With chicken, shrimp, spicy andouille sausage, okra, and tons of other veggies, this gumbo is packed with FLAVOR and serves a crowd!
Okra’s got a pretty bad rap around town. It’s kind of like the loner kid in middle school – people either think it’s weird or they may not have even heard of it, especially if they didn’t grow up in a town where they ran into it frequently. Those who meet Okra only briefly may not see it at its best. Perhaps they meet it past its peak, harsh and woody after too many days in the sun, or they just see its slimy interior and dismiss it forever without really trying to know and understand it.
But those who know Okra intimately see its true inner beauty. They see the perfect, beautiful, flower-shaped cross-sections, the contrast between the unique chewy-crisp texture of the outside pod and the round seeds on the inside, like little bursts of caviar. They know that a pod that gives you splinters and leaves you feeling like you’re chewing cud is characteristic of an poor, overly-mature specimen, not of the vegetable as a whole. They know that the sticky juice, or mucilage, that is so unappealing to so many can be avoided or can actually help improve your dish if its capabilities are harnessed properly (more on that later).
I’ve known Okra my whole life, and I love it in pretty much any form I’ve had it – breaded and fried, stewed with tomatoes, pickled, or swimming in a brothy soup.
In my home state of South Carolina, in the heart of the Southeast, okra is a staple. The small town adjacent to my high school, Irmo, SC, even has a 42-year-running festival in honor of the much-disputed vegetable — wooden signs around town proudly proclaim that it’s “Irmo, home of the Okra Strut.” At the festival you can get as many preparations of okra as Forrest Gump has for shrimp, and you can even get your photo taken with a giant inflatable okra man. Been there, done that, bought the t-shirt, wore the hat. Yup, loving okra is in my blood, and I just can’t get enough.
(Me, approximately age 10, wearing my favorite Okra Strut baseball cap while fossil hunting with my sister.)
When haters complain that okra is slimy, they may not know that the mucilage can either be avoided (for example, by cooking for a shorter time at a higher heat, or keeping it dry before and during cooking) or, as in this recipe, actually be used to serve a function: it’s a natural thickener for soups like this amazing three meat and okra gumbo, incorporating into the dish and leaving no trace of slime on the vegetable. So not only do you get a crisp, beautiful vegetable, you also get an easy and gluten-free/grain-free substitute for cornstarch or a flour-based roux. It’s basically magic.
Just for kicks though, this gumbo also starts with a dark roux to add a subtle nutty flavor to the mix. If you aren’t familiar with the term, a roux is basically just a cooked fat (butter here) and flour paste that serves as a thickening base for soups and sauces. So, with not one thickener, but TWO, this ain’t no runny gumbo, it’s a nice rich heavy broth that will satisfy your craving for some comforting down-home cookin’.
I didn’t take any shortcuts on this gumbo, y’all. Not only does it have double thickening power, it contains not one, but THREE species of animals, for carnitarians like myself. Despite my last meat-free post of grilled balsamic eggplant stacks, I am more closely related to the carrion-scavenging T-rex than the gentle leaf-eating brachiosaurus. More meat is better, right? And this recipe certainly makes More. With three pounds total of chicken, shrimp, and spicy andouille sausage, this will make enough to feed a crowd — or if you’re like me, just enough to satiate your need for this Cajun concoction over the course of a week. After we ate our fill on day one, the leftovers filled up a half-gallon pitcher which I happily enjoyed for at least four more meals.
This soup doesn’t just have enough meat to feed a hungry dinosaur, it’s also chock-full of veggies: flavorful onions, colorful bell peppers, juicy tomatoes, and of course, my favorite little beautiful seed pod.
The key to making this a successful gumbo is twofold – first, you’ve got to make sure everything is cooked to its perfect tenderness, no more, and no less. That means blackening the sausage first and adding the shrimp last, and not simmering the veggies together in the soup for a hundred years, despite what many recipes call for. Nobody likes a mushy pepper or a rubbery shrimp. Even I don’t like an okra slice that doesn’t bite back a little.
