With Mardi Gras coming up, I have really been thinking about that incredible taste of Louisiana that I grew up with. Nothing evokes that more than a hot, steaming bowl of gumbo served over fluffy white rice. Every gumbo is a little different. My version of this velvety stew is chock full of shrimp, chicken, and smoky sausage. It takes the best of the traditional Cajun gumbo and adds a little nod to the Creole traditions of New Orleans
You see, Cajuns settled in the southwestern parts of Louisiana. As such, Cajun food tends to be a poorer food, based off of whatever the people could find or raise in their local communities. Creoles settled in New Orleans, having access to all of the best ingredients. While the roux is the base for gumbo, Cajun gumbo uses oil and flour while the Creole version starts with butter and flour. Cajun gumbo typically uses chicken and sausage, while Creole gumbo relies heavily on the more expensive seafood.
My gumbo starts with a roux of oil and flour. I add the trinity of onions, peppers, and celery, followed by smoked sausage and homemade shrimp stock. Next, I add chicken thighs and allow the whole thing to simmer for hours. At the very end, I add in some meaty shrimp to finish it off. This dish is actually very personal to me. My grandfather was Cajun through and through and my grandmother’s family has long lived in New Orleans. For me, this simple bowl of meat and sauce symbolizes one entire side of my family. I hope that you enjoy it too.
For more on the basics of gumbo and the method for developing your own version, make sure to check out Gumbo 101.
Mellott Family Gumbo
Over a few years of using different gumbo recipes, I finally worked out a recipe that really fits the taste of my family right now. It has great flavor now, but is also adjustable and can grow with us over the coming years. To make shrimp stock at home, save shrimp shells in the freezer until you have about 4 cups worth. Add to 4 cups water and a teaspoon of peppercorns. Bring to a boil for about 15-20 minutes.
4 cups shrimp or chicken stock
1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp vegetable oil, divided
1 lb smoked sausage, sliced about 1/2″ thick
salt and pepper
2 lb boneless, skinless chicken thighs
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1 cup onion, diced (about 1 small onion)
1/2 cup green bell pepper, diced (about 1 pepper)
1/2 cup celery, diced (about 3 celery sticks)
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1 bay leaf
1 lb peeled and deveined shrimp
1/4 cup parsley, chopped
1 tsp gumbo file (optional)
Heat stock in a medium-sized pot over medium heat.
In a 3.5 qt pot (or larger) over medium-high heat, add 2 tbsp oil and the smoked sausage. Cook until lightly browned, 3-5 minutes. Remove sausage and reserve for later use. Season the thighs with salt and pepper and add them to the hot oil. Brown for 5-7 minutes on each side. Remove and reserve for later use.
Reduce the heat to medium-low. Add the remaining oil and and the flour. Stir constantly for 15-20 minutes or until the roux is the color of dark peanut butter.
Add the onion, pepper, and celery. Cook for about 5 minutes or until the vegetables are wilted. Add cayenne pepper, bay leaf, reserved sausage, and salt and pepper to taste. Cook for another 2 minutes. Add warm stock 1 cup at a time, making sure to fully incorporate the stock and flour before adding the next cup. Add the reserved chicken and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 2.5 hours.
About 15-20 minutes before serving, add the shrimp, parsley, and file, if using. Allow to finish for another 15 minutes before serving over white rice with a side of buttered saltines. Enjoy!!
How do you celebrate Mardi Gras? Does your family have any traditions that you’d like to share?