Gumbo is undoubtedly the most famous dish in the realm of Louisiana cuisine. Although it can be documented back to the early 19th century, its origins are still a bit of a mystery.
Authentic gumbo contains delicious smoked sausage, among many other ingredients that make it so unique—but what kind of sausage should you use for gumbo?
The short answer is any smoked sausage you have at home. However, if you want to make the tastiest gumbo possible, then types of sausage you should consider are andouille, chorizo, and kielbasa. Let’s take a closer look at the best sausage options for this one-of-a-kind dish.
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A Brief History of Gumbo
If I had to sum up gumbo in two words, I could say it’s a type of savory stew. It’s made with a variety of meats and shellfish and comes with different seasonings and veggies. Gumbo is a delicious representative of Southern food.
In many ways, the history of the area can be found in a single bowl of gumbo. It represents three cultures, West African, Native American, and European – in that order. While gumbo is closely associated with Louisiana nowadays, or more specifically with Cajun cuisine, its history covers a broader region.
The name “gumbo” comes from several West African languages where the word for okra, an essential ingredient in gumbo, is called “ki ngombo.” This one-pot dish offers a lot of versatility for an adventurous cook.
You need a source of protein, vegetables, and herbs, but all bets are off after that. However, if you want to prepare an authentic gumbo that will resemble what people ate centuries ago, you need several specific items.
What Exactly is in Gumbo?
Gumbo can be a thick stew or a thin soup-like dish, depending on your preference. Chicken, sausage, crab, oysters, or shrimp are the go-to protein choices. Beef is not typically used. Neither is pork unless it’s in sausage form.
Gumbo also needs to contain the well-known “holy trinity” of vegetables – diced onions, celery, and bell peppers. Finally, you will need a thickener for gumbo. You can go about several ways doing that, but a basic roux is a thickener commonly used for gumbo.
This is flour cooked with butter or other types of oil until it turns golden brown. The other, usually optional, thickeners you can use are filé powder and okra.
Filé powder is made from crushed leaves of the Sassafras plant, which is native to southeastern U.S. Okra can be used either dried or fresh, and it has a distinctive flavor.
The Two Types of Gumbo
Another relevant detail about gumbo is that there are traditionally two types of gumbo, Creole and Cajun. The only significant difference is that Creole gumbo uses tomatoes, and Cajun does not.
The addition of tomatoes alters the flavor and appearance somewhat, but other ingredients are all the same. Both are the real deal; it’s only a matter of preference.
Types of Sausage Used in Gumbo
Gumbo can still be gumbo even without sausage, but it’s the best part of the dish for many people. Smoked sausage combines perfectly with the “holy trinity” and shellfish. If you’re not sure what kind of sausage for gumbo is the best, here are several options to consider.
If you were to ask a Louisiana native which sausage to use in gumbo, they’d likely suggest andouille. This particular sausage has deep roots in the area and is a common ingredient in Creole and Cajun cuisines.
It has a French name, which might seem counterintuitive because it has German origins. The sausage is a product of early German immigration in the 18th century when Louisiana was still a part of France.
Andouille sausage is made of pork, or venison and pork. A fresh version exists, but for gumbo, you’ll need a genuine smoked andouille sausage. It has a sharp, coarse, and smoky flavor many people appreciate.
If you can’t get andouille sausage, an excellent substitute is chorizo. It’s made from highly seasoned ground pork and contains smoked paprika, garlic, and sometimes pimento.
There are two versions of chorizo. The first is Mexican chorizo, made from uncooked or raw pork, and Spanish chorizo, smoked. The flavor is similar to andouille sausage, but the texture is significantly different. However, for gumbo, it’s a fantastic option.
Another word for Polish sausage is “kielbasa,” which literally means “sausage” in Polish. Kielbasa is a high-quality sausage made from any type of meat, including pork, beef, lamb, turkey, chicken, and veal.
For the purposes of gumbo, you might want to stick to pork kielbasa, but you can use any you like. Kielbasa is a great alternative to andouille sausage and fits right into gumbo or any other Louisiana region dishes.
Whatever You Like
If you don’t have any of the listed sausages at home, or you’re partial to different flavors, you can still make gumbo from scratch. German smoked sausage or even Italian salami will do, especially if it has a smoky flavor. Just use any sausage you like best and focus on the roux and other ingredients.
Gumbo vs. Jambalaya
Those unfamiliar with Creole and Cajun cuisines might confuse the two dishes. On the surface level, they sound the same. You need sausage, shellfish, the “holy trinity,” and they’re also divided into two categories based on the presence or absence of tomatoes.
The confusion increases when rice gets involved. First, jambalaya is a paella-like dish, and gumbo is more of a soup or stew. Secondly, rice is an integral part of jambalaya. You cook it together with the meat and shellfish.
On the other hand, while you can serve gumbo over rice, you can also eat it without it. Both dishes are a staple of New Orleans and rural parts of Louisiana.
If you’re committed to sticking to the most authentic gumbo recipe, then the answer to what kind of sausage to use for gumbo is simple. Use andouille sausage if possible. Spanish chorizo might be the next best thing, followed by smoked pork kielbasa.
However, gumbo allows plenty of freedom for the cook, so you can experiment and use any sausage you prefer. Keep in mind that the thickener gives gumbo the recognizable flavor, and that is where most of your attention should go.