Cheddar Grits and Chicken Sausage Gumbo

grits and gumboSo I’m not entirely sure that I like gumbo. It’s a little thick and spicy for my taste. I’m more of a french lentil soup kind of girl but I had to try it. I had some in New Orleans and then had food poisoning shortly afterwards so maybe that has something to do with it. Actually I think the food poisoning came from a cheap muffuletta sandwich. But hindsight is 20/20 right? 

I was in New Orleans for work which usually means lots of meals out with authors and my company picking up the bill. I had a few amazing meals at the Green Goddess in the French Quarter and a less than amazing meal at one of Emeril Lagasse’s places called NOLA.

Still…Somehow, Emeril is sort of ingrained in my mind as the master of New Orleans cooking (I’m sure I’m obviously wrong on this front but I didn’t look that hard for a receipe). So I went for his gumbo recipe from the food network. There are a few problems with the recipe despite its hundreds of positive reviews. I’ve made some signifigant changes to make it actually work. And BAM! It was delicious.

Did you know you can get everything you need for a near-perfect gumbo at Trader Joe’s? That’s right. Then all you need are some authentic stone ground grits to go with it and you’ve got yourself a hearty meal to be shared with friends or to be eaten all week. And I’ll bet you can find most of the spices you need for the essence in your pantry.

Make sure you have reserved a full day for cooking, the gumbo really needs to cook for a long time or you will have a floury taste that is most unpleasant. This recipe takes patience and I think Emeril’s lacked a certain tomatoey-ness so I added tomato paste and a red pepper puree.

cajun seasoning

Cajun Seasoning, based on Emeril’s “Esssence”

Makes 1/2 cup

You will need:

1 Tablespoon paprika

1 Tablespoon salt

1 Tablespoon garlic powder

1/2 Tablespoon black pepper

1 Tablespoon onion powder

1/2 Tablespoon cayenne pepper

2 Tablespoons “Italian Seasoning” or 1 Tablespoon dried oregano and 1 Tablespoon dried thyme 


1. Add all ingredients together into a empty jar. Screw the lid on tightly and shake. Double the recipe if needed and save for up to a month.

grits and gumbo

Chicken Sausage Gumbo

Serves 8 and takes about 4 hours 

1 tablespoon plus 1/2 cup vegetable oil

1 pound smoked sausage, such as andouille or kielbasa, cut crosswise 1/2-inch thick pieces (Trader Joe’s has chicken andouille sausage- I used this)

4 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs (I used the large frozen bag from Trader Joe’s) -OR- use boneless, skinless breasts

2 Tablespoons Cajun seasoning (see above)

1 Tablespoon tomato paste

2/3 cup all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon olive oil

2 cups chopped onions (from 1 1/2 large Vidalia or yellow onions)

3 celery stalks, finely chopped

2 red peppers, finely chopped

1 green pepper, finely chopped

1 lb. fresh or frozen okra, chopped into small medallions

1 teaspoon salt, to taste

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)

3 bay leaves

8 cups low-sodium chicken broth

1/2 cup chopped green onions (scallions)

3 tablespoons chopped parsley leaves


If using frozen chicken, defrost in the fridge for 24 hours and then 1 hour at room temperature.

1. In a large pot or cast-iron dutch oven, heat 1 tablespoon of the vegetable oil over medium-high heat. Add the sausage and cook until well browned, about 8 minutes. Remove the sausage with a slotted spoon and set aside. Leave the fat in the pan.

2. Season the chicken throughly with the cajun seasoning and add in batches to the fat remaining in the pan. Cook over medium-high heat until well browned, 5 to 6 minutes. The pan will develop a very thick crust of seasoning -that’s okay. You don’t actually need to cook the chicken completely, just get a nice brown crust. Remove the chicken from the pan, let cool, and then refrigerate until ready to use.


3. Combine the remaining 1/2 cup oil and the flour in the same pot oven over medium heat. Cook, stirring slowly and constantly for 20 to 25 minutes to make the roux. It will be a dark brown color because of the crusted brown bits in the pan. Use a fork to scrape up some of the crust.


4. Add the onions (reserve 1/2 cup), celery, and bell peppers (reserve 1/2 cup chopped red pepper) and cook for 5 minutes. Add the reserved sausage, salt, tomato paste,  cayenne, and bay leaves, stir, and cook for 2 minutes. Stirring, slowly add the chicken stock, and cook, stirring, until well combined. Bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook, uncovered and stirring occasionally, for 1 hour and 30 minutes.

5. Add the reserved chicken and the okra to the pot and simmer for 1 hour. Taste the soup at this point. If it has a floury taste, add 1/2 teaspoon of the cajun seasoning.

6. If the soup is perfect, you can skip this step: In a small skillet, heat 1 teaspoon of olive oil over medium heat and cook the reserved 1/2 cup of onions and red peppers until browned, about 5 minutes. Then, puree the mixture in a blender or food processor and add to the soup. I found that my gumbo had a bit of a floury taste and this mixture added a nice fresh, acidic richness.

7. Remove the pot from the heat. Using a slotted spoon, remove the chicken thighs from the gumbo and place on a cutting board to cool slightly. Remove and discard the bay leaves. Shred the chicken with two forks and add back to the pot.

8. Serve the gumbo (about 1 cup per bowl) with 1 cup of cheddar grits (recipe below) and sprinkle 1 teaspoon each of green onions and parsley on top. This is not just a garnish, but adds a much-needed herbal taste. 

Cheddar Grits

Serves 8

You will need:

4 cups stone ground grits (I used Logan Turnpike old fashioned grits from Manhattan ruit Exchange in Chelsea Market)

6 cups water

3 Tablespoons butter

1 teaspoon tabasco sauce

1 teaspoon worcestershire sauce

1 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 cups of grated (the large holes of your box grater) sharp cheddar cheese (wisconsin yellow sharp works well)


1. Rinse the grits thoroughly and add to a heavy-bottomed pot. Add the water and the butter and bring to a boil. Then simmer for about 30-40 minutes, stirring constantly until cooked.

2. Add more water if needed and stir in the cheese. Add the tabasco and worcestershire and serve. Leave the tabasco on the table for your guests to add heat as needed.

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