Classic Cajun Gumbo

updated Aug 15, 2023
Cajun Gumbo Recipe

This humble Southern stew represents the marriage of cultures, subtleties of tradition, local ingredients, and, above all, community.

Serves8

Makesabout 11 cups

Prep30 minutes

Cook1 hour 30 minutes

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gumbo in a bowl with jasmine rice and a spoon
Credit: Photo: Julia Gartland; Food Styling: Barrett Washburne; Prop Styling; Anne Eastman

Gumbo is Louisiana’s love language. This humble Southern stew represents the marriage of cultures, subtleties of tradition, local ingredients, and, above all, community. For many families in South Louisiana, gumbo is a weekly ritual. I had my fair share of Creole gumbo when I was growing up in New Orleans, but the classic Cajun gumbo recipe is the one I make on repeat. 

My recipe has been refined over the years to earn the esteemed thumbs-up from locals of the Louisiana river parishes where this Cajun dish is rooted. The river parishes hug the banks of the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge and New Orleans, and it is here that the soul of authentic Cajun gumbo resides. With much consideration for tradition, my recipe is a classic take on the good-for-your-soul chicken and andouille sausage gumbo.

What is gumbo? 

Gumbo is a dark stew made with a roux base, a medley of chopped vegetables called holy trinity veggies, and proteins ranging from andouille sausage to chicken to seafood.

What ingredients do you use in gumbo?

  • Andouille sausage and chicken are traditional to Cajun gumbo. To amp the convenience factor in this recipe, raw chicken thighs can be replaced with shredded rotisserie chicken.
  • The holy trinity vegetables (bell peppers, onions, and celery) can be purchased pre-chopped at nearly all large grocery stores. 
  • The dark roux, on the other hand, requires constant stirring on medium heat, so this part you do not want to rush.
  • Spices and herbs like parsley, thyme, bay leaves, cayenne pepper, and filé powder all add to the rich flavor profile of the gumbo.

Rushing the roux or increasing temperature will result in a burnt roux. In a pinch, busy cooks can opt to slowly bake the roux in the oven which requires less attention but more time. With time and patience, the roux should develop to the color of milk chocolate, resulting in a more flavorful and authentic Cajun gumbo. 

Credit: Photo: Julia Gartland; Food Styling: Barrett Washburne; Prop Styling; Anne Eastman

What’s the difference between Cajun gumbo and Creole gumbo?

To say there’s one recipe for gumbo does a disservice to the spirit of the beloved Southern dish. Come to New Orleans and you’ll find gumbo served at every Cajun or Creole restaurant, whether it’s a classic version or an interpretation.

  • Both types of gumbo have a roux base and holy trinity.
  • Creole gumbo is a popular French interpretation of the dish that features richer ingredients like butter and shellfish, along with tomatoes, okra, and an herb called filé powder (from sassafras leaves).
  • Cajun gumbo does not have tomatoes and is likely to include chicken.

There’s also a vegetarian gumbo called gumbo z’herbes (featuring hearty greens instead of meats) that is common in South Louisiana during Lenten season for Catholics who abstain from meat on Fridays. Each variation earns a spot on the gumbo continuum. 

What’s the difference between gumbo and jambalaya? 

The main difference between jambalaya and gumbo is the role of rice and the presence of roux.

  • Jambalaya is the Louisianian equivalent of a Spanish paella where rice is the main base. For jambalaya, rice is lightly simmered in broth and mixed with various proteins like chicken, sausage, or seafood. 
  • On the other hand, gumbo is served with rice on the side.
  • Gumbo also includes a roux to thicken the stew while jambalaya does not require a roux. 
Credit: Photo: Julia Gartland; Food Styling: Barrett Washburne; Prop Styling; Anne Eastman

What meat or seafood is typically in gumbo?

  • Chicken 
  • Andouille sausage
  • Shrimp
  • Crab legs
  • Oysters
  • Hearty greens in lieu of meats in the vegetarian version, gumbo z’herbes

How do you serve gumbo?

Gumbo is often enjoyed with a scoop of white rice, scallion garnish, filé powder, and a few spurts of Tabasco hot sauce. Gumbo is often made in bulk, as the roux is such a labor of love — so serving groups of people is ideal! 

Where did gumbo originate?

The beginnings and ends of gumbo are ever-evolving. Due to conflicting sources of its origin, gumbo cannot be attributed to one culture but is the amalgamation of many distinct cuisines that found their way to South Louisiana, including but not limited to African, Native American, and European. 

Despite a rather complicated origin story, we do know that gumbo is emblematic of the people who built their lives in South Louisiana. Because gumbo is often synonymous with Cajun culture, Cajun gumbo features ingredients accessible to the river parishes: produce like bell peppers, okra, and sassafras (filé powder), plus shelf-stable flour and oil for the roux. 

Cajun Gumbo Recipe

This humble Southern stew represents the marriage of cultures, subtleties of tradition, local ingredients, and, above all, community.

