The trick is to smoke the meat and not make the meat smoke

Turkey Bone Gumbo

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I had a really fun cooking experience the other day which is the subject of this blog: Gumbo. More specifically Turkey Bone Gumbo. If you’ve ever thought about making gumbo, read on. I will attempt to explain what I learned along the way. This meal attracted me on many levels. The first is I was interested in seeing what a New Orleans style gumbo really tasted like. I have a cousin who spent 15 years in New Orleans and while he hated the humidity and complained about it all the time, he Love, Love, Loved the food. Next the gumbo would make use of the left over turkey carcass I had sitting in the fridge. It used a homemade turkey stock and I’ve never made my own stock before. Another attraction was I already had many of the veggies, herbs and spices in, so it would be a relatively low cost cook. Another attraction is this recipe called for a major league roux that would take nearly 30 minutes. I’d never made made more than a 5 minute “quickie” roux and this would be a whole new ball game. So I had means, motive and opportunity.
What caused me to make gumbo in the first place? I’ll confess it was completely off my radar screen until Monday morning. I’d made my Thanksgiving turkey on Saturday this year. One of my tasks for the following Monday was to figure out what to do with the leftovers. I was thinking either turkey soup or THANKSGIVING QUESADILLAS which I made last year. I was visiting the BBQ Bible message boards and saw a post on there about what folks were doing with their leftovers. Several folks there were talking about gumbo and a lightbulb went off in my head. I did a Google search and one of the first recipes I found was this one for Turkey Bone Gumbo. It was from a lady who had lived in New Orleans and wrote a cookbook about New Orleans. After reading through it several times, it sounded real good. I will admit the homemade stock intimidated me a little, as did the roux. But it wasn’t rocket science. I am good at following directions, so I decided there was no time like the present to expand my horizons a bit. I did a little more reading on gumbo and was soon convinced this recipe was “authentic”. If I was going to make gumbo, I wanted to make the real deal.


The filé powder, which goes on at the end as an optional seasoning was impossible to find locally. But it can be found at Penzy’s Spices or Williams-Sonoma.

As I mentioned earlier: I had little shopping to do, but there was one ingredient I had to drive a little way out of my way to get. At the end of making the gumbo it gets seasoned with a spice called filé. None of the stores near me carried filé powder. I found it at Penzy’s spices and Williams-Sonoma, so my gumbo cook was put off 24 hours while I drove down near Boston to pick up the Gumbo Filé at Williams-Sonoma. I also used the extra time to do some research on YouTube. Whenever I make something totally new, I try to find videos on the web. I like to see how someone who actually knows how to do it, actually does it. In this case I was particularly concerned (worried) about the roux. One of the first videos I found was by Paul Prudhomme. It was just what I was looking for. He showed how to make the roux, but also had finished samples of different shades of roux. The darkest one of the lot was the one he said was used for gumbo. I was able to see exactly what shade I was shooting for. The other thing I noticed in the Paul Prudhomme video and all of the other roux videos, is the chefs whisked the hell out of the roux and did it non-stop. Now I knew ahead of time this would be an event that required total focus, hold all calls, don’t leave the stove and no time for pictures. It was good to find this out before I burned the roux and had to do a second one. Or a third, or...

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The ingredients for the turkey stock were the turkey carcass, bay leaves, peppercorns, celery (diced), onions (diced), garlic cloves (crushed), carrots (sliced), & thyme sprigs.

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I was afraid that some of the small sharp bones on the turkey carcass might scratch my Calphalon non-stick stock pot, I used my stainless steel crock pot which is a lot bigger (left). When it came time to add the water, the water didn’t go up high enough to cover the entire turkey (right).


Before adding more water, which I was reluctant to do because it might dilute the stock, I added all of the chopped veggies and other ingredients (left), This was enough to raise the level high enough to cover the turkey (right).

