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Sunday, November 25, 2012

Turkey Gumbo

Turkey gumbo! Complex, savory, spicy, and satisfying, it's THE best use I've found for leftover dark meat.

Gumbo is one of those dishes, like pho, panettone, and tagines, which are still a bit mysterious to Vermonters, but worth mastering. On a recent trip to New Orleans, I learned gumbo basics in a cooking class, and then spent a week doing some very tasty follow-up research in all the best restaurants in town.  I tried seafood gumbos, chicken and andouille gumbos, and even a deconstructed, modernist gumbo at the great new restaurant, R'evolution.

Seafood gumbo at Restaurant R'evolution

Once home, I gave it a few tries, and quickly learned that while gumbo isn't difficult to make, it does require following directions. This is one dish that doesn't lend itself to shortcuts or clever substitutions. Perhaps that's because gumbo is already very simple: it's based on the "Louisiana trinity" of onions, peppers, and celery. Flour is cooked slowly in oil until it's toasted to a rich brown, developing a distinctly nutty flavor. This roux, not to be confused with a typical butter-and-flour roux, is the heart of the gumbo. Sausage adds more depth, along with stewable meats, such as chicken, crawfish, duck, or turkey.

And so, I couldn't wait for Thanksgiving in order to try this out on leftover dark meat, which is always a slow mover at my house, relatively speaking. While I have been able to improve it radically by diagonally splitting the turkey and slow-roasting the legs a la duck confit,  the dark meat has been generally less useful from Friday on.  Not any more. Try this gumbo and become a convert, like me.

Turkey Gumbo

meat and vegetables:
3 cups leftover turkey thigh meat, in 1-inch cubes
1 large fresh sausage, andouille or other
1 large white onion, coarsely chopped
3 stalks celery, coarsely chopped
2 large green peppers, seeded and chopped
1 Tablespoon chopped garlic (about 3 cloves)

1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup canola oil, or other cooking oil (not olive oil)

soup base:
5 cups turkey broth (Boil carcass for 1 1/2 hours with 1 large carrot, 2 stalks celery,  and water to cover. Use the rest of the broth for soup! )
1 bay leaf
1 spring of thyme
3 to 4 Tablespoons of good cajun seasoning, or blend, to taste
Salt, pepper, and cayenne to taste

optional garnish: chopped green onions or sage leaves
file seasoning (powdered sassafras leaves)


1. Combine chopped onion, celery, and peppers in a bowl. Set aside.

2. Slice sausage into 1/4 inch slices, and brown in olive oil. Set aside.

3.  Make the roux (25 minutes overall):   Select a heavy, nonreactive pot. Combine oil and flour, then start to cook at medium heat. Use a flat-bottomed utensil to stir constantly, to avoid burning the roux.

After a few minutes, a very gradual change in color will begin, accompanied by a very nice aroma.

Which will continue to darken (keep stirring!)

Note:  At this point, the finish line is in sight; you are almost there! Get ready, because as soon as you reach the desired color, you must remove this from the flame and immediately stir in the bowl of chopped vegetables. This is to cool the roux so that it doesn't cook any further (and perhaps burn), and to start cooking the vegetables.

Here is the color you're looking for (go a little darker if you dare, but if it burns, you have to start all over again. Burning roux has a bad, burnt smell, and a sandy texture)

The desired dark roux color

4. Remove the finished roux from the heat and IMMEDIATELY stir in the chopped vegetables. Take great care to not splash the HOT roux on yourself!

Cook the vegetable mixture over medium heat for 3 or 4 minutes, stirring.  Stir in the chopped garlic and cook for another minute.

5. Swirl in the turkey stock, then add the spices. Throw in the dark meat and sausage, then give it an initial taste: adjust seasonings.

Allow this to bubble (a strong simmer) for one hour. Taste the gumbo about every 15 minutes, adjusting seasoning and spice. Don't cheat and cut the time down, as the gumbo needs the entire hour to develop its texture and flavor.

Optional:  At the end of cooking, you may stir in garnishes such as chopped green onion or chopped sage.

6. Serve over a scoop of rice, and sprinkle file powder lightly on the surface.  Enjoy!


To get you in the mood, here's a great street band I heard in the French Quarter, called Yes Ma'am. Note the PBR and two dogs dead asleep behind the guys.


  1. What an inventive idea for turkey leftovers! I love it, especially since it doesn't include okra, (which I don't love...)

    1. Thanks Sue! I agree, I don't like okra used as a thickener; I do like it sliced and seared with Indian spices, which removes the gumminess. But that's another story. Regards, Sue

  2. I've got this cooking now and it smells great. I've got just one question. I blended my own cajun seasoning with equal parts white pepper, cayenne pepper, black pepper, onion powder, garlic powder, and paprika. The recipe says 3 to 4 tablespoons. I've added 1 tablespoon at this point and it seems like a good amount of pepper. Its got about 30 minutes left to go. Is 3 to 4 tablespoons cajun seasoning the amount you use?

    1. I think that your homemade cajun seasoning is probably considerably more spicy than what I brought back from New Orleans!! Hope you enjoyed the gumbo. Cheers, Sue


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