What Is Chicken Gumbo?

Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum
A chicken.
A chicken.

Chicken gumbo is a dish that includes the use of white and dark chicken meat along with a selection of vegetables and spices. While the origin of gumbo is usually traced to the Southern Delta region of the United States during the 18th and 19th centuries, there is no agreement on exactly when chicken was first introduced into the basic recipe. It is documented that the dish is of New World origin and represents a marriage between the culinary practices of Native Americans, French and Spanish settlers in the region, African slaves transported to the area and even some innovations later on by Italian and German immigrants.

A jalapeno pepper, a common ingredient in chicken gumbo.
A jalapeno pepper, a common ingredient in chicken gumbo.

The basic chicken gumbo ingredients call for the use of white and dark meat harvested from a chicken, along with okra potatoes, onions, carrots, and celery. Spices like garlic, thyme, bay leaves, black pepper, jalapeno, and cayenne pepper are used to bring the various flavors together. To thicken the chicken gumbo, different recipes provide for the use of flour or cornstarch.

The preparation of chicken gumbo has undergone changes over the years. In times past, it was not unusual for the whole chicken to be boiled as the first step of the process. The boiled chicken was removed from the stock pot and the meat stripped away from the carcass. A portion of the broth resulting from the boiling was returned to the pot along with the shredded chicken, followed by the vegetables and spices. Once the vegetables were cooked, a thickener such as flour was added until the proper consistency was achieved. If needed, additional spices were added to ensure the taste was exactly as the cook intended.

Today, chicken gumbo is more often prepared using chicken breasts that are baked or broiled, then shredded for inclusion in the dish. The vegetables used may be fresh, canned, or frozen and the spices are usually ground versions that are readily available from a supermarket. Modern recipes may call for using a small amount of oil along with flour as a starter, adding in chicken broth and then finally the cooked chicken, vegetables and spices. With some recipes, the okra is cooked separately from the other ingredients, then added to the mixture for a short period of simmering before the gumbo is considered complete.

While it is possible to purchase canned or frozen chicken gumbo, the relative simplicity of most recipes make it easy to prepare the dish using ingredients easily obtained from a local market. This makes it possible to enjoy freshly prepared chicken gumbo even during times of the year when one or more of the ingredients are not in season. The dish will also freeze well, making it easy to prepare the dish during the summer or early autumn, freeze the gumbo in several containers, and enjoy the dish throughout the winter months.

Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum

After many years in the teleconferencing industry, Michael decided to embrace his passion for trivia, research, and writing by becoming a full-time freelance writer. Since then, he has contributed articles to a variety of print and online publications, including wiseGEEK, and his work has also appeared in poetry collections, devotional anthologies, and several newspapers. Malcolm’s other interests include collecting vinyl records, minor league baseball, and cycling.

Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum

After many years in the teleconferencing industry, Michael decided to embrace his passion for trivia, research, and writing by becoming a full-time freelance writer. Since then, he has contributed articles to a variety of print and online publications, including wiseGEEK, and his work has also appeared in poetry collections, devotional anthologies, and several newspapers. Malcolm’s other interests include collecting vinyl records, minor league baseball, and cycling.

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Discussion Comments

Lostnfound

@Grivusangel -- I agree. A gumbo needs a roux, and since you're not trying for a dark roux, you should be able to get a nice medium one together. That only takes about 10 minutes or so.

I also use diced tomatoes in my gumbo, and add them with the chicken broth. I'm not crazy about okra, so I add just a little for the last 10 minutes or so of cooking time.

Tony Chachere's Cajun Seasoning is good stuff. I use the kind with less salt so I can control the sodium content better. But it's a great blend for gumbo, jambalaya or any Cajun cooking. I like a lot of onion and garlic in my gumbo, and just a little celery, but that's my personal taste.

Grivusangel

To my mind, *every* gumbo starts with a roux. A seafood gumbo usually takes a dark roux, while a chicken gumbo would use a medium or lighter roux-- one about the color of peanut butter.

Once the roux is done, you saute all the trinity vegetables (celery, onion, bell pepper) in the hot roux and when they are softened, add the chicken broth. It's always good if you use homemade chicken broth using thigh and leg pieces, with some breast meat included, because the broth will be richer.

I cook the rice separately and put it in individual bowls, then ladle the gumbo over it.

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    • A chicken.
      A chicken.
    • A jalapeno pepper, a common ingredient in chicken gumbo.
      A jalapeno pepper, a common ingredient in chicken gumbo.