Tuesday, March 26

Leah Chase's Gumbo z'Herbes

Today, for Easter week, we bring you a recipe for Gumbo z'Herbes by Leah Chase and Sara Roahen.  Gumbo z'Herbes is traditionally eaten in New Orleans on Holy (Maundy) Thursday, so you've got a couple of days to gather your ingredients and prepare this labor-intensive—but oh-so-worth-it—gumbo.

Leah Chase (l) and Sara Roahen.

Gumbo z'Herbes
from the Southern Foodways Alliance Community Cookbook (UGA Press 2010, edited by Sara Roahen and John T. Edge)

Much was lost in the wake of the levee failures that followed Hurricane Katrina. Armed with a sense of collective responsibility to avoid further losses, many work to preserve what remains. We do that, in part, by recovering imperiled culinary traditions. Gumbo z'Herbes is an example of a dish that, at least to outlanders, was little known before the storm and is now better known. Leah Chase, who cooked this gumbo for innumerable post-Katrina events, is largely responsible for that.

Leah grew up eating green gumbo every Holy Thursday in Madisonville, Louisiana. The idea then, and now, was to feast on the hearty, meat-heavy soup before fasting on Good Friday. This recipe is an expansion of Leah's original, amended after she and Sara Roahen shopped and cooked together. Leah says that Creoles always add filé to their gumbo z'herbes, even though few recipes call for it.

Maundy Thursday Gumbo z'Herbes at Dooky Chase Restaurant in New Orleans. Photo by Dave Grunfeld for the Times-Picayune, 2011.

serves 12–15


2 ham shanks
1 gallon of water
Between 7 and 11 of the following greens, to total 6–8 lbs: collard, mustard, turnip, spinach, cabbage, carrot tops, beet tops, arugula, parsley, green onions, watercress, romaine, curly endive, kale, radish tops, and/or pepper grass
3 medium yellow onions, roughly chopped
8 whole garlic cloves, peeled
2 lbs. fresh hot sausage
1 lb. chicken drumettes
1 lb. andouille sausage, cut into 1/2-inch slices
1 lb. smoked pork sausage, cut into 1/2-inch slices
1 lb. beef stew meat, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
8 oz. ham, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 cup all-purpose flour
vegetable oil
3 tsp. dried thyme 
2 tsp. ground cayenne pepper
3 bay leaves
2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. filé powder (optional)
Hot, cooked white rice for serving


Place the ham shanks and water in a large pot. Bring to a boil over high heat; reduce the heat to medium-low and let simmer until needed.

Wash all of the greens thoroughly in salt water, being sure to remove any grit, discolored outer leaves, and tough stems. Rinse in a bath of plain water. (A clean double sink works well for this.) Drain the greens in a colander. Place the greens, onions, and garlic in a very large stockpot and cover with water. (If all of the vegetables won't fit in the pot, cook them in batches, using the same cooking liquid for each batch.) Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer until the greens are very tender, about 45 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the cooked greens into a large bowl to cool for a few minutes. Pour cooking liquid into a large bowl and set it aside. Working in batches, puree the greens in a food processor or by running them through a meat grinder. Use a little cooking liquid to loosen the puree, if needed. Transfer the puree into a large bowl and set aside.

Cook the fresh sausage in a large skillet over medium heat until it renders its fat and moisture, breaking up the sausage with teh side of a spoon. Transfer with a slotted spoon into a large bowl and set aside. Brown the chicken in the rendered sausage fat over medium-high heat and then transfer with a slotted spoon to the bowl with the cooked sausage. (The chicken will cook more later, so it does not need to cook through at this point. Set the skillet and the drippings aside.

Remove the ham shanks from their cooking liquid, reserving the liquid to use as stock. When cool enough to handle, pull the meat from the bones. Chop the meat into bite-sized pieces and add it to the bowl with the sausage and chicken. Discard the bones and the fat. Pour the ham stock into a large bowl and set it aside.

Return the vegetable puree to the large stock pot. Add the hot sausage, chicken, andouille, smoked pork sausage, stew beef, ham-shank meat, and chopped ham. (If it will not fit into one pot, divide between two pots.) Cover with equal parts ham stock and greens-cooking liquid and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat.

To make the roux, place the skillet containing the hot sausage pan drippings over medium-high heat. Sprinkle the flour over the drippings and stir well with a wooden spoon. If the mixture is dry and crumbly, stir in enough vegetable oil to make a smooth, thick paste. Cook, stirring constantly, slowly, and intently until the roux turns light brown. (This isn't a dark roux, but the flour should be cooked.) Drop tablespoons of roux into the simmering gumbo, stirring well after each addition. Stir in the thyme, cayenne, bay leaves, and salt. Simmer the gumbo until the stew meat is tender and the chicken is cooked through, about 1 hour. Stir often to prevent scorching. If the gumbo gets too thick to stir, add more stock or water.

If desired, slowly add the filé at the end of cooking. (It will lump if you're not careful.) Serve hot over cooked white rice. 

Leah Chase and Sara Roahen of New Orleans, Louisiana