Gumbo on the BBQ
Gumbo is a traditional stew and the state cuisine of Louisiana. Consisting of stock, thickener, vegetables with meat or shellfish, it can be classified by the thickener used (okra, filé powder, or roux) and it’s said no two bowls are the same!
Okra is a flowering plant of the mallow family with edible pods and seeds; the plant contains a substance called mucilage which breaks down with a slimy, viscous character when cooked, making it an ideal thickener. Filé powder is a spicy herb made from dried and ground leaves of the North American sassafras tree (also used to make root beer) that also contains mucilage – it should be added after cooking to avoid clumping.
Onto the Prep
We decided to use a roux (a mix of flour and fat) base for our gumbo – we prefer our okra with a bit of bite and couldn’t source any filé powder. In most recipes, like a cheese sauce, a light roux is used which works well as thickener but contributes little to taste, whereas a darker roux offers flavour too.
Cooked foods brown, and taste better, due to the Maillard reaction. Heating sugars/starches and amino acids/protein creates new molecules. Plain flour contains starches and protein that brown in the same way, improving the depth of flavour. As the roux is cooked it transforms from light to golden, through peanut-butter colour to milk chocolate and finally a dark chocolate hue. As it browns it develops a nutty taste, though when taken to a very dark colour it can verge on bitter.
It is important to avoid the roux burning by continual stirring with whisk or spoon – this takes time and patience but is well worth the wait. It requires a medium heat, high enough to cause browning (160°C/320°F) without reaching the smoking point of the fat or oil as this can also create a bitter taste. We use rapeseed oil as it has a relatively high smoke point (230°C/446°F) compared to using butter (150°C/302°F) for our usual roux. Our recipe uses equal parts plain flour and rapeseed oil to create a thin roux which is easier to stir to avoid burning.
Now for more flavour and heat
Tabasco sauce adds flavour and heat, it was first produced on the Avery Islands, a salt dome in Louisiana by McIlhenny Company from the local tabasco peppers (Capsicum frutescens var. tabasco). It is fun to experiment with ingredients but we like the combination of chicken, prawn and smoked sausage. Some versions of gumbo contain andouille sausage, a smoked pork sausage originating in France, but as we find it hard to get hold of we use smoked Polish kabanos, available in most delis or supermarkets, instead. And as for vegetables, we stick to the Louisiana holy trinity: onions, celery and green peppers but recipes aren’t rule books so mix it up and let us know how you get on! We think corn would work well so will try that next time….
We hope you enjoy the recipe and please let us know if you have any feedback
Andrew & Laura
Chicken, Prawn and Smoked Sausage Gumbo
- Prep Time20 min
- Cook Time3 hr
- Total Time3 hr 20 min
- Serving Size8 with white rice
For the Chicken, Prawn and Smoked Sausage Gumbo
- 6 skinless chicken thighs
- 8 uncooked prawns in shells
- 200g smoked sausage chopped
- 1 onion diced
- 2 sticks celery cut into chunks
- 2 green peppers cut into strips
- 250g okra halved widthways
- 100g plain flour plus more for coating chicken
- 100ml rapeseed oil
- 1,000ml chicken stock
- 1 bay leaf
- Several sprigs of fresh thyme
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp black pepper
- 1 tsp cayenne pepper
- Tabasco sauce to taste
Heat a heavy cast iron pan over medium heat, and dust chicken lightly with flour, salt, black pepper and cayenne pepper, meanwhile
Place chicken thighs in the base of cast iron pan in a single layer (in batches if necessary) until browned on both sides; remove and place on a separate plate.
Fry the smoked sausage until browned. Remove and transfer to the same plate as the chicken.
Use a wooden spoon to scrape all the browned tasty bits off the base and side of the pan and add to browned meat.
Add 100ml of rapeseed oil to the pan followed by 100ml plain flour, stirring with a whisk until combined.
Continue to whisk every 10 seconds or so while the roux cooks. The process can take 20 minutes or more, so make sure you have a beer by your side.
After about 10 minutes the roux will begin to darken to peanut butter colour. Keep whisking…
The rate of browning will depend on the weather, the heat of your fire and your cooking pot but usually takes about 20 minutes to reach a chocolate colour.
Add onion, celery and green peppers to the browned roux and sauté until softened.
Begin adding the chicken stock about a 100ml at a time, mixing as you go. Once smooth add the bay leaf and sprigs of thyme.
When the sauce reaches the boil, return the browned chicken and sausage to the stock and cook for about 90 minutes uncovered until the chicken starts to fall apart.
Add the okra and simmer for 10 minutes; in the meantime grill the prawns.
Add the grilled prawns to the pot with shells and heads attached for a further 10 minutes. The prawns can be cooked directly in the stew but grilling them gives a bit of char for extra flavour, as does adding the heads, while the shells prevent overcooking. If you grill them ‘dirty’ like we did knock off any excess ash before adding them to the pot.
Adjust seasoning and add Tabasco sauce to taste, about 1 dessertspoon for us.
Depending on the desired final consistency you may wish to add a splash more water. Prior to serving you can remove the chicken thighbones, prawn shells and heads, and the herbs but we prefer it rustic style so keep them in.
Serve with white rice and enjoy!