Make it like they do in duck country
By Michael Roberts Photos by Brian Chilson
"Any gumbo’s no better than the roux going in it,” says Homer Campbell as he whisks together a mixture of flour and rice bran oil in a hot cast iron kettle. We’re in the kitchen of Le Petit Cajun Bistro in Stuttgart, and once this concoction turns from bright white to copper-colored, Homer will add it to the 19 gallons of gumbo base he’s had simmering all morning. It’s a seemingly simple process, but one that’s vitally important to the dish. “Without the roux, all you’ve got is soup,” says Homer.
Homer’s been making his gumbo at this popular southeast Arkansas restaurant for more years than he can remember. “Our previous owner, Linda Gaines, got it from her sister,” he says. “It’s an old recipe that’s been ad-libbed over the years.”
Many of the ingredients in Le Petit Cajun Bistro’s gumbo come as no surprise. There’s the “holy trinity” of Cajun ingredients: celery, green bell pepper and onion. There’s smoked sausage. But Homer has a secret ingredient that he says makes his gumbo go from good to great—turkey broth. “Turkey stock is the best stock,” he says. “It can be hard to find if you want to buy it, but I make it here.”
The turkey stock is paired with chicken stock and, because it just wouldn’t be Stuttgart without them, a couple of ducks.
At a nearby prep table, Homer is being assisted by Whitney Robinson, who is steadily deboning thirty pounds of chicken thigh quarters. She shakes her head in amusement as Homer tests the heat of a pan with his bare fingers. “He’s been doing this so long he doesn’t get burned,” she says with a laugh. Homer just smiles and flexes his calloused cook’s hands.
Along with a seafood-stuffed chicken dish and the restaurant’s signature étouffée, the gumbo is a huge draw for Le Petite Cajun Bistro’s clientele. During duck season, when Stuttgart’s population swells to many times its normal size of just over 9,000 people, the café will go through one of these 19-gallon batches in just a couple of days. It is simply served with Homer’s oven-baked rice—a rich, filling dish sure to help shake off the chill of the duck blind.
We’ve scaled down the recipe for you to try at home, and we urge you to make this recipe your own. Use different proteins, different types of stock—just make sure your roux is right. Homer wouldn’t have it any other way.
(yields 6-8 servings)
2 pounds chicken thigh quarters
1/2 pound shrimp
1 pound smoked sausage, sliced
1 duck breast, poached and sliced
2 pounds okra, chopped
2 cups yellow onion, diced
1 cup celery, chopped
1 cup green bell pepper, diced
2 quarts turkey stock (chicken may be substituted)
2 quarts chicken stock
1 cup Riceland Rice Bran Oil
1 cup flour
Salt and Pepper (to taste)
1 teaspoon Cayenne Pepper
1 tablespoon Old Bay Seasoning
Directions: In a large stock pot, combine the turkey and chicken stock. Bring to a simmer and poach the chicken thigh quarters until cooked through. Remove from the stock to cool, then remove the meat from the bones.
Sauté the okra, yellow onion, celery and green bell pepper until the onions become translucent. Add this mixture to the stock pot along with the deboned chicken, cayenne pepper and Old Bay Seasoning; simmer for 45 minutes. Add the sausage and shrimp and bring the mixture back to a simmer.
In a cast iron skillet or pot, heat the rice bran oil until it shimmers. Slowly add the flour to the oil to form a roux, stirring constantly with a whisk. Keep stirring the roux until the color darkens to a copper tone (about 20 minutes). Once the color has been achieved, remove the roux from the heat and allow to cool for 10 minutes, then add it to the stock pot. Stir thoroughly to ensure the roux is mixed well. Adjust salt and pepper to taste. Serve with Arkansas’ own Riceland rice.