Gumbo Wasn’t Easy

This will be a long post. If you are just reading for the method and ingredients just scroll down. It’s ok, I won’t be offended.


I have been asked by Kristian (psst check his blog out for some mystery short stories that will have you scratching your head trying to figure them out before the reveal) for my Gumbo recipe and it’s a great opportunity to share my story of how I came to learn to make it. A little back history: I am a born and raised Texas girl where southern hospitality is extended in my northern home (moved here for…ok that’s another post for another time) and my pride in my upbringing is something that cannot be taken away. My children, all born in the south, still receive ridicule for accents, manners, having a strict upbringing or just being born south of the Mason-Dixon line but we all find comfort in my cooking. Southern women take pride in our cooking and it’s how we show our love and other emotions. Lost a loved one? We are showing up with a casserole and time. It’s hot outside but we want to visit? Sweet tea, some sort of cookie, and a front porch are in order. Sunday dinner? Fried chicken. It’s your turn to feed an oil field’s worth of workers? Crawfish boil. Crowd to feed, Christmas gathering (not eve or the day just during the month) or it’s cold outside? GUMBO!

Before I jump into the list of ingredients and method of cooking there is a difference between Cajun Gumbo and Creole Gumbo. I found a lovely article that explains in simple detail about the two. Now, every house has its own version of a gumbo recipe just like fried chicken (yup I have my own) but it’s not really the recipe that matters so much but rather the method in which it’s cooked. Believe it or not my grandmother didn’t teach me to make gumbo, and old Cajun woman that was friends with my grandmother taught me. We would leave Texas and drive a few hours over into Louisianna and sit and visit for a spell and this is what allowed me to learn so much in that kitchen. From here on out there was NEVER a recipe written down and passed to me. It was a method taught and a few scribbles that I managed on my hand with a horribly, ‘close to drying up pen’ decades ago that I have people ask for all the time (the recipe that is, but no one is will to sit in the kitchen with me to learn).

It was a cold fall day and I was only a 12-year-old girl that loved to be in the kitchen with the older women. That’s when I also learned what it meant to have an old soul which that’s what they told me all the time. The subject came up about how the temperature was going to drop down into the 50’s (yup, I’m cold when it’s 70° out) and the debate over what type of soup to serve everyone came about. Sissy was going to teach me how to make HER gumbo recipe. The baton is being passed and it’s a great responsibility and not to be taken lightly. My young-self thought I was going to be handed a recipe card and just watch. Boy, was I wrong! I’m not going to have you go and slaughter your own chicken or use your grandpa’s meat grinder to make your own Cajun sausage so some things are substituted. Sissy said, ‘I’m not going to give you a card.’ In a Cajun accent, I could barely understand, ‘I’m going to teach you the secrets of my gumbo. You’re not going to watch you’re going to cook. I’ll show and help you ONE time.’ I learned that it literally is about taste, sight, feels, and love.

I was amazed at all the different ingredients she had on her counter and thought, ‘This SO isn’t worth the time.’ and wanted to give up there. This is an ALL day affair too, so be prepared to become one with your kitchen. But here is my updated list of ingredients that you’ll need:

