Gumbo is a traditional stew served in Louisiana. There is no set formula for what makes up gumbo. Even though gumbo derives its name from the African word for okra, gumbos don’t always contain okra.
Gumbo usually consists of one or more meats such as chicken, duck, sausage, or ham. Seafood gumbos can be fish or shellfish, or a mixture of the two. There are gumbos that combine meat and seafood, and the ultimate is the Gumbo Ya Ya, which contains everything that runs, swims, or crawls!
As for vegetables, gumbo always contains the “Trinity” of Cajun-Creole cooking- bell pepper, onions, and celery. Beyond those staples, you may find okra, tomatoes, or mirlitons, a gourd-like fruit.
The first step with all gumbos is making a roux (pronounced roo) . This is done by cooking flour in oil or butter until it turns nut-brown or darker. The roux provides flavour, color and thickening for the gumbo. A large pot such as a Dutch oven is perfect for making roux.
To make the roux, heat the oil (or butter) over low heat, then sprinkle the flour into the oil while stirring briskly with a wire whisk. A flat whisk (called a roux whisk) is best for this.
The important thing to remember about roux is that you must cook it slowly over low heat. Emeril Lagasse, TV chef and owner of 3 New Orleans restaurants says that a good roux takes 2 beers. “I put the flour in the oil and open the first beer. By the time I’ve finished the second one, the roux is just right”!
After the roux is cooked, some recipes say to set it aside and saute the vegetables in another pan, while others just have you use he same pan. I prefer to saute in the same pan as the roux, both for the extra flavor and to have one less pot to wash.
Okra is found in some gumbo recipes and left out completely in others. Ironic, since that’s where the soup gets it’s name. When it is used, okra adds it’s thickening properties to the gumbo. By now, some of you are saying “Okra-slimey-EEEEWWWW! But okra can be made slime-free in one simple step. When you go to cut the okra, use an extremely sharp knife that slices without crushing the okra. This leaves the white juice inside the slices, and the okra will be delicious with no slime.
You may have heard people talk about file gumbo. File (FEE-lay) powder is used as a seasoning and thickener in some gumbos. It is made from dried leaves of sassafras trees, and is available at larger supermarkets or specialty stores. To use file powder, sprinkle it in the pot after it has been removed from the heat, immediately before you serve up the gumbo. Alternately, you can just let each person add the file powder to the bowl as they are ready to eat.
So now that you’re well versed in the way of gumbo, here are some great gumbo recipes to try:
Cooking Tips from Guest Chefs