Gumbo is a Louisiana soup or stew which reflects and blends the rich cuisines of regional Indian, French, Spanish, and African cultures. The word "gumbo" is derived from the African term for okra, "gombo," and first appeared in print in 1805. Filé gumbo, a version thickened with filé powder (ground sassafras leaves) as used by the Choctaw Indians, came along about 20 years later. Today, gumbos are thickened with a roux, made from cooking flour with a fat.
There are no hard and fast rules for making gumbo beyond the basic roux, okra, or filé powder, along with your imagination. There are probably as many distinctive recipes for gumbo as there are cooks in Louisiana.
The All-Important Roux
The thickening agent is most gumbos is a roux, a combination of fat and flour. The fat used in a roux may be butter, shortening, lard, oil, or even bacon drippings. The longer it cooks the darker it gets, which will add more flavor but decrease its thickening ability. There is also a light or blonde traditional Cajun version that uses only vegetable oil and flour.
Many cookbooks call for a little more fat than flour—2/3 cup oil to 1/2 cup flour is a common ratio—but you can use equal amounts of fat and flour. Using 1/2 cup of each will make a good amount of roux, and any excess can be stored in the refrigerator.
To make the roux, melt the fat in a heavy skillet over low heat. When warm and fluid, sprinkle the flour in a little at a time, stirring. Stir constantly until brown (this may take 20 to 30 minutes); immediately remove from heat or add ingredients your recipe calls for. If it burns even slightly, throw it out and start over again. You can also make the roux in the oven or microwave.
Best Gumbo Recipes
Now that you've mastered the essential roux, it's time to make some gumbo. Here are six recipes to give a try.
This classic gumbo recipe includes the quintessential Cajun trio of onion, celery, and bell pepper, and okra adds texture as well as a traditional flavor. The andouille sausage brings some heat to the dish and the shrimp add a rich seafood taste. The roux should be cooked until medium or dark brown, and then is combined with chicken broth, tomatoes, vegetables, sausage, shrimp, and Creole seasoning. A scoop of boiled rice is added to each bowl at the end.
Truly classic, this gumbo includes a roux, okra, and the "holy trinity" of vegetables—onion, celery, and bell pepper. The protein in this recipe is chicken, but feel free to add some andouille sausage and/or shrimp. This gumbo is perfect when you're in the mood for a hearty soup and is best served over a mound of white rice.
This recipe calls for making your own Cajun spice blend, combining a variety of seasonings including sweet paprika, oregano, chili powder, and cayenne pepper. It features the traditional combination of andouille sausage and shrimp, as well as the trio of vegetables, but instead of a tomato base features a broth of chicken stock and water.
This traditional recipe without the shellfish is ideal for the whole family or perfect for a cozy dinner with friends. Combining chicken breasts and thighs with smoked sausage, the stew is rich in flavor and texture, including red and green peppers, garlic, and diced tomatoes.
A flavorful gumbo without all the stovetop cooking time! Once you make the roux, it's up to the slow cooker to do the work. Simply add the roux to chicken broth in the crockpot, then the sausage, cooked chicken, okra, vegetable trio, and seasoning and let cook for several hours.
Leftover Turkey Gumbo
This rich and delicious gumbo is a great way to use up that leftover Thanksgiving turkey! Spicy andouille sausage and the Holy Trinity of peppers, celery, and onions make this a classic and balanced dish. Make the roux a day in advance to save prep time.