Gumbo Is Easier To Make Than You Realize!
I might have been born in the UK, but I grew up in Louisiana and I freaking LOVE Cajun food. Shrimp Creole, Crawfish Etouffée, BBQ Shrimp Abita, Boudin - GIVE IT ALL TO ME. But one of my favorites? GUMBO.
Now, gumbo is the manifestation of the melting pot of Louisiana. Louisiana has French, Acadian, African, Native American and Spanish influences (if you've never been to New Orleans, put it on your bucket list and do the non-touristy stuff as well - that place is MAGICAL), and like the city that boasts so many beautiful cultural influences, the dish does, too. The word "Gumbo" is thought to be a derivative of the West African word for "Okra," and the dish has definite Acadian overtones to it, as well.
The beautiful thing about gumbo is that you can customize it to your tastes. Shellfish allergy? Skip the shrimp. Not about that spicy Andouille sausage? Take it out. (Although I'll admit, that hurts my heart a bit.) Vegetarian? Yup, there's a gumbo with just greens like collard, cabbage, kale, turnip, etc. called "gumbo z'herbes." Gumbo really is about cooking with what you love and what you have on hand and making this rich, flavorful dish that lasts for DAYS.
There are SO many gumbo recipes out there, and really, it comes down to a matter of preference. Below if how I make it and of course I LOVE it, but you should play around with flavors as you make it. Seriously. If I call for a couple of dashes of hot sauce...start with one. You might want FOUR. Gumbo is definitely a "taste as you go" dish, and it's all about making it fit *your* palate. If that sounds daunting, I promise it's not. Below is a baseline that'll get you a GREAT dish, then you can just tweak it as you go by adding a little more (or a little less spicy stuff if you're not about that life!)
Some notes about my gumbo:
You can substitute out meats (although if you skip shrimp/crab I’d use a couple dashes of fish sauce for balance).
Italian sausage doesn’t count for andouille.
Don’t skip the okra - it’s a great thickener. Frozen is fine.
I *do* skip the filé powder you might see in other recipes.
You can substitute canola oil for butter in the roux (but butter is *chef’s kiss*.)
If it's too rich, add a vinegary hot sauce to cut the richness like Louisiana Hot Sauce and bring more balance.
Some recipes add tomatoes. It's my personal belief that adding tomatoes is a travesty but each to their own.
Some people serve their gumbo with potato salad (like in the pic below). It's good, but for me personally, rice is 100% the way to go and what I recommend.
*Before you make the roux, which requires constant stirring, have your "mis en place" (cooking term for "everything in place") ready. This means chopping your onions, celery, green pepper, etc. before hand - you will not have time once the roux gets going.
*Disclosure: the links below are affiliate links that provide a commission if you purchase via them. Authenticity is important to me: I NEVER recommend anything I haven't used and bought or loved myself.
1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup butter (or canola oil)
1 diced green bell pepper
1 diced onion (any color except red)
1 diced bunch of celery (about 4-6 stalks)
3 cloves garlic
1 cup chopped okra (frozen is fine)
2 green onions (for topping)
2 Bay leaves
6 cups chicken stock (you can use fish stock or even water in a pinch)
2 links andouille sausage (this will spice up the gumbo, so beware adding too much)
1 lb chicken breasts (you could use thighs if you wanted)
1 cup shrimp, crawfish or crab (optional but *makes* the taste)
1/4 cup fresh parsley (a couple of tablespoons dried will do in a pinch)
Cayenne seasoning (optional, for taste & heat)
Fish Sauce (optional - I like this one from Red Boat)
2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
White rice (or potato salad) for serving. Personally, I'd go with rice.
STEP 1: MAKE THE ROUX
The roux is the most intensive part of this process. It's not hard at all, but it requires *constant* stirring so that it doesn't burn (which it will in a second if you turn your back). It is time consuming but SO worth it. For a gumbo, you want your roux to be the color of dark chocolate (kind of like in the picture above, but NOT burned).
Add the 3/4 cup butter or oil to your pan. I use a dutch oven, but you can use whatever big pot you have. Melt it over medium-low heat. Add the 1 cup flour and stir it in. Keep on stirring non stop until you get that rich, dark chocolate color! Full disclosure: this might take about 30 minutes. You can stop early (get to at *least* the color of peanut butter) for a less rich gumbo.
STEP 2: ADD THE TRINITY
Add in the Cajun "trinity" - the onion, celery and green bell pepper - along with the garlic and stir in. Cook for about 5 minutes.
STEP 3: ADD BROTH + SPICES
Add the broth (or water - whatever you're using) and stir. Add the Cajun seasoning and most of the parsley, reserving some for topping. Add bay leaves.
STEP 4: ADD ANDOUILLE SAUSAGE + CHICKEN
Some people have you heat up or brown the sausage first then add to the gumbo. I skip that step, but you can do it for a bigger depth of flavor. Once added, simmer on low for an hour, occasionally stirring.
STEP 5: ADD SAUCES
Add two dashes hot sauce, two dashes fish sauce and Worcestershire sauce. Stir in thoroughly.
STEP 6: ADD SHRIMP AND OKRA Throw in the shrimp and cooked okra. Cook until shrimp are pink, about 5 - 10 minutes.
STEP 7: SPICE TO TASTE
By now, the flavors should have merged together beautifully, and this is where you adjust spices to your taste. Want a bit more heat? Throw in more Cajun seasoning or Cayenne pepper. Still a bit too rich? Cut it with some hot sauce. Needs more of *something* but you're not sure what? Add some fish sauce. Taste as you go until you hit the perfect combo for what you want.
STEP 8: TOP + SERVE
Serve over white rice (or potato salad.) I pour mine over rice, but some use this method (which if you're going with potato salad, you should do) - put gumbo in the bowl and then a scoop of rice / potato on top. Garnish with green onions and leftover parsley.