavor — added in a certain order to build a richer and deeper flavor rather than cooking away into the background.

Though Louisiana-style cuisine has taken great strides to reach the many corners of the country in recent years thanks to restaurants and pre-packaged convenience foods, there have been some unfortunate misconceptions born along the way as a result. If you aren’t from the South and you’ve had an encounter with gumbo north of the Mason-Dixon line, you might make a few assumptions: 1) it always involves some kind of seafood, 2) it’s always spicy because every food from Louisiana is blazing hot, 3) it’s salty, smells funny, and it involves a seasoning packet poured from a box. Let’s dispel a few of those rumors.

Gumbo can essentially be broken into two classes: Cajun-style and Creole-style.

Cajun gumbo — Dark and rich in color. Always contains the “holy trinity” (onion, celery, and IMG_2700bell pepper) in a quantity that makes for a slightly chunky texture. May include seafood but most often includes sausage, chicken, or other fowl. Filé powder is typically added at the end of cooking as a flavoring and as a thickener. In general, this gumbo tends to be on the spicy side, but not necessarily the kind of spicy that makes your eyes water and your forehead sweat.

Creole gumbo — Not as dark as Cajun gumbo, but still very rich. Often tomato-based, so slightly more acidic than Cajun-style. The “holy trinity” is sometimes used but often strained out before serving. Always includes seafood of some sort and, in general, similar to the French soup bouillabaisse. Frequently makes use of okra as a thickener. Not generally spicy.

As you might expect, definitions, rules and categories rarely hold up in the kitchen; a realm where personal taste, tradition, IMG_3447and sometimes practicality are more often the guiding principles. So, you might be surprised to learn that — though my father is a fisherman by trade — I do not care for seafood gumbo or most seafood, for that matter.

Understandably, then, the gumbo recipe that I developed leans much further to the Cajun side than the Creole. Also, since I tend to be health conscious, I tried to cut out any unnecessary fat. And, since I tend to be easily frazzled in the kitchen, I did my best to streamline the process so that everything gets cooked in one pot for easy clean-up.

By the way, did you notice that neither the Cajun nor the Creole variety comes from a box? It’s true: nothing needed to make gumbo comes from a box. Instead, the ingredients you need are very basic and most of them might already be in your spice cabinet, pantry, or freezer.

Let’s talk a little about the process and ingredients:

Salt-free Cajun spice blend: While you can readily find Cajun spice blends in the supermarket, these days, I find that most of them contain salt — and way too much of it. There are also some newer ones that contain a sort of salt substitute that tastes rather vile. So, if you prefer to purchase a ready-made spice blend, be sure it doesn’t contain salt. The easier alternative is to mix up a batch at home where you can be in total control of the salt.

Uncle Jason’s No-Salt Cajun Blend
Yields approximately 2 tablespoons

    1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
    1 teaspoon garlic powder
    1 teaspoon onion powderIMG_3442
    1 teaspoon dried parsley
    3/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
    1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
    1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika
    1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
    1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

    Mix all ingredients thoroughly. Use immediately or store in an airtight container. I keep a bunch of this in a bottle in my spice cabinet. We love sprinkling it on eggs, vegetables — just about anything, actually.

Andouille sausage has become very popular in recent years to the point that you’re likely to find it either pre-packaged near the other sausages or in the meat case at your supermarket. For this recipe, I chose to use turkey andouille since it has less fat. While I love the smokiness and spiciness of andouille, you can substitute a milder sausage if you wish. We’ve even had success using turkey kielbasa!

Roux, though it sounds Frenchy and foreboding is actually quite simple. Basically, it is a cooked mixture of flour and fat that thickens into a gravy or sauce when stock, milk, or cream is gradually added. In the IMG_3449case of a gumbo roux, however, the flour is browned ALMOST to the point of burning before any liquids are added. This is one of the backbones of the gumbo flavor, so be sure to brown your roux properly. Though some recipes call for 1/2 cup or more of butter and/or oil, for my recipe, I chose to lessen the fat in the roux-making process. After trial and error, I found that the extra fat wasn’t necessary and no one missed it.

A bit of advice: you may want to open some windows and make sure your kitchen is well-ventilated. Cajun cooking often involves high heat at the beginning of the process and this usually means a fair amount of smoke. When frying the chicken and preparing the roux, you may experience more smoke than you’re used to. In this case, though, you want the smoke, you just don’t want the smoke alarms to go off!

IMG_3443Filé (pronounced “FEE-lay”) is becoming more and more common in supermarket spice aisles. Filé is nothing more than crushed dried sassafras leaves. Living here in the Midwest, I’ve had to explain on more than one occasion: a) it is not spicy, b) it is not made of seafood, and c) try it, you will like it. While it does add a unique texture to the finished gumbo and an interesting herbal tea-like taste, if you can’t find filé at the store and you don’t own a Sassafras Tree, it is an optional ingredient.

Chicken & Turkey Andouille Gumbo
A Tales of Thyme & Place Original
Serves 10

    3 pounds chicken cut into serving pieces, wings discarded
    1 tablespoon no-salt Cajun Seasoning Blend (see recipe above)
    1 teaspoon kosher salt
    12 ounces turkey andouille sausage, sliced into 1/4-inch half-moons
    1/2 cup water
    1/4 cup vegetable oil
    1 cup all-purpose flour
    1 large white onion, chopped
    3 ribs celery, coarsely chopped
    1 large green bell pepper, chopped
    4 large cloves garlic, minced
    2 quarts low-sodium chicken stock
    1 quart water
    2 bay leaves
    2 teaspoons dried thyme
    1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
    5 teaspoons filé powder (optional)

    Pat the chicken pieces dry; using fingers, loosen skin on all pieces. In a small bowl, combine the Cajun Seasoning Blend and the salt. Sprinkle the mixture evenly under the skin and on the back side of the chicken pieces.

