Between 7 and 11 of the following (traditionally an odd number, for luck):
1 bunch collard greens
1 bunch mustard greens
1 bunch turnip greens
1 bunch or bag spinach
1 bunch carrot tops
1 bunch arugula
1 bunch parsley
2 bunches green onions
1 bunch watercress
1 head romaine or other lettuce
1 head curly endive
1 bunch kale
1 bunch radish tops
1 bunch pepper grass
1 bunch basil
Specified quantity of the following:
3 medium yellow onions, quartered
1/2 head garlic, peeled, cloves kept whole
1 pound andouille sausage
1 pound smoked pork sausage
2 pounds fresh, bulk hot sausage
2 smoked ham shanks (or 3 big, meaty ham hocks)
1 pound beef chuck, or other stewing meat
1/2 pound ham (we're showing restraint here)
1 pound chicken (drumettes or wings preferred)
1 cup flour
2 tablespoons dried thyme, or to taste
2 teaspoons cayenne pepper, or to taste
3 bay leaves
Salt, to taste
1/2 teaspoon file powder, optional
An arsenal of huge pots, a wooden spoon, and be prepared to improvise
Before you even finish unloading the groceries: get those ham shanks (or hocks) boiling in 3 big pots on 3 burners, preferably totaling 6 gallons in volume, all half-full with water. (Did I also mention this is going to be an all-burner, all-kitchen affair, too?) When they come to a boil, turn down to a simmer.
Look at the forest of greens you have! Think of all the nutrients, all the hard work and sweat and dirt that went into them. Now, it's hard work and sweat to get the dirt off of them! This is where your friends come in. Clean out your sink and wash all the greens, tearing off and discarding any tough stems, which is easy when you learn to hold onto the stem with one hand, stripping off the leaves with a pulling motion. Drain the greens.
Get pots of stock back up to a vigorous boil and divide the greens into them, along with the onions and garlic. If the greens are overflowing your pots, well, you will probably just have to wait to cook another batch later, or see if there's more room in the pots as the greens wilt. Add water to cover if necessary. Get the pots back up to a boil, covered, and then turn back down to a simmer. Depending on the kinds of greens, it may take 30 minutes to over an hour to cook. When they're ready, the delicate greens like spinach or arugula will basically be melted, and collards and kale will be tender but should have a kind of sticky, "grippy" feel in your teeth when you chew them.
While the greens cook, cut the ham and beef into 1/2-inch cubes and the link sausages into 1/2-inch coins or half-moons. Set all these aside. Roll the fresh bulk sausage into 1/2-inch meatballs.
Heat a large, heavy saute pan over medium heat until a sausage ball sizzles on contact, and brown the fresh sausage in batches. They don't have to be extremely browned, just enough to get a little color and render the fat out. Take them out with a slotted spoon, season the chicken pieces lightly with salt, and brown them in the sausage fat. (Those are magic words, aren't they?) When they are lightly browned all over, remove them, and pour the fat out into a heat-proof measuring cup. Look at your pan. Some browned bits are great, but if they're getting charred, clean it or use a new pan for the roux. If you have less than 6 oz of fat, add some vegetable oil; if you have more, pour it off.
Check the greens. If they're done, great! Pull out the ham hocks and let them cool. Fish out all the greens, keeping the stock in the pots, and using a little bit of the cooking liquid to lube it all up, puree them in batches. Miss Leah traditionally uses a meat grinder, but when she loved the results from a blender or food processor. When the ham hocks are cool, pull off and shred the meat, and add to the rest of the meat.
Now look at your pot situation. How many will you need to fit all the pureed greens, all the meats, and maybe half of the stock? Ok. Divide the greens and meats into those pots, and add enough stock to make it all a soup, not a sludge. Bring these pots to a boil, stirring frequently so they don't burn at the bottom, and turn them down to a simmer.
Now for the roux. Heat that saute pan (or a higher-walled saucepan if you're nervous about the very hot roux you're about to make) over medium-high heat. Pour in the 6 oz of sausage fat. If it's bubbling, let it cook and evaporate all the moisture. When there are no bubbles and the fat is hot enough to move around the pan with the consistency of water, slowly but diligently stir in the flour with a wooden spoon until it's well combined. It should be a tight, but stirrable paste. If it's too thick, add a little more vegetable oil, but just enough to make it stirrable; it will thin out as it cooks. Cook the roux, stirring constantly, being sure to cover the whole surface of the pan, and watch how it changes both in color and consistency. When it's nearly pecan-colored and about the texture of heavy cream (it takes a while) divide it into the pots of gumbo. Be careful! This stuff is insanely hot, and may cause the liquid to bubble when it hits the gumbo. If you're nervous, let it cool a bit in a heatproof bowl before stirring it in. And don't call a lawyer.
Once everything is in the appropriate pots, you're almost home free! Let it all simmer together for about an hour, until the beef is tender. As it cooks, add the thyme, bay leaves, salt and cayenne to taste (I like it so that there's enough heat to catch the back of your throat, not hit you hard up front.) Check the texture after it's simmered for a while; it's up to you, but if it's sludgy, thin it with the stock until it's a thick soup consistency.
If you're using the file powder, make the gumbo a little thinner and put a few ladles of the gumbo into a mixing bowl at the end of cooking and stir the file in. It will get very thick. Stir this mixture back into the gumbo with the heat off.
Francis Lam is Features Editor at Gilt Taste, provides color commentary for the Cooking Channel show Food(ography), and tweets at @francis_lam.