I’ll come right out and say that while this is most likely going to be the best gumbo you’ve ever tasted, it’s not a recipe for the impatient, unskilled, or faint of heart. It’s taken me several years and several handfuls of blisters to learn how to make a proper roux (and even then, my definition of “proper” is probably open to interpretation. I’m no Southerner, nor have I ever lived in the South; I just like the food), and the tedium of waiting for the stock to finish and the chicken to get tender enough to fall off the bones is enough in and of itself enough to torpedo a weekend. But if you find yourself in fearless pursuit of the real thing, not to mention the real thing for under $1 per serving, look no further.
The recipe is adapted from Donald Link’s “Real Cajun.” As below it makes 10 servings, with rice. We keep the leftovers and rice separate in the fridge so we can make up a fresh bowl for dinner, lunch, or even breakfast.
• 1 whole chicken, giblets reserved: $4.06
• 12 oz. Andouille sausage, sliced in 1/2-inch pieces: $2.24
• 1 jalapeno, finely chopped: 12 cents
• 1 poblano chile, chopped: 43 cents
• 1 bell pepper, chopped: $1
• 1 onion, chopped: 10 cents
• 3 garlic cloves, minced: 3 cents
• 3 celery stalks, chopped: 9 cents
• 1 cup fresh or frozen sliced okra (optional): 50 cents
• 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour: 35 cents
• 1 1/4 cups vegetable oil: 52 cents
• Contents of a stock bag (or 1 chopped onion, a few chopped celery stalks, and a bay leaf): $0
• 1 tsp cayenne: 5 cents
• 1 1/2 tsp chili powder: 7 cents
• 1 tsp paprika: 5 cents
• Salt and pepper: 2 cents
• 2 1/2 cups dry rice: 20 cents
• 3 bay leaves: 3 cents
TOTAL: $9.86/10 = 99 cents/serving
A couple hours before you want to start the gumbo (keeping in mind the gumbo itself takes several hours), cut the chicken into 8 pieces. If you’ve never cut up a whole chicken before, don’t panic—it’s easier than you think. Check out this video for help. Once finished, cut the breasts into 2-inch chunks.
Preheat oven to 350 F. Take the chicken carcass and the giblets (EXCEPT for the liver—either discard or accumulate them in the freezer for other projects) and put them in a stockpot with the contents of your stock bag or the aromatics listed above. Add enough cold water to cover, then bring to a simmer. Simmer for 2 hours or more if you have the time, then strain, reserving 3 quarts. (The rest can be frozen and used for soup or in any recipe calling for chicken stock.) As you can see, onion skins in the stock bag give it a nice color.
Meanwhile, in a large dutch oven, heat the 1 1/4 cups vegetable oil over medium-high heat. Generously season the chicken pieces with salt and pepper, then dredge in flour. Fry them in several batches, about 3 minutes each side, until golden brown. Drain on paper towel-lined plates, then put in the fridge, covered with foil so they won’t dry out.
When the chicken is done, add 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour to the oil, reduce the heat to medium, and stir or whisk constantly and carefully until very smooth. Then put in the oven. This will be the roux. (Frying the chicken in it adds another dimension of flavor.) Most people make the roux on top of the stove, but I think better flavor and more control comes from baking it in the oven. It’s also easy to do while the stock is cooking.
Meanwhile, chop all the vegetables if you haven’t already done so.
Stir the roux every half-hour or so until it becomes dark brown. At this point, take it out, put it back on the stove over medium-heat, and stir or whisk constantly, making sure not to burn ANY flour, until it’s very dark brownish-black. It will happen quickly, and it’s inedible if burnt, so for your first couple tries it’s better to err on the side of under-cooking than over-cooking. Below is a good color to shoot for.
Quickly add the vegetables, cayenne, chili powder, paprika, 1 T salt and 2 tsp black pepper and stir constantly for a minute or two, then add the 3 quarts of strained chicken stock. Stir well, bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and simmer for about 30 minutes, skimming off any oil and/or thick, icky sludge that rises to the surface.
Add the fried chicken and continue to simmer for 45 minutes, still skimming off oil and/or sludge.
Add the sausage and simmer on low for another hour, until the chicken is falling off the bones. Meanwhile, cook the 2 1/2 cups dry rice with a large pinch of salt and the 3 bay leaves either in your rice cooker or on the stove.
At this point you’re free to remove the bones, or leave them in for a more rustic presentation; I also mash some of the larger breast pieces against the side of the pot with a spoon, to break them up a bit.
In a nonstick skillet (or regular skillet with 1 T oil) over medium-high heat, sauté the okra (if using) until lightly browned and all the slime has cooked out.
Add to the pot and simmer another 15 minutes.
The gumbo is done when no more oil or sludge is rising to the top. Adjust salt and pepper to taste and serve with steamed rice on the side. (Some people like a soupy gumbo, others like it thick like a stew; serving the rice on the side allows people to adjust to their taste.)