Oak Alley Plantation is a gorgeous antebellum home located on the banks of the Mississippi River in Vacherie, Louisiana, about 50 miles west of New Orleans. My last Thanksgiving as a single girl, I visited the plantation with my mom and dad. The next year I would be The Cooking Bride and sharing holidays with my husband’s family. My Dad and I both share a fondness for photography and he knew how much I wanted to visit this place. He made reservations for us to stay in one of the little cottages there on the property and we spent the weekend after Thanksgiving exploring the grounds.
Some years back, the plantation restaurant put out a cookbook of Cajun and Creole recipes. I discovered a copy of their cookbook in my room and spent most the first night poring over the recipes. I used a recipe I found within the pages to make my first pot of gumbo shortly after making that first trip with my parents. It’s a great basic recipe that I have used as the basis for every pot of gumbo I have made since.
Over the years I have experimented with new ingredients. Normally, I add shrimp and/or crab or crawfish meat. What is a crawfish? Best way I can describe them is they look like little lobsters. They are usually found burrowed in the mud along stream or riverbanks. My dad tells me he used to use them as bait for fishing. Down here, we boil them in really spicy, seasoned water and eat them by the truckload. I can buy frozen crawfish tails in the seafood section of my grocery store. However, I realize crawfish are a regional thing and not everyone can be so lucky.
Many first time cooks are intimidated by making a roux. A roux is basically flour browned in oil or butter. The secret to making a perfect roux is to “baby-sit.” Do not add your flour to your hot oil and then leave. A roux requires constant attention to prevent burning.
Also, in many Cajun and Creole dishes, you may see a reference to the “trinity.” This refers to a mixture of chopped onions, celery, and bell peppers. Many recipes also call for okra. I usually omit this. I loathe the taste of okra unless it is rolled in cornmeal and fried.
Gumbo is much like a stew and you will find a million and one different variations. For the sake of this post, I am sharing the basic recipe – the one I used for my first pot of gumbo. The dark roux and mixture of ingredients make the mixture very rich and complex. The sausage and Creole seasoning add spiciness while the sugar and piquante sauce add enough sweetness to balance the flavors. If you can’t find andouille sausage- a spiced smoked sausage commonly used in Cajun cooking- add another half pound of smoked sausage.
You can purchase Oak Alley Plantation Cooking here.
Chicken and Sausage Gumbo
- ½ cup vegetable oil
- ½ cup all-purpose flour
- 1 cup chopped onions
- ½ cup chopped green bell pepper
- ½ cup chopped celery
- 1 tablespoon Italian seasoning
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
- ½ pound andouille sausage, cut into ¼-inch slices
- 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, chopped
- ⅓ pound smoked sausage, cut into ¼-inch slices
- 2 cups water
- 2 cups fresh or frozen okra
- 2 tablespoons Creole seasoning
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- ¼ cup piquante sauce
- 1 bay leaf
- 2 cups chicken broth
- Filé powder, to taste
- 2 cups cooked white rice
- Heat oil in a large stock pot over medium high heat.
- Gradually add flour, stirring constantly to make a roux. Continue stirring until roux becomes very dark brown.
- Reduce heat to low and add next nine ingredients. Bring mixture to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring often.
- Add remaining ingredients except file' powder. Return to a simmer, cover, and cook for 1 hour, stirring every 15 minutes.
- Remove and discard bay leaf.
- Place a generous amount of cooked rice into individual bowls.
- Pour gumbo over rice.
- Sprinkle with file powder.