Mess and Scants of Ingredients

  • One Whole Chicken – Boil until done and pick your chicken and set aside. KEEP YOUR BROTH! You will need that and water (enough to give you about 8 cups total liquid). If you cheat this step, Sissy can tell (I tried one time and she spat it out and said she could taste the can). But if you’re on a time crunch 8 cups of good chicken stock and a rotisserie chicken picked clean will work.
  • Yellow Onions-Dice your onions. How much you ask? Sometimes I dice up 1 sometimes 2. For this, I’ll say 2 smallish to medium onions or 1 large onion.
  • Celery-diced. Sissy used an entire bunch but I’ve been known to do as little as 6 stalks. Secret time: PEEL the celery before dicing. I know it sounds weird but I’ve learned that it’s just better when peeled-IN ANYTHING really.
  • Green onions! Trust me, an entire bunch of these beauties needs to be diced for this dish.
  • 1 super large bell or 2 smallish bells-Bell peppers that is. Take out the seeds and white veiny parts. Slice and dice.
  • Garlic-Peeled and finely diced. Don’t be afraid to use this! I normally do about 5-6 cloves worth but since it’s your first time start with 4.
  • Cajun or Creole seasoning. I’m heavy handed with the seasoning but start with 1 1/2 tbsps. You can always add but you can’t take out. ‘Slap Ya Mama’ is good and so is ‘Tony Chachere’s Creole Seasoning’. I personally use Tony’s when I’m feeling lazy and want to cut a corner but you can follow any seasoning recipe online. I still adjust the premixed seasoning but it’s a good start. It took many years to get it how I like it but start with a basic seasoning.
  • Okra-This is where it gets a little tricky with the thickening. If you can’t get fresh okra frozen will be ok to add but will add more liquid and no thickening. If you are able to get fresh okra it will thicken nicely and not as much roux will be needed.
  • Fresh Shrimp or crab or both- If not available frozen will do but more liquid will be added. Account for this with the thickening agents. About a pound will do of the seafood.
  • Boudin Sausage-This is a cajun sausage and is hard to come by. I do order it specially when my family isn’t able to bring some from back home when visiting. If neither of those options will work, Andouille sausage is good to use and if that’s not available, another cajun spiced sausage will work. IF neither of those is available a smoked sausage such as Hillshire brand will work. Slice the sausage and brown on both sides. Trust me, the level of flavor goes up a notch and the added texture breaks through the stew. Oh, about a pound will do.
  • Roux makings-In reality this is eyeing and adding a little more of this and a little more of that. I use butter but vegetable oil will work and All Purpose flour.
    To make your roux you’re going to want to with a 1 part butter/oil to two parts flour. On a medium-low heat stir and cook until it’s a beautiful chocolate brown. This works double duty giving your gumbo a nutty flavor while thickening. Remember the tricky parts and possible extra liquid additions? This is where you are going to want to make a little extra roux to add to thicken the stew. You can make the roux in advance or the day of. I do it the day of because cooking for me is therapeutic and get’s me back to a time when things weren’t complicated or when I was…well, me.
    THIS IS WHERE I DEVIATE-SISSY PROBABLY ISN’T HAPPY
  • 1 small can of tomato sauce (this helps when you are feeding little ones or you can’t handle as much spice).

Sissy’s Method (I tried my best giving measurements but again I still cook it the way I was shown)

Imagine you’ve already slaughtered your chicken and have it boiling in a pot (add enough water to cover your chicken and boil until the chicken is done). Sissy: You ready for some chicken-pickin’? When your chicken is done just pick the meat off the bones and set both the ‘chicken water’ and meat aside. Peel and chop the veggies. Sissy: These came from the garden and the herbs from the neighbor when we are done we’ll have a mess that we can take to the neighbors. Girl, add some of that chicken water to the pan and scrape up them flavor bits and add to the pot of chicken water. You can do this OR (which I do) is saute the veggies in the sausage drippings for a little more flavor then add a little broth to deglaze the yumminess and add to my ‘chicken water.’ In the same pan add ingredients for the roux. When you have your roux at the right color and consistency (thick like frosting and a chocolate color). In the chicken water add veggies, sausage, chicken, seasoning, and roux. If you can’t get fresh okra, more roux. If you can’t get fresh seafood and need to use frozen, more roux. At this point, you’re probably wondering how much roux is needed. Always make too much roux. You can save leftovers for about a while in an airtight container in the fridge or freezer. The only time I’ve thrown it away is when the oil separates. You want to obtain a thick stew consistency. I usually cook on low heat for about 4-5 hours stirring here and there. Don’t let it stick. After a while, take a taste out of the bowl of magic. Does it need more spices? Add a scant, stir, cook for a few minutes and repeat until you have faith in its healing powers. Is it too spicy? Don’t toss it. Add the tomato sauce, stir, cook and taste again. If it’s still too spicy and more tomato sauce. Still to spicy? I don’t know what to tell you other than, ‘Why did you add so much seasoning if you knew you couldn’t handle it?’ But I do have one more trick that will help. When you are satisfied with the level of spice, add the seafood and cook until the seafood is done.

When your pot of soul touching goodness is ready, serve over white rice or dump the rice on top. Whichever you choose. For the, ‘It’s still to spicy crowd,’ add some cold butter to your rice and pour the gumbo on top. The butter will help cut the spice and have some milk on hand.

It took me cooking this method of Sissy’s for 4 years until she deemed it as good as her mama’s. Every time we visited I bought the necessary ingredients and would slave over her stove (both summer and winter) for hours just for her to tell me, ‘No, close but you’re missing the soul. Where’s the love?’ I think what she really wanted was for me to have pride in my gumbo and serve it with love to the people I love. Give it a try and if you get stuck or have any questions send them my way. I won’t be harsh like Sissy but can help. Take pride in the tradition of gumbo creation and serving hospitality to strangers and loved ones.

Kristian, please let me know how it turns out or anyone else that tries for that matter. ENJOY!