Back in my younger crazier days (like two years ago) I wrote in this recipe that you should simmer it for 45 minutes. But I really don’t think it needs long to meld flavors. I’d give it 10 minutes tops, not only to avoid turning your veggies into mush, but also because by that time the delightful aroma will be wafting through your house, you probably will have nibbled on about half the “set-aside” meat, and you’ll want that gumbo to Get In Your Belly.
Secondly, don’t skimp on the seasoning. It’s not the same without the full flavor of the Cajun spices, and you should add enough cayenne pepper so you need to cool down the heat with some sour cream and a tall glass of sweet tea. I sprinkle the chicken and shrimp with Cajun seasoning before I cook them and also add a teaspoon of the mix into the soup.
I used my electric wok to make this recipe since it gives me a nice heavy surface for sautéing and searing while also giving me enough room for a LOT of soup. One pot, you guys. And a cutting board. If you’re normal and have a large Dutch oven, you can use that too, but I do love my wok, which my sweet husband Mike gave me for Christmas a couple years ago. (Good job, Mike, good job.) Woks aren’t just for Asian food anymore, y’all!
This is one of those meals I’ll eat three servings of until I’m absolutely stuffed, wish I had room to eat some more, and am thankful I have a half a gallon of leftovers I can eat for days. If you have a big family or a group to cook for, this is a great dish, or if you just LOVE GUMBO as much as I do. And if you don’t yet, you will after you make this. I promise.
And maybe, if you aren’t already pals with my BFF Okra, you can finally begin to have a bit of a friendship.
Three Meat and Okra Gumbo
- 1 lb boneless, skinless chicken cut into bite-sized pieces
- 1 lb shrimp peeled and deveined
- 1 lb smoked andouille sausage sliced diagonally
- 1 tsp Cajun seasoning plus more to sprinkle on meats
- 4 tbsp butter
- 1/4 cup flour
- 1 large onion diced
- 12 oz frozen sliced okra
- 4 cloves garlic minced
- 3 bell peppers red, yellow, and green, diced
- 28 oz canned diced tomatoes undrained
- 48 oz box chicken or seafood broth
- 1 tsp black pepper
- 1/4-1/2 tsp cayenne pepper or to taste
Sprinkle chicken and shrimp with Cajun seasoning.
Heat a large Dutch oven or wok to medium-high heat. Cook sausage slices to preference - I like mine fairly blackened, or at least with a good amount of dark brown on the outside. Set sausage aside and brown the chicken. Remove chicken from pan.
Reduce heat to medium and melt the butter. Add the flour, and cook it, stirring and scraping very frequently so it doesn't burn, until it is the color of a copper penny. The darker roux gives a nice nutty flavor to the soup. Yum!
Throw in the onions and cook until they just start to soften and become translucent.
Add the sliced okra and cook, stirring occasionally, until it starts getting slimy. When you know its slimy thickening magic has begun, add the garlic and bell peppers. Everything should be sort of coated in a roux/okra slime mixture. Cook for 5-10 minutes until they are tender-crisp - if in doubt, underestimate the cook time here. They can always cook more when you add the broth, but you don't want soggy vegetables.
Stir in undrained tomatoes (the juice just adds more flavor to the broth!) and then add broth slowly while stirring constantly so that the roux doesn't clump up.
Add Cajun seasoning, pepper, and cayenne pepper to taste.
Bring to a boil, and reduce heat to simmering. Simmer for 5 minutes.
Add your chicken, sausage, and raw shrimp in and simmer for another 5 minutes or so, until the meats are heated through and the shrimp is opaque.
Serve with a dollop of sour cream over rice.
If you eat Paleo or gluten-free, you can probably leave out the roux and just harness the powers of okra slime to thicken your gumbo. Let me know how it is!
Disclaimer: This post contains an affiliate link for my beloved electric wok. If you click on my link and buy the wok, I will get a small commission and you will be funding my okra addiction.