Rabbit Filé Gumbo

rabbit filé gumbo

Just over a year ago, I set out to make a rabbit gumbo, but got distracted and made a pheasant gumbo instead! Having come across some andouille and a rabbit, at the bottom of the freezer this week, it seemed right to set things straight.

Gumbo is a type of stew which originated in Louisiana around the early part of the eighteenth century and comes from a mixture of cultures. The name itself comes from the African word for okrangombo or quingombo (used to thicken the stew), but a filé gumbo contains ground sassafras leaves instead, also a thickener and flavouring (originally used by the indigenous Choctaw Indians).

Gumbos can be made with most meats, (especially wild ones) including alligator, chicken, duck, rabbit, squirrel, turkey, veal, or, seafood like crab, crawfish, oysters, shrimp, etc. Meat combinations and seafood combinations are common, but it’s unusual to have meat and seafood mixed together. However, both should contain andouille, originally a French smoked pork sausage, that was adapted and remade by German settlers to Louisiana. If you can’t find an American andouille in the UK, smoked Polish sausage (from most supermarkets) would be the best alternative.

Gumbo should start with a roux – normally fat and or oil cooked with flour to create a thickener in traditional French cuisine, but in Louisiana this is cooked further until it takes a toasted chocolate colour. Okra and filé can be added later – some combine the two but most use either or. There’s also some debate over which oil or fat to use, any of the following are acceptable: butter, lard, chicken fat, goose fat, olive oil, groundnut oil, etc. In New Orleans, one can buy buckets of pre-made roux in shops and supermarkets.

To complicate things, there are two types of cooking in Louisiana – Creole (from the original French and Spanish colonists in New Orleans), containing tomatoes and Cajun (from the Cajun people of South Louisiana who were originally French colonists of Canada, expelled by the British), without tomatoes. Both Cajun and Creole styles of cooking use a trinity of celery, onions and sweet peppers, when garlic is used, it becomes a  holy trinity. It seems to me that a trinity made with sweet peppers comes from Spanish cuisine, because a French mirepoix normally contains carrots instead.

jointed rabbit

Rabbit Filé Gumbo recipe (serves 4):

1 rabbit (jointed)
1 lb andouille sausage (sliced)
1 large onion (chopped)
1 red pepper (chopped)
2 sticks of celery (chopped)
5 tomatoes (grated)
6 pieces of garlic (finely chopped)
1/2 lb okra (sliced)
1 heaped teaspoon goose fat
1 cup of olive oil (or other oil/fat)
1 cup of plain flour
3/4 pint of rabbit or chicken stock
2 dessertspoonfuls Cajun seasoning: 1 teaspoon of salt, 1 teaspoon ground black pepper, 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper, 1 teaspoon garlic powder, 1 teaspoon of onion powder, 1 teaspoon mustard powder, 1 teaspoon dried oregano, a pinch of fennel seeds and 2 teaspoons pimentón de la Vera (picante) – all mixed together
2 bay leaves
1 dessertspoon fresh coriander (finely chopped)
2 teaspoonfuls of cayenne pepper
2 dessertspoonfuls of Lea and Perrins Worcestershire Sauce
2 or 3 teaspoonfuls of Tabasco Sauce
a squirt of anchovy paste (to taste)
a splash of red wine vinegar

to serve:

1 cup brown basmati rice per person (or your preferred rice)
1 teaspoon gumbo filé powder per person
a sprinkle fresh coriander (finely chopped)

First of all, rub the jointed rabbit with Cajun Seasoning and 2 additional teaspoons of cayenne pepper. Cover the meat and leave in the fridge overnight so the spices permeate.

rabbit browning

Take the rabbit out of the fridge 2 hours before cooking, so that it comes to room temperature. Using a large cast iron casserole, brown the rabbit pieces in some of the olive oil. Do this in stages rather than crowding the meat. Remove the browned rabbit to a plate.


Next brown the sliced andouille and reserve.

goose fat

Once the meat is done, add the remaining oil and a teaspoon of goose fat to the pan.