Cheatin’ Cajun Chicken-Pasta

With bills climbing, puppies, kids’ homework, work, and our just daily lives I’m having to pull meals together out of thin air. So, yesterday morning I found some chicken thighs and Cajun seasoned chicken breast in the freezer and thought about maybe a Cajun chicken pasta. Pulled it out to thaw for dinner. I looked up recipes that called for pretty much the same thing. I thought, ‘what can I do to make this easy on me to make and on the cheap.

Walking through the store I grabbed pasta but none of the pasta sauces looked Cajun worthy so I grabbed chicken broth and 1/2 but that didn’t feel creamy enough. So I walked towards the cheeses and snatched some ricotta, shredded Parmesan and a sharp cheddar blend. All I needed was onion, peppers, carrot, garlic but though, ‘SCREW THAT!’ Do you know how much chopping would need to happen? OH that’s when I remembered that there was already chopped onion-veggie blend. And voila! Shopping done. So here it is:

  • chicken thighs
  • pasta
  • box of chicken broth (there was some leftover)
  • small container of 1/2 and 1/2 (there was some leftover)
  • 1 small bag of frozen chopped onion mix (also had peppers, carrots, and celery)
  • 2 cups shredded Parmesan
  • 2 cups shredded
  • 1/2 container of ricotta cheese
  • 4 tbsp of A.P. flour (give or take a scant)

I chopped the chicken and dropped it in the skillet then added the frozen veggies and chopped garlic. Don’t freak out if it looks watery-it’s from the veggies. It’s fine…this is where if you don’t have Cajun seasoned chicken then start adding a little seasoning (Cajun of your choice) cook through until done. Add flour and cook for a few more minutes or until you feel the flour taste (the gummy part of flour that wasn’t cooked taste) is out then add 1/2 box of chicken broth and 1/2 container of 1/2 and 1/2. If you aren’t a coffee drinker or have no use for the leftover 1/2 and 1/2 then use milk. If it’s to thick then just add more broth. When you reach the desired consistency throw in cheese. Don’t judge me…my husband won’t eat much of anything if it’s not cheesy. When the cheese melts you may need to add more broth-up to you. Toss sauce with pasta and there you have it!  Throw some bread on the side and you got it!  Din Din!

Homesick Shrimp

As I posted in my journal entry my family and I are house hunting. It’s exciting to think that one day we will be able to own our own home. Then I got to thinking about where I called home for the LONGEST time. The South! So I made the mistake at looking at houses back home and was pleasantly surprised. The houses were bigger at a better price than up here in Wisconsin. Bigger homes, more land, more space, etc…for a WHOLE lot less. Well-WTF, why are we thinking about buying here for? Oh yeah, our jobs are here. The kids are going to school here. We started building lives here. I was homesick instantly after looking at houses and decided to make something that resonated the south in my northern kitchen.

Cajun Style Shrimp Boil (without the big boiling pot)

Ok-maybe just a little boiling but I get more flavor cooking the traditional southern dish in the oven. This may also be know for others as a ‘Low Country Boil’ of someone wants to look up an ‘official’ recipe. But what I like about this is there isn’t an ‘official’ recipe, just some staple ingredients. But I have a two stick butter twist. Just follow me. I used:

  • 3 lbs bag red taters (chose the one with the smallest ones)
  • 4 ears of corn (If a gal can get a hold of fresh sweet living in Wisconsin-I’m gonna)
  • 2lbs of tail on large shrimp – thawed (I’m not in Texas so I have to use frozen but it still works)
  • A mess of Old Bay seasoning (this is for taste and color)
  • 4 cloves of garlic-chopped (I used more hehe)
  • 2 sticks of butter
  • 2 lbs of smoked sausage

That’s it! Now to get to work. Chop the taters in quarters but for the tiny ones you can leave whole. I parboiled those until (insert slight voice and drawn out word here—>) ‘barely’ fork tender. This is so the shrimp doesn’t over cook. I shucked the corn and chopped into thirds. Chopped the garlic and set aside. I grabbed my toss-away foil pan (a girl LOVES easy clean up) and threw in two WHOLE sticks of butter. Sliced the smoked sausage and threw on top of the butter along with the corn and garlic. The taters were ready at this point and tossed those in. I sprinkled in the seasoning. OK, confession. I dumped in about 1/4 cup seasoning and maybe a little more than that on top and tossed it all together. Covered this pan of awesomeness with tin foil and placed in a 350° oven. When the taters and corn were ready to be gnawed on that’s when I pulled the pan out, threw in the shrimp, added a little more seasoning and tossed together and back in the oven until shrimp was pink! The butter-garlic-Old Bay juices tasted like cajun nectar from the Gods!

We enjoyed this with some cheddar biscuits and complained about being full 5 minutes later.

A little taste of home to help keep the homesickness away.

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