Turkey never tasted so good.
Sure, you could make a leftovers sandwich. But gumbo is so much better. This hearty turkey gumbo recipe makes a flavorful meal any time of year, but is the absolute best way to give leftover Thanksgiving turkey a whole new life.
Meet this turkey gumbo recipe
We all know the easy, but by no means bad, route to take for Thanksgiving leftovers: scoop a random assortment of leftovers onto a plate. Reheat. But for anyone who just ready to stir new life into their Thanksgiving turkey leftovers, this spicy New Orleans-style turkey gumbo recipe is the absolute right move.
This gumbo recipe from Unpeeled contributor Emmah Schramke tastes smoky, spicy, and rich in flavor and texture. The recipe also makes a nice big quantity, ready to feed your whole crowd right away, or freeze for cold winter nights to come.
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What’s the secret ingredient of gumbo?
A true New Orleans gumbo just is not gumbo without a roux. This essential base — a 1:1 combination of flour and fat — magically builds the foundation of flavor and thickness that leads to a stewy gumbo, not a flavorful meat soup.
The Big Easy: Simplifying Roux
The base of any legit gumbo is the roux, which should cook until it is a deep brown color. Roux is a 1:1 combination of flour and fat — in this case, a neutral vegetable oil. The two ingredients are whisked and cooked together in a pot until toasted as desired. Liquid then gets added slowly to form a thickened sauce or soup.
Roux serves a couple important functions. First, as stated above, the flour in the roux helps thicken the overall gumbo. Because the flour has been cooked, it will not taste dry or starchy.
Second, roux adds flavor. Gumbo roux is cooked to a smooth, deep chestnut brown. In addition to the smoky aroma, the roux also deepens the flavor and color of the gumbo.
Advice on making a good, authentic gumbo roux:
- Stir, stir, stir. Things can go from brown to burnt pretty quickly, so babysit that roux. You are going for a nice chestnut color. Just keep stirring.
- Both the color and textures evolve. This is normal. You can see below, the roux will go from thin to thick to thin again. The far right is your ideal color.
- Oil, not butter. Because gumbo roux needs to get so dark, the recipe needs oil and not butter. The dairy solids in butter will burn. Other roux, like for a béchamel or white sauce, call for butter because they are only very lightly toasted in color.
How to make gumbo more flavorful: Layer the ingredients over time
Gumbo is a labor of love, involving roux, layers of vegetables and protein, a distinctive spice blend, and filé, a powdered sassafras that adds thickening and distinctive, root beer flavor. Luckily, once the roux is done, the gumbo is fairly hands-off. Here is a great article all about gumbo, for any fellow food nerds.
Recipe steps to build that gumbo flavor:
- After the roux, add the onion, celery, and bell pepper (known as gumbo’s “holy trinity“), garlic, and your gumbo spice blend.
- Simmer that in homemade turkey stock (or chicken broth) for about 30 minutes, then add the turkey meat, andouille sausage, tomatoes, liquid smoke and okra. Simmer some more.
- Then, add your final seasonings (Worcestershire sauce, filé), taste, and serve over rice, perhaps topped with some slice green onions or parsley.
The turkey gumbo will be even better the next day.
Why Is Okra Slimy?
This recipe, like all authentic gumbos, calls for okra. Okra does not appeal to everyone. It releases a mucilage made of sugar residues and glycoproteins similar to aloe vera that thickens the gumbo, but also makes a “slimy” texture when heated slowly. You can omit the okra if you like.
Recipe Notes: Thanksgiving Leftover Turkey Gumbo
From contributor Emmah Schramke:
There are endless things you can do with Thanksgiving leftovers, but the key to success is changing the flavor profile so your family does not feel like they are eating the same meal over and over again.
This turkey gumbo is the perfect post-Thanksgiving meal, and is very forgiving. Depending on what your post-Thanksgiving leftover situation looks like, you can adjust the recipe accordingly. For example:
- Lots of leftover gravy? Half the flour and oil for the roux and add a cup of gravy or broth just before stirring in the onions.
- Leftover Brussels sprouts could be used in lieu of the okra. Just double the amount of file added to ensure the gumbo thickens.
- No leftover mashed potatoes? Assuming marshmallows or brown sugar were not added, you could use leftover sweet potatoes or winter squash that was served the day before.
- Extra cranberry sauce? Add a dollop on top of mashed potatoes before serving.
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Turkey Gumbo, New Orleans Style
For the Roux
- 1 cup canola oil
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 large onion, chopped
For the Gumbo Spice Blend
- 1 tablespoon smoked paprika
- 1 tablespoon onion powder
- 2 teaspoons cayenne (or to taste; 2 teaspoons is fairly spicy)
- 1 teaspoon allspice
- 2 teaspoons celery seed
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 12 turns fresh-cracked black pepper
For the Gumbo and to Finish
- 1 Green bell pepper, seeded and diced
- 2 stalks (about 1 cup) celery, diced
- 12 ounces okra, sliced thin (optional)
- 2 tablespoons minced garlic (about 5 cloves)
- 1 tomato, diced
- 1 sprig rosemary
- 1 sprig fresh sage, and more to garnish
- 1 bay leaf
- 5 cups unsalted turkey stock, or chicken stock or broth
- 1 cup beer (optional)
- 3 cups cooked leftover turkey meat, diced or pulled into chunks
- 12 ounces fresh andouille sausage, sliced 1/2" thick
- 2 drops liquid smoke (optional)
- 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
- 2 teaspoons filé powder
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- Minced parsley or sliced green onions to garnish, optional
For the Spice Blend
- Stir all the spices together in a small bowl. Set aside.
For the Gumbo Roux
- In a Dutch oven or large cast iron pot, heat oil over medium heat.
- Whisk the flour into the oil until incorporated and smooth. The roux will resemble a thin cake batter. Stir continuously to prevent from burning, 20 to 25 minutes, until roux takes on a deep brown color. You may need to lower the heat to medium low toward the end.
- Reduce the heat to medium low. Add the onions, stirring them into the roux with a wooden spoon until the roux is a glossy dark brown.
For the Turkey Gumbo and to Finish
- Add celery, bell pepper, garlic, and gumbo spice blend. Stir for a minute before adding stock, beer, rosemary, sage, and bay leaf. Bring to a light boil, then reduce the heat back to medium-low and simmer for 30 minutes.
- Add the andouille, turkey, tomatoes, okra, and liquid smoke. Simmer for another 30 minutes.
- Remove the rosemary, sage, and bay leaf. Add Worcestershire, filé, and salt and pepper to taste.
- Serve gumbo with rice or leftover mashed potatoes and garnish with chopped sage, parsley, or sliced green onions. This is even better the next day.