Lionel Eby Smith-McGehee is one of those friends that once you meet him, you never want to spend time away from him. He is an exceptional cook, cocktail mixer and teller of excellent southern tales. Lionel and I both have all of these things.
Last week I invited him over (after Covid free tests ) to cook in my new kitchen in Winter Park, Florida. He brought over bags of chopped veggies, sausages, cooked whole chickens, old cookbooks tucked full of treasured recipe cards, and a pan full of roux he labored over an hour to make for me.
This is a good friend.
We chatted about New York Cocktail Lounges, gardening, the best breeds of dogs for empty nesters, expensive fabric, and drank Virgin Bloody Mary’s (because foolish me gave up alcohol for Lent) while creating this pot of heaven.
Lionel taught me the cherished and mystical secret of a perfect Roux.
The main ingredient- patience.
This gumbo recipe is exceptional. Filled with okra, chicken, country sausage and love, it takes time to make. Like many things Southern- it’s pace is slow and flavor- hot. The end result is a potful of love.
Take some time this week to savor cooking this old family recipe while enjoying a good glass of wine or one of my signature cocktails.
Thank you Lionel.
Lionel hails from Monroe, Louisiana and shared his mother and grandmother’s the Cotton Country Collection Cookbook. It is the best selling cookbook published by the Junior League of Monroe, Louisiana. You can buy your own copy here. Doing a little research on this wonderful collection of Southern recipes, I found USA Today listed it as one of the top five regional cookbooks in the country. This recipe is a combination of Lionel’s skills, and several recipes inside the pages of Cotton Country Collection.
Lionel's Country Sausage and Chicken gumbo- Serves 8
- Fo rthe Roux:
1/2 cup all purpose Flour
1/2 cup Canola or peanut oil, plus 2 TBSP
- For the Gumbo:
TWO 2-3 – pound chickens, roasted- see technique below
1 lb country sausage, sliced into 1/2″ pieces
1 cup onion, diced
1 cup green bell pepper, diced
1 cup celery, diced
1 cup green onions, white and green parts, diced
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 cup parsley, roughly chopped
2 bags chopped frozen okra, thawed and drained
OR if you can find fresh okra- – 2 cups- chopped, ends removed
1 15 oz can NO sodium stewed tomatoes with liquid
2 tsp red pepper flakes
2-3 whole Bay leaves, dried
2 tsp kosher salt or to taste
1 tsp black pepper, or to taste
4-5 shakes Worcestershire sauce
1/4 cup good dry white wine
2-32 oz boxes low sodium chicken broth, heated in a sauce pan
1- 24 oz bottle chicken bone broth, heated with the chicken broth
OR use homemade stock if you prefer.
Tabasco or PickaPeppa hot sauce
- For sippin’ while stirrin’- Lionel recommends
1 or more bloody Mary’s, glass of wine or a cold beer
Method- takes 2 days, don't be in a hurry
- FOR THE CHICKEN:
Roast your chickens, which have been liberally coated with salt, pepper, thyme and stuffed with quartered lemons. Lionel prefers citrus notes for the poultry, but this is optional.
Bake at 425 degrees, middle rack of your oven for 1 hour and 15 minutes. After the birds are golden brown, cool, then remove the meat. Do not cut the meat- pull from the carcass with clean hands. Discard the skin and bones or save for making stock.
*You can use rotisserie roasted chickens if you prefer. We won’t judge you. Okay, well a little.
- **FOR THE ROUX:
Using a heavy bottomed pot for your roux.
Throughly combine the flour and 1/2 cup of the oil. * Lionel prefers peanut oil.
On medium to low heat, stir all over the bottom to be certain nothing sticks. Continue stirring – the mixture will begin to darken. See photo above for final color desired. DO NOT attempt to cook the roux quickly.
Give yourself an hour to cook the roux.
As you stir, constantly, the flour and oil will take on a darker and darker color.
This is a slow process.
Adjust the heat as needed so as not to burn the flour and oil, but “cook” it. After about 50 minutes, the roux will look like dark chocolate- this is what you want.
Set aside off the heat.
Cooked roux can be stored in an airtight container for up to three days in the fridge.
- FOR THE GUMBO:
Sauté the sausage in a single layer in a large heavy bottomed pan. Cook in batches so that the sausage browns and does not steam. Cook until the edges are crispy. Remove sausage from the pot and drain grease, but do not discard the brown bits on the bottom of the pot.
- Leaving the brown bits collected on the bottom of the pot, add the remaining 2 TBSP of oil to the pot over medium high heat. Sauté the trinity of Creole cooking- the onion, bell pepper and celery 5 minutes until they just begin to wilt, stirring frequently. Do not overcook.
Add in the green onions, cook for one minute. Add in the garlic and parsley and cook one minute more.
Deglaze the pan with the 1/4 cup of wine. Add in the tomatoes and their liquid to further deglaze.
- Add sausage back to the pot. Fold in shredded chicken. Bring to a simmer.
- ADDING IN THE ROUX: Lionel’s instructions
“Now is the time for me to say, “Do not be afraid.”
Take your skillet of roux and get it hot- not boiling, but hot. The roux should be good and hot. Work it until smooth adding a bit of butter if needed. Slowly begin adding the hot broth. Remember, if the stock/ broth is not HOT, the roux will curdle. When that first bit of broth hits the roux, you will have a reaction, but fear not,
Keep stirring. Stir. Stir. Stir.
Continue adding in hot stock/ broth to the roux. The roux will settle down as you continue to stir and add all the the liquid.
Say thank you and Amen. “
- Add your roux mixture to the stock pot with vegetables and meat. Stir to fully incorporate the roux and veggies.
The gumbo will do its thing. Add in the room tempertature okra and watch the gumbo thicken.
Allow 30 minutes for the flavors to marry. Correct seasonings adding salt, pepper, hot sauce and the “Wooster” sauce.
Sprinkle with parsley.
- Serve over a mound of hot, white rice (garnish with more finely chopped parsley) . Serve with tabasco on the table. Cornbread works beautifully with this recipe. See my recipe here.
Lionel recommends a red wine to pair with the heartiness of this dish.
More about Lionel:
Lionel Eby Smith-McGehee enjoys his life in Orlando after growing-up in Louisiana and living in Mississippi, Chicago, Boston and New York City. He shares his home and life with husband Tom and thier 20 year old daughter, Kate.
When not gardening or cooking, Lionel is passionate about family, God-Talk, architecture and interior design.