Gumbo Ya-Ya

I’ve been craving gumbo for several days now, and since I did not have a headache yesterday, I decided I’d make a pot of gumbo. To make an authentic gumbo, it takes time. I miss New Orleans, a city I used to go to regularly when I was in graduate school because it was nearby, about an hour and a half away. I’ve heard that the only thing more New Orleans than a dented pot of gumbo simmering on the back burner is arguing about the right way to make it. Most places, especially seafood restaurants along the gulf coast, make a pretty tasty gumbo.

Gumbo has a heritage claiming both French, Native American (Choctaw), and West African roots. If you’re not familiar with it, gumbo is a thick stew served over rice and made with a roux (a mixture of butter and flour) and a wide variety of ingredients such as celery, peppers, okra, onions, sausage, chicken and/or seafood. With so many options, everyone seems to have perfected their own treasured recipes, which leads to impassioned debate on which one is best. Even so, gumbo does more to bring us together than divide us, as queen of Creole cuisine Chef Leah Chase said, “There’ve been a lot of problems solved in that dining room over a bowl of gumbo.” 

The late famed chef Paul Prudhomme created “Gumbo Ya-Ya,” the recipe I chose to make. Making Chef Paul’s “Gumbo Ya-Ya” completely from scratch took much of my day yesterday. I love to cook and try out new recipes. Sometimes I really enjoy making complicated and time-consuming recipes. I started by roasting a chicken to be used in the gumbo. Then, I began to prepare the rest of my ingredients by dicing the peppers, celery, and onions and slicing the andouille sausage. Once the roasted chicken had cooled, I deboned it. Some gumbo chefs don’t debone the chicken or remove the shell from the seafood used. I prefer for it to be ready to eat when done and not have to work separating bones or shells from my gumbo.

Once all the ingredients were prepared, I began making the roux. A good roux takes a long time. It must be stirred constantly for 30-45 minutes. Mine took the full 45 minutes to get the “color of dark mahogany.” I started out with a moderately low heat, but ended up turning the heat up to medium to get the desired color. If you make this recipe, let me give you a few tips and make a few suggestions. 

  • First, the roux is going to begin to smell nutty and eventually smell a bit like burned coffee, but don’t despair. It should smell that way to give the gumbo a dark, rich flavor. 
  • Second, I would use unsalted chicken stock to be able to control how much salt you want to use as the gumbo cooks. 
  • Third, I halved this recipe. I did not need six quarts of gumbo. 
  • Finally, suggest adding a pound of small or medium peeled and deveined shrimp at the end. You can either add cooked shrimp, or if you want to add the most flavor, add the raw shrimp and let them cook in the gumbo. They won’t take long to cook. If you want to forgo the chicken and use crab instead, then I’d suggest adding okra and making a seafood gumbo. I did not go this route because it seems impossible to get fresh okra in Vermont.

So here’s the recipe for “Gumbo Ya-Ya” and a picture of my finished product.

GUMBO YA-YA 

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb. (4 sticks) unsalted butter 
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 red bell peppers, in medium dice
  • 2 celery stalks, in medium dice
  • 1 medium onion, in medium dice
  • 1 ¼ gallon (20 cups) chicken stock
  • 2 tablespoons Creole seasoning
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon dried hot red pepper flakes
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 tablespoon chopped garlic
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 tablespoons kosher salt
  • 1 lb. andouille sausage, cut into ¼ inch-thick slices
  • 3 ½ lb. chicken, roasted and boned
  • hot sauce to taste
  • boiled rice as accompaniment

Instructions:

  1. In a 12-quart stockpot melt butter over moderately low heat.
  2. Gradually add a third of the flour, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, and cook, stirring constantly, 30 seconds. Add a third more flour and stir constantly, 30 seconds. Add remaining third of flour and stir constantly, 30 seconds. Continue to cook roux, stirring constantly, until it is the color of dark mahogany, about 30 to 45 minutes.
  3. Add bell peppers and stir constantly 30 seconds. Add onions and celery and stir constantly 30 seconds. Add the stock to roux, stirring constantly to prevent lumps.
  4. Add all remaining ingredients except chicken, rice, and hot sauce and bring to boil. Simmer gumbo, uncovered, 45 minutes, skimming off any fat and stirring occasionally.
  5. Add chicken and simmer 15 minutes. Adjust seasoning with hot sauce. Serve over rice.
  6. This recipe yields about 6 quarts, but gumbo freezes well and can be thawed without losing flavor.

About Joe

I began my life in the South and for five years lived as a closeted teacher, but am now making a new life for myself as an oral historian in New England. I think my life will work out the way it was always meant to be. That doesn't mean there won't be ups and downs; that's all part of life. It means I just have to be patient. I feel like October 7, 2015 is my new birthday. It's a beginning filled with great hope. It's a second chance to live my life…not anyone else's. My profile picture is "David and Me," 2001 painting by artist Steve Walker. It happens to be one of my favorite modern gay art pieces. View all posts by Joe

2 responses to “Gumbo Ya-Ya

  • Stan

    Sounds delicious, Joe. I’m not a shrimp fan so I stick to chicken and sausage gumbo. When asked about how dark the roux should be, I heard someone say, “just this side of burnt.” I like that you wrote it should smell like burned coffee. Fresh okra has started showing up in the grocery stores here in Texas. Guess I’ll be making gumbo soon.

    • Joe

      I think one of the problems with some recipes is that they don’t include details that might be unexpected from someone cooking a dish for the first time, like the smell of the roux.

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