    Heat a 7-8 quart Dutch oven over medium-high heat until very hot; add the turkey andouille and cook, stirring occasionally, until well-browned (2-3 minutes). Transfer the sausage to a large bowl. Add 1/2 cup water to the pot; scrape up the browned bits. Pour this liquid into the bowl with the sausage. Return the pot to the heat.

    To the pot, add the vegetable oil and heat until shimmering. Add half of the seasoned chicken pieces (do not crowd the pan); cook until browned on both sides (3-4 minutes per side). Remove the browned chicken pieces, placing them in the bowl with the browned sausage; brown the remaining pieces in the same manner, removing them when browned.

    To the hot oil remaining in the pot, add the flour and stir constantly with a wooden spoon or heatproof spatula until the mixture darkens to the color of caramel (4-8 minutes). Add the chopped onion, stir until combined; cook, stirring frequently, until mixture darkens to the color of milk chocolate (4-8 minutes). Add the celery, bell pepper, and garlic; cook stirring frequently until vegetables are slightly softened (3-4 minutes). Stir in the chicken stock, water, and the entire contents of the large bowl of sausage and chicken. Add the bay leaves and dried thyme; bring to a boil, lower heat, then simmer uncovered 45 minutes or until chicken is completely cooked.

    Once cooked, remove the chicken pieces from the pot, placing them on a large plate to cool. Once the pieces are cool enough to handle, remove the meat discarding the skin and bones. Pull the meat into bite-sized pieces and return it to the pot.

    Just before serving, stir in the chopped parsley and season with hot sauce (if desired). Serve over rice in large soup bowls. Sprinkle each serving with 1/2 teaspoon of file powder, stir thoroughly to thicken. (Note: only add the filé to hot gumbo; filé will cause a stringy texture if added prior to reheating.)

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For those who are concerned about eating spicy foods, you might substitute a milder sausage and forgo the Tabasco Sauce as a precaution. As for us, we’re okay with a little bit of heat. I typically add about 1 teaspoon of Tabasco to the whole pot. Coupled with the andouille, that’s plenty for us.

The smell of a kitchen where gumbo is being prepared is not unlike a carnival for the eyes and the nose. The eyes can behold all the colors — reds, greens, golds, browns — each contributing to the melting pot. For the nose, a parade of piquant ingredients processes through the air, flaunting colors and sizzling exotically. How many dishes can give you at once the smell of roasting sausages, fried chicken, the smoky notes of a campfire, fried onion rings…? Only gumbo — a word practically synonymous with flavor. Whether it’s a chilly spring evening or a sizzling summer night, you can treat yourself to a bowl of southern hospitality any time.

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~ by Jason on May 26, 2011.

9 Responses to “Chicken & Turkey Andouille Gumbo”

  1. I needed this recipe and a reminder of home…Thanks…its like being back at SLU at Gumbo Ya-Ya

  2. Wow! I have just learned a lot about gumbo, and I am impressed! Your descriptions and recipes are enticing. MMM…. I’ll have to try this.

    I am a little *red-faced* to say that the only gumbo I have ever had is the Campbell’s version. And I love soup, so I will have to fix this problem!

    • Thanks for reading! I make this particular recipe probably twice a year — I made it just last week, in fact. It’s especially good for when it’s cold out and you could use something spicy to enliven the senses. 🙂

  3. I just showed my 16 year old this post, and she really likes the photo with the Tabasco bottle. We both think it would be an awesome piece of kitchen artwork to hang! Good eye!

    • Thanks! That’s actually one of my favorites, too… so naturally it kills me that the foreground is just a tad blurry! 😀

      My approach to recipe photography is one of haphazardness: I take lots of shots from different angles, clump lots of things into one space, and hope I find something salvageable when I come back to the photos later.

  4. Well, I tried your recipe, and I give it an A+! I could not find andouille sausage anywhere, so I tried chorizo. Mmmm… the only thing I modified was the amount of oil- the sausage produced so much when I fried it, that I did not need more- and the amount of flour. I also did not have quite as large of pot that you recommend, so I used about 2c. less liquid. I served it on white jasmine rice, and it was SO tasty. Even my four kids ate the new recipe, which does not always happen. And I am so glad you said that it smokes more than I might be used to- you’re right!- I would have been alarmed otherwise… great,clear instructions. Makes me want to try more of your creations!

    • Oh wow… chorizo, huh? I’ll bet that was zesty. Andouille can be hard to find. We had trouble finding it once we moved away from Chicago but finally located a reliable source or two. The trouble is that andouille isn’t a very consistent flavor even once you find it. Some that we’ve tried has been all smoke and no heat or vice versa — and, just like your chorizo, some andouille is fattier than others and so you have to adjust the recipe. The important thing is to use a sausage that you like.

      So happy to hear everyone enjoyed it. Maybe you can make gumbo a wintry tradition. 😀

  5. Oh yeah- I actually like the blurry foreground on your picture. It makes the eye focus on the Tabasco and other crisp colours.

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