As a sixth generation Texan with deep seated East Texas roots, I simply cannot think of a more comforting food to me than gumbo. Hot out? Cold out? It matters not. Gumbo is the king!
One of my favorite aspects of gumbo is that you will never have the same one twice. Recipes, methods and ingredients vary. How dark are you supposed to cook the roux? Emeril LaGasse says, “for two beers.” My wife, Bailey, and her mom, say, “Until it’s mahogany.” I say, “dark peanut butter.”
Chicken? Sausage? Shrimp? Okra? No okra? All these things are hotly contested, constantly argued over, even closely guarded family secrets. There is one ingredient that is not an option, though. Gumbo MUST include okra! Okra in its native dialect of Bantu is Ki ngombo, shortened to “gombo” when it arrived upon our shores. So, no okra? You are just making soup!
One thing that we can all agree on is that they are all delicious. Here is the basic version of my own family gumbo. I hope you enjoy it and add in a few twists to make it your own!
Recipe for McWhorter Family Gumbo:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup + 2 Tbsp. canola oil
1 large yellow onion, small diced
3 large celery stalks, trimmed and small diced
2 large green bell peppers, seeded and small diced
1 large jalapeño, small diced
1.5 cups fresh okra, cut into ½” slices, blanched (or substitute frozen)
10 cloves garlic, finely grated (preferred) or finely minced
1 small bundle of fresh thyme, tied tightly, with enough twine to secure it to pot handle
3 bay leaves
4 chicken thighs
1lb. Andouille sausage, cut into ¼” slices
1lb. Gulf brown shrimp, peeled and deveined
1Tbsp. Cajun seasoning (Make your own! Or, if you must, pick up some Tony Chachere’s)
1Tbsp. Louisiana hot sauce
1 bottle of cold Shiner Bock beer
1quart reduced pork stock (make from roasted pork bones boiled down in a big pot of water, or substitute pork bouillon cubes)
1quart chicken stock (make your own from roasted chicken bones, or substitute organic chicken stock)
Fine sea salt & black pepper to taste
Ground Cayenne pepper to taste
In a Dutch oven, heat 2 Tbsp. Canola oil on medium heat and add in the trinity (onion, celery, bell pepper), and the jalapeño. Slowly cook without browning, frequently stirring until tender (approximately 15 min). Add in garlic, cook until garlic is fragrant. Remove and hold to add later.
Wipe out Dutch oven with paper towel and add 1 cup Canola oil, turn heat to medium high and slowly whisk in 1 cup flour. Stir CONTINUOUSLY with whisk until fully incorporated, then switch to a stout wooden spoon. Make continuous figure eight patterns, scrape the bottom and sides, never stop stirring. Did I mention never stop stirring? If you do stop stirring, throw away the roux and start over because it scorched. Keep stirring. When you have reached a dark peanut butter color (or mahogany if you’re my wife) turn off the heat and quickly whisk in the bottle of Shiner Bock.
PS: if you have never done this before it may freak you out! There will be steam and noise! It will turn into a weird scary goo for a second! Just be careful and commit! As soon as the beer is incorporated, add in the Trinity, then crank the heat to high and whisk in the chicken and pork stock.
Now it is time to cook your chicken. Throw in your chicken thighs into the simmering pot and cook until they are cooked through (at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit) and shred easily. Remove, shred and discard the bones, return chicken to pot.
Add in the okra, the bundle of thyme (secure the twine to the pot handle so you can retrieve it easily), the Andouille sausage, seasonings, bay leaves and hot sauce. Simmer for 1 hour or until the gumbo (we added the okra so NOW it is gumbo!) has reduced to the consistency that you would like it to be. Turn off the heat, add in the shrimp, cover, then let the gumbo rest for 15 minutes.
Serve with rice, thin sliced green onions, crackers, file (ground sassafras leaves), and hot sauce.
Lance McWhorter is the executive chef and owner of Culture Etx on the square in downtown Tyler, Texas. He is a graduate of the Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts, has cooked at such notable Dallas restaurants as FT33, Macellaio, and SĒR, and has been the Executive Chef of restaurants in the Hill Country, and the East Texas destination town of Jefferson. He is the reigning Cochon 555 “Prince of Pork” champion of the Dallas stop of the national tour and has made appearances on the Food Network show Chopped as well as many regional and local TV appearances. He lives in Tyler with his professional barbecue pitmaster wife, Bailey.
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