Making gumbo for Mardi Gras? One New Orleans chef says 'slow and low is the way to go.' Get his recipe.
New Orleans chef Eric Cook says 'patience and a glass of wine' are recommended when making his gumbo recipe in your own kitchen.
Gumbo is the state cuisine of Louisiana, so on a recent trip to New Orleans, trying as many gumbo recipes as possible was at the top of my must-do list. The flavorful soup, made from meat or shellfish (sometimes both), a thickener and the "holy trinity" — celery, bell peppers and onions — is typically served with a scoop of rice. A steaming bowl of gumbo is a delightful way to start a meal in NOLA, but the most spectacular version I tried was chef Eric Cook's recipe, served up at his restaurant, Gris-Gris.
After trying Cook's gumbo, all others paled in comparison. So, when I returned home, I reached out to him to ask if he'd share the recipe. To my delight, he agreed to share his gumbo recipe, made with slow-cooked chicken and savory andouille sausage.
But what makes gumbo such a quintessential New Orleans dish? Cook says every New Orleans family has its own gumbo recipe. "Gumbo has always been a staple. I guess you would say it's the medium across the board that unites everyone," he says. "Every family has their gumbo recipe that their grandmother made and they'll tell you, 'That's the best gumbo in the world.'"
At Gris-Gris, which Cook opened in 2018 after working for nearly 30 years in the New Orleans restaurant business, the gumbo is based on foods Cook's family made when he was growing up, as well as techniques he learned from the mothers of his close friends. "We're not trying to make the best gumbo in the world, because there's always somebody whose gumbo is better than yours," Cook asserts. "But the heart of a gumbo is the roux: to what level you cook the roux. I like a very dark dark roux … the darker the roux, the less thick the gumbo is."
"You're not trying to make a thick stew, but more of a dark brown flavorful soup with flavors of the onion and garlic and bell peppers," he adds. "That gives you that unique South Louisiana vibe."
To make the perfect roux, Cook says you need "practice and a good wooden spoon."
"A heavy-duty cast iron pot helps, too," he tells Yahoo Life. "It's a process. The whole process of gumbo from start to finish is probably four hours, maybe longer. But it's also that family time that makes gumbo one of those dishes — the kids are running in and out of the kitchen, everyone's coming through, it's part of the activity of daily life where you're in the kitchen and everyone knows you're making gumbo and something special is about to happen."
If during this lengthy process, the roux doesn't seem quite right — cooked through, not burned and a light chocolate brown in color — Cook says to throw it out and try again.
"One of the biggest things people go wrong on with a roux is they're making the roux and it's starting to get dark, but they don't remember the heat in that pan doesn't stop — it's going to keep on cooking it," he explains. "That wooden spoon and that pan are super important: You want to keep it moving around and keep stirring over a nice medium to low heat. Slow and low is the way to go."
When the roux reaches that perfect shade of brown, there's a simple way to stop the cooking process. "Your celery, onion and bell pepper you already have chopped up? Add that to the pot — that's the move," says Cook. "When the roux gets where you want it to be, throw them in and it stops the roux from heating up and burning. Add in those vegetables nice and slow and it stops the process of cooking the roux and begins the process of building flavors."
After adding diced onions, celery and bell peppers to the mix, it's time to add chicken stock, chicken and andouille sausage. Cook says to let those ingredients simmer for a few hours, developing their own flavors before seasoning with Worcestershire sauce, hot sauce and spices. "As it simmers, we call it 'cooking the roux out,'" says Cook. "You take that bite of gumbo and the roux is more of a hint in the back, not the first thing you get. You should get deep flavors from the sausage and the chicken stock — all those flavors lend themselves to the gumbo and that's where the variety and the ownership of the gumbo recipe happens."
I tried recreating the Gris-Gris gumbo recipe at home, setting aside an afternoon for cooking my roux and stirring my pot of soup. While time-consuming, Cook's recipe was easy to follow and produced a pot of gumbo that was almost as delicious as the version I was served at Gris-Gris.
In hindsight, I only wish I had cooked my roux a bit longer. Cook recommends three to five minutes, but even stirring the flour and oil in my pan for around seven minutes, I feel it could have gone longer. My gumbo was less soupy and thicker and stew-like than the Gris-Gris original, but otherwise, the flavor was spot on.
Cook recommends "patience" as you recreate his gumbo recipe, both of which I welcomed into my own kitchen during the process, along with my favorite Disney movie, The Princess and the Frog. After all, if Princess Tiana isn't keeping you company while you make gumbo, how do you know your dinner will end happily ever after? I wasn't willing to risk it.
Visually, every step of making this decadent gumbo was beautiful, from the vibrant colors of the chopped veggies to the contrast between the dark and savory andouille sausage and the lighter-colored pulled chicken. Overall, gumbo-making was a relaxing way to spend a few hours in my kitchen, and the exercise is paying dividends today as we eat leftovers, which are even more delicious the next day.
Want to make chef Eric Cook's Gris-Gris gumbo? He shares the recipe below.
Chicken and Andouille Gumbo
Courtesy of chef Eric Cook at Gris-Gris
Cooking time: 3 1/2 to 4 hours
1 whole chicken, cut into pieces
1 pound smoked andouille sausage, sliced
3 quarts chicken stock
1 tablespoon of Crystal hot sauce
1 teaspoon of Worcestershire sauce
3 bay leaves
½ tsp red pepper
1 cup vegetable oil
1 cup flour
2 cups diced onions
1 cup diced celery
1 cup diced red bell peppers
¼ cup minced garlic
salt and cracked black pepper to taste
Zatarain's Creole seasoning to taste
granulated garlic to taste
¼ cup chopped parsley
In a cast iron pot or skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat to approximately 350 F. Slowly whisk in flour, stirring constantly for 3-5 minutes or until roux is light chocolate in color. The temperature should reach 385 F to 395 F.
I like to use a wooden spoon for this recipe so you can really stir your roux. Patience and a glass of wine are recommended. Remember, the darker the roux the lesser the thickening power: a good South Louisiana gumbo is never too thick.
Put chicken into a large stockpot. Cover with water and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Add bay leaves and red pepper. Reduce heat, cover and simmer approximately 1 hour or until fully cooked.
Remove chicken from water. Reserve liquid and discard bay leaves. Remove meat from bones and set aside.
In a large Dutch oven, heat vegetable oil over medium heat. Slowly stir flour into oil and cook, stirring constantly, until a dark brown roux is achieved.
Add onions, celery, bell peppers and minced garlic and cook for 5 minutes.
Add reserved chicken liquid to roux, one ladle at a time, stirring constantly until all is incorporated.
Add picked chicken meat and andouille sausage. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer approximately 30-40 minutes.
Season to taste with Kosher salt, black pepper, Zatarain's Creole seasoning, Crystal hot sauce, Worcestershire sauce and granulated garlic. Add parsley, cover and simmer for at least 1 hour.
Ladle gumbo over steamed white rice and serve hot. Have a good potato salad for your Cajun friends.
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