Prep time 30 minutes

Cook time 1 hour 30 minutes

Makes about 11 cups

Serves 8

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

For the gumbo:

  • 1

    medium green bell pepper

  • 1

    medium yellow onion

  • 3 stalks

    celery

  • 6 cloves

    garlic

  • 1/2 bunch

    fresh parsley (optional)

  • 2 to 3 tablespoons

    salt-free Cajun seasoning (see Recipe Notes), divided

  • 2 teaspoons

    dried thyme

  • 2

    bay leaves

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    cayenne pepper, plus more as needed

  • 1 pound

    boneless, skinless chicken thighs, or 1 rotisserie chicken

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons

    kosher salt, plus more as needed

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons

    freshly ground black pepper

  • 14 ounces

    andouille sausage

  • 1/4 cup

    plus 1 tablespoon neutral cooking oil, such as canola or vegetable, divided

  • 6 cups

    (48 ounces) low-sodium chicken broth, at room temperature

  • 2 teaspoons

    filé powder (optional, see notes below)

  • 4 tablespoons

    (1/2 stick) unsalted butter

  • 1/2 cup

    all-purpose flour

For serving:

  • 1/2 bunch

    medium scallions

  • 3 cups

    cooked white rice

  • Crystal or Tabasco hot sauce

Equipment

  • Cutting board and knife

  • Measuring cups and spoons

  • Medium bowl

  • Small bowl

  • Large pot or Dutch oven

  • Wooden spoon

Instructions

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  1. Cut the vegetables: Prepare the following, placing each in the same medium bowl as you complete it: Trim and dice 1 medium green bell pepper (1 1/2 cups), 1 medium yellow onion (1 3/4 cups), and 3 celery stalks (1 1/2 cups).

  2. Prepare the remaining aromatics: Prepare the following, placing each in the same small bowl as you complete it: Mince 6 garlic cloves; coarsely chop the leaves from 1/2 bunch fresh parsley, if using, until you have about 1/2 cup; add 2 tablespoons of the salt-free Cajun seasoning, 2 teaspoons dried thyme, 2 bay leaves, and 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper; stir to combine.

  3. Cut the chicken: If using raw chicken, dice 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs into 1-inch pieces. Season with 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, 1 1/2 teaspoons black pepper, and the remaining 1 tablespoon Cajun seasoning. If using rotisserie chicken, pick the meat and shred (about 4 cups); discard the skin and bones. (No need to season the rotisserie chicken meat.)

  4. Cook the sausage: Cut 14 ounces andouille sausage crosswise into 1/2-inch-thick rounds. Cook in a large pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat until the sausage is browned all over and releases its fat, about 5 minutes. Transfer the sausage to a plate.

  5. Brown the chicken: If using raw chicken, add 1 tablespoon of the neutral cooking oil and the chicken to the pot. Cook, stirring often, until the chicken is browned all over, about 10 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the chicken to the plate of sausage. (Skip this step if using rotisserie chicken.)

  6. Cook the roux: Reduce the heat to medium. Scrape up any browned bits from the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon. Add 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, the remaining 1/4 cup neutral oil, and 1/2 cup all-purpose flour. Cook, stirring constantly and scraping the bottom of the pot with the wooden spoon, until the roux resembles the color and texture of melted milk chocolate, 10 to 20 minutes. It will go from smelling like flour to toasted popcorn to nutty coffee. Don’t turn your back on the roux or it will burn!

  7. Add the aromatics and meat: Increase the heat to medium-high and add bell pepper mixture. Stir to coat in the roux. Cook, stirring frequently, until the onions are translucent, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic mixture and return the sausage and chicken and any accumulated juices to the pot. Cook, stirring frequently, until the garlic is fragrant, 2 to 3 minutes.

  8. Simmer: Add 6 cups low-sodium chicken broth. Increase the heat to high and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer uncovered until the gumbo is thickened slightly and the flavors have melded, 35 to 45 minutes. Meanwhile, thinly slice 1/2 bunch scallions and cook white rice for serving if desired.

  9. Serve: Taste and season with more kosher salt as needed. (You'll likely need to add more salt if starting with rotisserie chicken.) The gumbo can be served immediately or the day after (which is when it tastes best). Serve with a scoop of cooked white rice, scallions, a dash of Crystal hot sauce, and filé powder as desired. Filé powder adds herbal notes and thickens the gumbo a bit.

Recipe Notes

Cajun seasoning – If the Cajun seasoning you have is salted, you can still use it! Just reduce the amount of salt you add while tasting at the end. To make your own Cajun seasoning for this recipe, combine 1 1/2 teaspoon paprika, 1 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder, 3/4 teaspoon ground black pepper, 3/4 teaspoon onion powder, 3/4 teaspoon dried oregano, and 3/4 teaspoon dried thyme.

Filé powder – Filé powder, also known as gumbo filé, is an herbal powder made of ground-up sassafras leaves, a common herb found in Southern cooking. It has a tea-like, earthy smell that balances out the rich flavors of gumbo while also adding a natural thickener. Filé powder can be found in most spice sections of large grocery stores (most likely Zataran’s brand of gumbo filé). If you can’t find filé powder, no worries. Your gumbo will still be rich with flavor.

Shrimp: Seafood is more common to Creole gumbos (which is the French version including tomatoes and butter) but can certainly be added to this classic Cajun recipe. If using shrimp instead of the chicken and sausage, add 1 pound peeled, deveined shrimp during the last 10 minutes of the final simmering stage. If adding to chicken and sausage, use only 8 ounces.

Tomatoes: Tomatoes are more common to Creole gumbos (which is a variation of gumbo with richer ingredients like butter and seafood, adapted by the French). I personally love tomatoes in gumbo because it adds a savory umami flavor and a natural thickener that replaces okra. If you’d like to add tomatoes to this recipe, purée 1 (14-ounce) can diced fire-roasted tomatoes and add to the pot at the same time the sausage and chicken are added. No need to reduce the amount of chicken broth.

Okra: Okra is often added to gumbo in lieu of chicken and sausage in central and northern parts of Louisiana. Its slimy consistency is a natural thickener for gumbo. If you are a fan of the vegetable, add 8 ounces okra cut crosswise into 1/4-inch pieces to the pot when the garlic mixture is added.

Make ahead: Gumbo can definitely be made ahead and even tastes better the day after it’s cooked. Cool then refrigerate the entire pot, covered, for up to 2 days. Reheat over low heat.

Storage: Refrigerator leftover gumbo in airtight containers for up to 5 days.