Stir the flour into the hot oil – to make a good Cajun style roux, you will need to keep stirring or it will burn. If it burns you’ll need to throw it away and start again! I do this on a hot flame and stir furiously for about 20 minutes. Initially, there’s very little change in colour, but when it does go, it can be quite quick – I am inclined to turn the heat down a little when this happens, to slow things down a bit. After a minute or two the flame goes back up again. This stage is hard work and requires a good arm and lots of concentration. A chocolate brown roux tastes biscuity, a bit like well cooked pastry.

holy trinity

Once you have a decent looking roux of the desired colour, turn off the heat for a few minutes before stirring in a holy trinity of onion, celery, pepper and garlic – with the gas back on low, cook for a few minutes.


I went Creole as opposed to Cajun, by grating in 5 tomatoes. Cut the tomatoes in half and grate the wet side until you are left with a disk of tomato skin in your hand. Dispose of the skin or save it for stock.


Turn the heat up, pour in the cold rabbit stock and when it starts to bubble add the Worcestershire Sauce, red wine vinegar and bay leaves.

submerged rabbit

Submerge the browned rabbit pieces into the gumbo, like nutria swimming in a swamp. Put the lid on and remove to a preheated oven at 150º C for 90 minutes. Stir occasionally.


After an hour and a half, remove the rabbit and allow it to cool before removing the skin and bones. Slice it into chunks before returning it to the pot with the okra, browned andouille sausage and a couple of splashes of Tabasco sauce. Have a taste and adjust the seasoning. Put the casserole back into the oven for another couple of hours at 120º C.

rabbit gumbo

Ordinarily a gumbo made with okra (which has thickening properties when cooked) doesn’t need the addition of filé powder (which comes from grinding the leaves of the sassafras tree). However, okra is seasonal, so expect to find it used more often during summer and autumn (fall). Ground sassafras leaves also have thickening properties plus a subtle flavour, but should be added at the end of cooking, because over time (with heat), the texture becomes stringy. The French word filé actually means yarn or thready.  So, if you expect to have gumbo leftovers, sprinkle a teaspoon into the bottom of your serving bowls (not the cooking vessel) and let the gumbo stand for a minute or two before eating. This way you achieve flavour and thickness without string. For the uninitiated, filé imparts a subtle sweetness reminiscent of flowers and it does taste very good with okra.

The traditional accompaniment to gumbo is rice, which can make the dish go further if unexpected guests arrive, as can more stock – gumbo can be severed thick like stew or thinner like soup. Sprinkle a little chopped coriander (or parsley) on top for presentation. I recommend drinking a glass or two of Los Conejos Malditos (The Cursed Rabbits), a Tempranillo from Castilla-La Mancha, with the gumbo.

Other Rabbit posts

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9 Responses to Rabbit Filé Gumbo

  1. Eha says:

    Well this week I am more on familiar territory 🙂 ! Learned about the differences in Creole and Cajun background and food a long, long time ago. Love gumbos but have not made one for quite awhile nor remember one with rabbit, so . . . 🙂 ! Like my gumbos rather thick and oft ‘forget’ about the rice. Okra can be bought here for most of the year and I do usually have file powder in my spice cupboard . . . actually have everything bar the goose fat we may ‘forget’ . . . so shall order a rabbit beginning of the week and cook for a few neighbours and yours truly . . . take care, keep well . . .

  2. Ron says:

    Mad Dog, you nailed this one. My cajun, great grandmother would be proud to sit down to a bowl of your gumbo and, so would I. But, I’ve never included anchovy paste in my gumbo. I will when I next make a batch. My all-time favorite gumbo is with wild duck, andouille, alligator meat with jumbo shrimp.
    You cracked me up with your “like nutria swimming in a swamp” comment. You know those guys smoke up pretty good.

    • Mad Dog says:

      Thanks Ron – if only I could get my hands on gator meat – wild duck is in season here! I haven’t tried nutria, but I’d very much like to – the original form of peasant paella contains water rat, which I suspect tastes similar.

      • Ron says:

        I’ve only cooked with nutria a few times and it was a while back. We usually smoked the hindquarters. As I remember it tasted a bit like gamy dark turkey meat. You know in East Texas and Western Louisiana nutria are often called water rats, so I think you right.

  3. Karen says:

    You created a delicious gumbo after searching the bottom of your freezer…perhaps I need to dive a little deeper in mine. Love gumbo and your rabbit version must be terrific.

    • Mad Dog says:

      Thanks Karen – I should have done it a few months ago, that pesky rabbit has been getting in the way! The great thing about gumbo is that you can use just about any meat or fish.

  4. Pingback: Prawn Étouffée | Mad Dog TV Dinners

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