I started the gumbo just after lunch, around 1:10. The first step was to make the turkey stock. I gathered the ingredients and began the prep work. My
WILLIAMS-SONOMA VEGETABLE CHOPPER made quick work of dicing the onions: Cut the onion in half, remove the skin, chop-chop = done. The garlic cloves got smashed with a tenderizing hammer, which crushed them and loosened the skin. The carrots were peeled and sliced. The celery was sliced. The thyme, bay leaves and peppercorns were used whole. The turkey carcass was broken into several pieces and placed in a large stock pot. I used a large stainless steel stockpot that was a bit bigger than I’d wanted because I was afraid the sharp turkey bones might scratch my non-stick stock pot. To break up the carcass I used a combination of my hands for some parts and Kitchen shears for the tougher pieces. The gallon of water called for in the recipe didn’t quite cover all of the turkey. I was afraid of this when I used the larger stock pot: Larger diameter pot meant lower depth. I didn’t want to add more water yet, and on a hunch I added all of the veggies, herbs & spices. As I’d hoped for, the water level rose with the addition of the other ingredients and I needed no additional water. I brought the turkey stock to a boil and then dialed it down to a simmer for the next two hours. The broth was nearly clear in color when I started out and as time went on it became first golden brown and then a medium brown. The Kitchen was filled with wonderful smells as time went on. One of the first smells I detected was smoke from the smoked turkey. While the turkey stock simmered, I did some Kitchen cleanup and threw in a load of dishes in the dishwasher. Next I began the prep for the gumbo portion of the cook.

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After 2 hours the turkey stock is done. The turkey carcass is removed from the stock pot first and then the stock is run through a strainer. The solids are reserved and are allowed to cool down. The turkey stock is used for the gumbo and the solids are picked through to gather turkey for use in the gumbo.

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The ingredients for the gumbo are ready.

Once again my
WILLIAMS-SONOMA VEGETABLE CHOPPER made quick work of chopping the onions & bell peppers. I diced the celery, andouille sausage and scallion tops and refrigerated them for a while until the stock was done. I also culled through my turkey leftovers to dice up 3 cups of turkey meat. I gave preference to the meat from the thighs to get the most flavor. I went about 3/4 dark meat to 1/4 white meat. Every 15 minutes or so I’d wander over and give the stock pot a quick check and give the stock a stir. Somewhere in the middle of this 2 hour simmer I was able to take a 20 minute break. I used the time to watch a couple of the YouTube videos on making roux again. I also gave some though as to how I was going to handle draining the stock. I decided I’d remove the pieces of turkey carcass with some tongs and put them in a marinade dish which would catch any liquid. Then I would place a silicone strainer over an 8 quart pan and pour off the turkey stock. Just before the stock was finished I pulled the diced veggies out of the fridge. I’d have some time to work on getting the turkey out of the solids and off the carcass. After the 30 minutes for the roux and sautéing the veggies, the turkey broth goes in and simmers for an hour. So it wasn’t for another 90 minutes that the turkey was needed. I concentrated my time on making sure I had all the prep work done for the start of the gumbo. I poured the broth from the 8 qt. (7.5 L)pan into a 4 quart (3.75 L) measuring cup and was happy to see I’d gotten 8 cups (2 L) of broth. The recipe called for 6 cups (1.5 L) of the broth for the gumbo, but said you’d get 8 cups (2 L) from the stock recipe. This told me my heat settings were in the ball park. I was also glad I didn’t have to use more than the gallon of water called for when I was starting out. With 6 cups (1.5 L) of stock measured out it was time to make some gumbo. I poured the olive oil into the Dutch Oven and waited for it to heat.

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The flour has just been added to the hot oil and work on the roux has begun.

The oil was to be heated using medium high heat. Knowing my stovetop and the Le Crueset
DUTCH OVEN I was using, I set the heat between low and medium. It really doesn’t take much heat to get the Dutch Oven screamingly hot and I certainly didn’t want to burn the roux. When the oil started smoking slightly I took the temperature with my candy thermometer, dialed the burner down a bit more and added the flour by sifting it into the hot oil. I mixed it and shot one quick picture. Form this point on the roux would get my undivided attention. I started vigorously whisking with my left hand (I’m a southpaw) while holding the Dutch oven side handle with my right hand (wearing an oven mitt). The roux immediately went from slightly off white to a slightly darker color, but then it didn’t do much for a while. I was whisking as fast as I could and I could already tell I wasn’t going to make it through the whole 25-30 minutes using one hand. When it was time to switch hands with the whisk I kept the oven mitt on my right hand and put the other one on my left. This way I could switch hands with the whisk without having to switch the gloves too. As it turned out I had to switch hands several times during the process, but the transfer was nearly instantaneous. Gradually the roux started deepening in color. I also started noticing a smell that reminded me a bit of when I’ve roasted nuts. It wasn’t a smoking burning smell per se, which would have been bad, it was different. The roux finally started to get darker and thicken up a little as it darkened. My two arms and I were quite glad when the roux reached the desired color after 25 minutes.

