One of the first things we make at our house with Thanksgiving leftovers is “something spicy.” After all the richness and decadence of the classic holiday meal, my taste buds start clamoring for Mexican food or Asian or spicy Italian—really, anything but gravy and potatoes, if you don’t mind. This year’s turkey went on the smoker with a spice and maple sugar rub, so I wasn’t sure how the flavors would work in some of our other usual “planned-over” recipes, but they were perfect for a spicy gumbo. We had heat, smoke, chunky vegetables and an all-day simmer, and that’s covering all the bases for my post-holiday cravings.
Is my gumbo authentic? Who knows, and I’m not even sure who is qualified to judge it. There are as many “authentic” gumbo recipes as there are grandmothers in Louisiana, and you’d likely find they run the gamut from thin soup to chunky stew. Some will be as brown as molasses and others will have tomatoes. Some will be spicy as all get-out, and others will be filled with sweet juicy crab. Okra is standard in most gumbo recipes, but some cooks favor filé, a powdered form of sassafras root that serves as a thickening agent. My gumbo has a roux base and okra, and it’s dang spicy because I make the roux with a blend of canola oil and cayenne-infused olive oil, the latter of which is really hot.
What I’m getting at is simple: my rules are mine, and this gumbo makes everyone at my house happy. It’s delicious as soon as it’s ready and even better after a day or two in the fridge. It uses simple ingredients and it’ll help you clear out some of the space-hogging leftovers (including that huge turkey carcass). And the most “exotic” thing in it is a half bag of frozen okra. You can handle that, right?
If you’re staring down the remains of a Thanksgiving turkey and feeling inspired for a new leftover tradition, give it a go. 🙂
Rule #1 – Do not rush the roux
I’m sorry, dear ones, but I cannot imagine this part is possible in an insta-pot. The roux (equal parts oil and flour) is the backbone of my gumbo, providing flavor and also an assist on thickening. Without roux, this would just be turkey and okra soup. The roux cooks low and slow on the stovetop for about an hour, and I use that time to prep all my other ingredients. If this seems high-maintenance to you, there are instructions online for roasting a roux in the oven (though I’ve never tried it), but this is a breeze on the stovetop. Get it started, then let it be except for an occasional stir. If you get impatient and rush the roux, you will end up with something that tastes either uncooked or burned.
Rule #2 – It must include the trinity
You have probably learned, from TV chefs Justin Wilson or Emeril Lagasse, that onion, celery and bell pepper make up the “holy trinity” of flavors used in Cajun recipes. The combination is essential, whether your menu includes gumbo, étouffée or jambalaya. Thank God there’s a use for the rest of the celery that didn’t go into the dressing. I use sweet onions, but yellow or Spanish onions are fine. I’ve long considered the color of bell pepper to be discretionary, and for this batch of gumbo, I went with a combination of red and green bells because it’s what we had on hand.
Rule #3 – Use a rich stock, preferably homemade
Gumbo recipes require a fair amount of broth or stock, and making homemade stock is the easiest way in the world to eke out every last bit of flavor from your Thanksgiving turkey. After you’ve picked all the useful meat off the frame, drop it into a heavy stockpot with any scraps of turkey skin, a cut-up onion, handful of garlic cloves, a few celery stalks, some peppercorns and a bay leaf or two. Add enough water to nearly cover it and cook it—and I mean really cook it—until you can pull the bones out clean. This will take hours, and nobody would blame you if you decided to do this in your slow cooker overnight. There’s a world of flavor hiding inside those bones, and a slow-simmering stock is far and away more nutritious than anything you could pour out of a can or carton. Plus, this fulfills one of my grandma’s golden rules: waste nothing. If you aren’t making gumbo, I hope you’ll make a stock from your turkey frame anyway, even if you just put it in containers to freeze for later.
Rule #4 – Use two kinds of meat
The options are wide open for gumbo—chicken, turkey, shrimp, crab, sausage, crawdads or whatever. But for the most interesting texture and flavor, I always use a combination of at least two meats. Turkey is obviously the main meat this time, and I’ve used the dark meat for its texture and flavor, plus a spicy leftover smoked sausage link. I got my hubby a humongous new smoker for his birthday this year, and he couldn’t see the sense in having empty rack space, so in addition to the spice-rubbed turkey, he smoked a large salmon fillet and about six flavored sausages. If you choose any of the seafood options for your gumbo, I recommend adding them at the very end to avoid overcooking them.
