One of my earliest food memories is watching Leah Chase cook gumbo on the morning news. Ms. Chase, famed throughout New Orleans for her restaurant Dooky Chase’s, was captivating. She reminded me of the church ladies, soft spoken and charming yet strong and relentless in their pursuit of doing things properly. I loved her. One of my favorite facts about Ms.Chase is that Civil Rights Movement leaders quietly congregated at Dooky Chase’s Restaurant. The leaders met in secret to plan out sit ins and protests. Ms. Chase continued to cook in spite of the dangers of pipe bombs and hate filled notes received from opponents of the Civil Rights movement. Her contribution to the Movement helped to usher in civil rights to New Orleans.
Several years ago I came across a piece on Ms. Chase making her famous green gumbo or Gumbo Z’Herbes (pronounced zav). I had never had it. She actually only made her famous green gumbo once a year on Holy Thursday. Every year she would cook 100 gallons of her Gumbo Z’Herbes, made with nine different types of greens. In her recipe, Ms. Chase used mustard greens, collard greens, turnip greens, beet tops, cabbage, romaine lettuce, watercress, spinach, and carrot tops. She said that the key was using an odd number of greens.
Leah Chase’s famous green gumbo is flavored with a variety of meat that brings saltiness, smokiness, spice, and fat to the gumbo. The combination of smoked sausage, beef brisket, ham, and chorizo combined with the roux round out the gumbo giving it the deep, rich complexity of a traditional seafood gumbo offering surprises in every bite. This soup is a textural dream.
My Tribute to Leah Chase
Ms. Chase passed away in summer of 2019 so this will be the first Easter that she is not with us. I have been thinking about her a lot and how she saw food as a way to break down barriers and connect people. With that I honor her with my version of Gumbo Z’Herbes. My version of has collard greens, rainbow chard, kale, spinach, and carrot tops. I used smoked turkey, ham hocks, and andouille sausage. I also add the Holy Trinity of Creole cooking – onion, bell pepper, and celery along with scallions and garlic. This recipe really allows for a ton of flexibility with whatever greens are available to you. You can use fresh or frozen greens or a combination of the two. I sometimes have a hard time finding fresh spinach, but I always have frozen on hand.
Putting it all Together
The work for this dish is actually in the prep. It comes together rather easily by first adding the smoked turkey and ham hock to water with a couple of bay leaves and bouillon cubes. Next bring to a boil. Then add the greens and 1 tablespoon of creole seasoning. I like to start with the greens that will take longer to cook like collards and kale and then chard followed by carrot tops and spinach. Cook for 30 minutes. While those are boiling, fry sausage on medium heat. Once browned, remove sausage and set aside to let drain.
Making a roux
Stir flour into reserved drippings with a wooden spoon, and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until flour is medium brown. This will take about 10 minutes. When the roux is light brown, stir in onions and cook to finish browning the roux. Once the roux is the color of milk chocolate add the rest of the seasonings and cook for an additional minute. Add veggies and roux to the greens and stir well to avoid lumps.
Cook for another 30 minutes. Add sausage and cook for an additional 15 minutes. Taste and add additional seasoning as needed. Serve alone or over rice.
- 10 cups water
- 1 lb. ham hocks
- 1 lb. smoked turkey necks
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 chicken bouillon cubes
- 1 tablespoon creole seasoning or seasoning salt
- 1 teaspoons smoked paprika
- 1 teaspoon granulated garlic
- 4 lbs. assorted greens kale, collards, spinach, rainbow chard, carrot tops, chopped
- 1/2 cup vegetable oil
- 1 lb. andouille sausage sliced
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 large onion chopped
- 1 green bell pepper chopped
- 3 stalks celery
- 4 cloves garlic minced
- 4 scallions chopped
- Add water, smoked turkey, ham hock, bay leaves, and bouillon cubes to 15-qt. stockpot on medium high heat. Bring to a boil.
- Add the greens, creole seasoning, paprika and granulated garlic. Stir to combine. Cover and cook for 30 minutes.
- While the greens are cooking. Heat vegetable oil in a separate frying pan on medium heat. Fry sausage until brown. Once browned, remove sausage and set aside to let drain.
- Stir flour into reserved drippings with a wooden spoon, and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until flour is medium brown. This will take about 10 minutes.
- When the roux is light brown, stir in onions and cook to finish browning the roux. Once the roux is the color of milk chocolate add the rest of the seasonings and cook for an additional minute. Add veggies and roux to the greens and stir well to avoid lumps.
- Cook for another 30 minutes. Add sausage and cook for an additional 15 minutes. Taste and add additional seasoning as needed. Serve alone or over rice.
Check out more from our Creole Classics series here.