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The veggies have been added to the roux and have sauteed for 5 minutes.

I quickly added the veggies: Celery, onion, bell pepper & garlic to the pan. Those first three are referred to as the “trinity” and are common in Cajun style cooking. The addition of these items supposedly stopped the roux from cooking, but I still kept the ingredients moving in the pan, just not as fast as what I did for the roux. I wore the oven mitts when I first added the veggies and I was glad I did. You get a big cloud of steam sprung up from the cold veggies hit the hot roux, and the gloves protected my hands. It took about 5 minutes for the veggies to start softening up, at which point I added the salt, cayenne pepper and andouille sausage. These were sauteed for another 5 minutes. Once this was done I added the broth and the bay leaves. The liquid was brought to a boil and then reduced to a simmer for an hour. One problem I had during this phase was I almost had to turn the heat completely off to maintain a simmer. The burner was set below the lowest number, but the lit burner light was still on showing it was making some heat. It took me a while to dial down to this point. I’d turn the dial down a little and I kept waiting for the liquid to stop bubbling at some point, but it never did. Fortunately it did reach a decent simmer when I was just about out of adjustment.

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The broth has been added as well as the andouille sausage and bay leaf.

Once I had the right temperature in my Dutch oven, it was time to harvest the turkey from making the stock. The 40 minutes spent making the roux and sautéing the veggies had given the solids strained from the stock time to cool down. First I stripped the carcass pieces for any meat and then I culled through the solids that were in my strainer. The recipe had called for the turkey to be cut into a 1/4” ().67 cm) dice. This was not a problem with the 3 cups (0.75 L) made from the refrigerated left overs, but the turkey out of the turkey stock was just too soft. It would shred when I tried to slice it-think pulled pork. I solved that problem by tearing it apart by hand just like pulled pork. It wasn’t as pretty, but I had to get the job done soon so I could start the gumbo. I was looking for 2-3 cups (0.5 - 0.75 L) worth of turkey from the stock, and I managed to get 2 1/2 cups (6 L). Most of the turkey had fallen off the carcass and it was simply a matter of picking through the solids in the strainer. The pieces were fairly small and I was often just breaking up one piece into a few smaller pieces. This was the first turkey I’ve made that got used up 100 percent, and I felt good about that.

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It is now an hour later and it is time to add the turkey to the mixture. Before doing that the fat gets skimmed from the surface.

After an hour of simmering, the Kitchen smelled wonderful and it was time to add the turkey. Before adding the turkey I skimmed off the fat on the surface of the broth. I assume most of the fat came from the turkey stock. I have a fine grated mesh skimmer that made quick work of the task. The turkey added was the 3 cups (0.75 L) worth of diced leftover turkey and the 2 1/2 cups (0.66 L) culled from the stock. Once I added the turkey, I dialed up the burner a little bit to get things simmering again. Once the gumbo began to boil, I didn’t fool around this time and went straight back to the “almost off” setting that was working for me before. I am amazed at the small amount of heat the Dutch oven required to keep that 3 1/2 quarts (3.33 L) of gumbo simmering. I started having thoughts about the efficiency of that meal. It used up the turkey plus some other items I had around, and required a relatively small amount of heat to cook it. But then the smells in the Kitchen brought me back to reality and I smiled a bit. The smell told me that my reasons for cooking it had little to do with the “efficiency” of the meal. The gumbo needed to simmer for 2 hours before it was ready to eat. Other than stirring it every 10 minutes, my work with the gumbo was almost done.

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The turkey is ready to be added. The cup on the left is 3 cups (0.75 L) of leftover turkey, the turkey on the right was culled after making the turkey stock and amounted to about 2 1/2 cups (0.66 L).

The next item on the list was to unload and reload the dishwasher. Unfortunately in our house most guests come in through the Kitchen. I’ve seen studies and situations on TV that prove people also eat with their eyes. The same exact meal served in two different settings will taste different to people. Long way of saying I need to clean the Kitchen and after that set the table. It is much nicer for guest to come in to a clean Kitchen with the gumbo sitting on the stove simmering and the table all set. Once the dishwasher was unloaded and reloaded, I set the table and then washed the pans. At this point I was very glad I’d baked the crusty French rolls we were having ahead of time. With a 6 hour cook I’d thought there would be plenty of time to get the rolls in, but in this case that would have been wrong. When cleanup was done, I took the second short 20 minute break of the afternoon before it was back to the Kitchen to start the rice and finish off the gumbo.


