Chicken Gumbo Is A Cajun Classic

March 19, 2024

Chicken gumbo is welcome on Southern dinner tables any time of the year. You don’t need a holiday like Mardi Gras or a special occasion, but we’re certain you’ll want a bowl of this rich, deeply flavorful stew especially when it’s cold out and you have a chill in your bones. The tender, moist chicken, the silky, soft vegetables, and the aromatic filé powder (dried and ground sassafras leaves)—the whole dish is a labor of love, but it’s worth every second.

A lot of people have a lot of opinions about the best gumbos and what makes a good gumbo, and we’re among those people. Southern Living has made many gumbos in our decades of recipe development, and we think we’ve got a pretty good idea of how you can make a great stew at home.

So, here, learn how to make chicken gumbo, and get some Test Kitchen tips for making it ahead, getting more flavor out of the ingredients, and of course serving it to everyone in the family.

Gumbo Vs. Jambalaya

are staples of Cajun and Creole cooking, each with different flavor profiles depending on where the dish is made or who’s making it. But the major difference between the two depends on rice: In , rice is a part of the dish, cooked with the other ingredients. With gumbo, rice is served alongside the stew. It’s cooked separately.

Chicken Gumbo Ingredients

Chicken gumbo may take a while to cook, but it largely relies on common kitchen staples. Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Andouille sausage: This smoky, spicy sausage starts the foundation of savory flavor for this gumbo. If you don’t like andouille, any other smoked sausage would work.
  • Boneless, skinless chicken breasts: The chicken goes through a multi-step cooking process to get the best flavor (searing in sausage drippings) and texture (then simmering in the gumbo before being chopped and added back to soak up flavor).
  • Vegetable oil: The fat for the roux.
  • All-purpose flour: Used to make the , which is the foundational flavor for gumbo.
  • Yellow onion, green bell pepper, and celery: No gumbo is complete without the of vegetables.
  • Garlic cloves: Building additional savory flavor.
  • Chicken stock: Homemade stock is great, if you have it. Otherwise, store-bought works because we add so much additional flavor, it’ll really get a big boost.
  • Dried bay leaves: Adds a subtle but necessary aromatic flavor to the gumbo.
  • Worcestershire sauce: A big hit of umami.
  • Cajun seasoning: You can make your own, but we’re fans of Tony Chachere’s.
  • Fresh thyme (or dried thyme): Adds a great herbal flavor but without any floral notes.
  • Hot sauce: You’ll use some to heat up the gumbo, and then you can add even more when serving.
  • Kosher salt: Added for seasoning and to your taste. Depending on your sausage, you may need less salt because the meat contributes plenty.
  • Scallions: Infuses the gumbo with a bright flavor, and then can be used as a garnish.
  • Filé powder: Some people add filé powder, also called gumbo filé, early in the cooking process, but we’ve found it can turn bitter, so adding it before serving is our preference. It lends the gumbo a distinctive earthy flavor.
  • Hot cooked rice: For serving.

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How To Make Chicken Gumbo

Chicken gumbo requires a few hours of simmering, lots of stirring, and a few other important steps, but it really pays off. Here’s a brief outline of the process; the full recipe is further below:

  • Step 1. Brown the sausage, and remove from pan. Brown the chicken breasts, and remove from pan. You do not have to cook the chicken all the way through at this point. It’ll finish cooking later.
  • Step 2. Add oil to the drippings in the pan, and stir in flour to begin the roux. Cook, stirring constantly, until the roux is a chocolate brown color. This is a time-consuming step, but this is vital for good flavor in gumbo. You don’t want the mixture to burn, or your gumbo will be bitter, but you also don’t want it undercooked, or your gumbo will lack necessary depth.
  • Step 3. When your roux is ready, add the celery, bell pepper, and onion, and cook until tender. Then, add the garlic. Slowly stir in the stock, followed by the bay leaves, Worcestershire sauce, Cajun seasoning, thyme, hot sauce, and the chicken breasts. You can also add salt to taste at this step.
  • Step 4. Bring gumbo to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for about 45 minutes. The gumbo will thicken up some at this stage. After that window, remove the chicken from the gumbo, and chop the chicken into 1/2-inch pieces. Stir in the sausage, and let the gumbo cook another 30 minutes.
  • Step 5. Add scallions, and cook another 30 minutes.
  • Step 6. Add chicken back to gumbo and cook 5 minutes to warm the chicken. Remove and discard the bay leaves. (They contribute flavor, but .)
  • Step 7. Remove the gumbo from heat, and stir in filé powder. Then serve with cooked rice, scallions, and hot sauce, if desired.

Secrets for the Best Gumbo

Whether you’re a first-time gumbo maker or you’ve made gumbo for decades, a few handy tips can help make your next pot of chicken gumbo the best you’ve ever had. Our Test Kitchen provides these tricks:

  • Stir stock slowly: If you dump all the stock in at once, you could break your roux (where the fat separates and rises to the top creating a film). The same thing could happen if you use cold stock from the fridge. You want to be sure to add the stock slowly to create an emulsion.
  • Heat the stock: If your stock is cold (or you want to be sure you don’t break your roux), heat your stock in a large saucepan over low while you start chopping your vegetables.
  • Use a wooden spoon: One Test Kitchen pro says they prefer to use a straight-sided wooden paddle or spoon instead of a whisky to help scrape the bottom of the Dutch oven as they cook a roux. This keep bits from sticking and burning.
  • Don’t skip the hot sauce: Adding hot sauce to gumbo before serving offers acid to help balance the rich gumbo.

How To Store Chicken Gumbo

Chicken gumbo will keep in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. That makes it a great make-ahead dish for a week of quick dinners or easy lunches. Be sure to store in an airtight container. And reheat in the microwave or on the stove, adding stock if needed to thin the gumbo to the right consistency.

Can You Freeze Gumbo?

Yes, chicken gumbo can be frozen up to 3 months. Store in a freezer-safe, airtight container or ziplock bag with as much air pressed out as possible. When you are ready to eat the gumbo, move the container to the fridge, and let it thaw overnight. Then, reheat in the microwave or on the stove. You may want to add additional scallions for freshness, and don’t skip the hot sauce for adding back some of the acidity that might be lost in the freeze.

Can You Make Gumbo Ahead of Time?

Absolutely. Gumbo is a great make-ahead dish. You can complete the cooking, and let it cool to room temperature. Then, move it to the fridge, and enjoy servings for up to 5 days.

You can also work ahead in steps so that it’s faster to make on the day you plan to serve it. For example, all vegetables can be cut or chopped up to a day in advance. You can even make the roux ahead of time and store it in the fridge up to 2 days. You’ll just need to warm it up before continuing with the recipe.

What Makes Gumbo Taste Bitter?

If you use butter for your roux, heat can make the milk solids separate. Given the long cook time, these will often burn before your roux is ready, leaving you with a bitter taste. To avoid this issue, we switched to oil for this style of roux, which has to cook much longer.

More Great Gumbo Recipes

Most feature at least two proteins, whether seafood, chicken, pork, or beef, so we have lots of options if you’re looking for a gumbo that fits your tastes:

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