OK, and listen, if you want more mumbo jumbo on the gumbo, you can check out this link for more information than you could have ever hoped for.
Otherwise, grab an apron and let’s start cooking! My recipe makes approximately six hearty servings.
4 Tbsp. vegetable oil* (see notes)
4 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
1 cup each chopped onion, celery and bell pepper
4 cloves garlic, crushed and chopped
Salt and pepper, of course
1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper, cayenne or smoked paprika* (see notes)
2 cups leftover turkey, chopped into bite-sized pieces (dark meat preferred)
1 leftover smoked sausage, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 quart homemade turkey or chicken stock (instructions below)*
2 cups vegetable broth or chicken broth
1 bay leaf
1/2 tsp. dried thyme leaves
1 1/2 cups frozen sliced okra
Cooked brown rice for serving
You can use vegetable, peanut or canola oil for the roux. Alternatively, if you like it spicy, use some amount of cayenne-infused olive oil, available at one of the specialty oil and vinegar shops that have popped up everywhere. I go half and half, canola and cayenne olive oil, and this combination delivers enough heat that I will typically forego the optional red pepper flakes. Note that the cayenne oil has a deep orange color, so you’ll want to consider that in determining when the roux is ready. For clear oil, a caramel color roux is dark enough. When using cayenne-infused oil, let it develop until it reaches a deep amber shade.
Your heat preference will dictate how much (or which kind) of optional hot pepper you should add to your gumbo. Remember that you can always shake some Frank’s RedHot sauce onto the gumbo at serving time. This is a terrific option when different members of the household have a different threshold for heat.
If you don’t have a leftover turkey carcass, or the time or patience to make homemade stock, substitute equal amount of chicken bone broth. You’ll find cartons of this in the soup aisle of a well-stocked supermarket.
The visual walk-through will probably do it for you, but if you’d like written instructions, keep scrolling. I’ve listed them below, along with a downloadable version for your recipe files. First, build the roux, and remember to take your time.
Homemade turkey stock (make a day ahead)
1 turkey frame, picked clean of useful meat
1 medium onion, rough-chopped (use the ends, too)
4 ribs celery, cleaned and cut up into chunks (leafy ends are OK, too)
4 cloves fresh garlic, crushed
1 tsp. black peppercorns
2 bay leaves
Enough water to mostly cover the turkey frame
Combine all ingredients in a heavy-bottomed stock pot over medium heat. Bring to a boil, then cover, reduce heat to low and simmer several hours, until the bones are stripped clean and the stock is a rich, golden color. Remove and discard solids and strain stock into a large glass bowl or pitcher. Cool completely, then cover and refrigerate overnight. When the stock is fully chilled, it will be easy to scrape off excess grease, which will be congealed at the top. You’ll want to keep a small amount of the grease, though, for added flavor in your gumbo.
Instructions for gumbo
- Place a large, heavy-bottomed stock pot over medium heat. Add oil. Add flour and whisk until bubbly, then reduce heat to the lowest setting. Allow roux to develop for about an hour, whisking or stirring occasionally. When the color resembles caramel (or dark amber, if using a cayenne oil), proceed to the next step.
- Increase heat to medium and add the trinity. Stir to combine, season with salt, pepper and optional hot pepper, then add the garlic, cooking and stirring for about 10 minutes, until vegetables are softened and mixture feels “loosened up” a bit.
- Add cut-up turkey and sausage and stir to coat them in the roux. Add the turkey stock, a little at a time, stirring in between. Add vegetable broth, dried thyme leaves and bay leaf. Reduce heat to low and simmer for about two hours.
- Add frozen okra and stir to blend it into the stew. Increase heat to medium-low and simmer for 20 – 30 minutes, until okra is no longer bright green, and tender to your liking.
Serve gumbo over hot cooked brown rice. Spike it with Frank’s RedHot sauce if you’d like.