Once the gumbo was off the heat it received some fresh lemon juice and the Gumbo filé powder. The filé powder was mixed in with some of the gumbo broth (right) and then was returned to the gumbo and mixed in.

Once back in the Kitchen I got the white rice started and then gathered the last couple ingredients and some measuring spoons and bowls. When the gumbo was pulled from the heat it was seasoned with chopped fresh parsley, sliced scallion tops (the white part of the scallion), more black pepper (to taste) lemon juice and the filé powder. The latter two were to “brighten” the gumbo, as the recipe author put it. I added the filé powder last, since I’d been warned on BBQ Bible message board not to add filé powder to a boiling gumbo or it would get “stringy”. The recipe had you mix 2 tablespoons (29.5 mL) of the gumbo broth with 1/2 tablespoons (7.33 mL) of filé powder and add the mix back into the gumbo. I was a bit surprised at the amount of filé powder added. For 3 1/2 quarts (3.33 L) of gumbo, 1/2 tablespoon (7.33 mL) didn’t seem like much. I gained new respect for it’s power when I recalled that the cayenne pepper was a teaspoon. While we are at it, let me just say I always love when a recipe just says black pepper “to taste”. How are you supposed to know what “to taste” is on something you’ve never tried before? The first time out of the box I like to follow the recipe to the letter. I like it much better when they include a written description of what you are shooting for. But I digress. After just over 6 hours it was finally time to eat.


My first bite of the gumbo was absolutely incredible! There were all of these new flavors and familiar flavors competing for my attention. It was surprisingly complex in a wonderful way. There were several flavors I just couldn’t identify. The strongest unknown flavor which I noticed immediately with each bite, also disappeared quickly as other flavors took over. I am ASSuming this was the filé powder. The next flavor I noticed was the lemon flavor, though by the second bowl, I no longer really noticed the lemon. It could have faded away over time or my senses were overloaded, in a good way, with all the other flavors. I was also surprised at the smoke flavor which had come through from the turkey. It was far stronger than I imagined, but this wasn’t a bad thing. The broth was thick and flavorful. I’m guessing much of the flavor came from the turkey stock, which had great flavor in the sample I’d tried earlier in the day. The broth’s consistency, which was midway between a soup and a stew, no doubt came from the roux. The last lingering flavor I was aware of was a little hot and spicy burn, was from the cayenne pepper. After analyzing the gumbo for my first few spoonfuls, I gave in, went with the flow and just enjoyed the gumbo and the moment without further analysis. I’m guessing it is the filé powder, but where I’ve never tried it before I can’t say for sure. I was a bit afraid to try a sample of the filé just before having the gumbo due to the small quantity actually used in the gumbo. I needed no excuse to have a second bowl. Surprisingly the gumbo was also very rich, I couldn’t finish my second bowl. I was just too full.

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The gumbo was served with some white rice and crusty French rolls.

Even though the gumbo using the leftover turkey took almost as much work as making the original turkey, it was well worth it. We are just starting “soup & stew season” around here and this was a spectacular way to kick off the season. I had no idea how much prep work was involved in making gumbo. I can see now that when someone makes gumbo, it is a labor of love - love for their family or guests and for the end product. I am a total gumbo newbie, but hopefully by sharing what I’ve learned, I might encourage someone else to try this wonderful dish. Plus you can avoid mistakes I may have made and find your own new mistakes to make. But really other than the roux, it is not a hard prep. There is just more of it than I ever expected. I certainly have a newfound respect for gumbo and I can certainly see why Louisiana natives are justly proud of their gumbos. I will confess that I’ve been thinking I might have turkey again this Christmas, so I can make this gumbo again.

Here are some links for the gumbo picture entry and recipe and a blog entries on the Veggie Slicer & Dutch Oven, as well as the roux video will Paul Prudhomme.

  TURKEY BONE GUMBO Soups & Stews Picture Link
  DUTCH OVEN Blog Entry
  THANKSGIVING QUESADILLAS Quesadillas Picture Entry


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