Gumbo is a stew that is generally cooked with okra and thickened with a roux. I have seen everything from a vegetarian gumbo, to a seafood gumbo, to a gumbo that had so much in it I wasn’t sure how to classify it. My mother-in-law makes a seafood gumbo every year for Christmas and puts in crab, white fish, and shrimp. Some seafood gumbos also include oysters or scallops or any number of other fish or shellfish. One of my favorite gumbos is a chicken and sausage gumbo where the sausage is either a spicy andouille or something similar. For the chicken I always like to use boneless, skinless, thighs as the dark meat has a better flavor and retains more moisture as it is cooked.
A lot of gumbos use file powder which is the powdered leaves of a sassafras tree. This adds a depth of flavor that is unmatched by anything else. I highly recommend using file powder in your gumbo as well as okra. A gumbo just is not a gumbo without okra. This could be debated for ages, but it is a great vegetable that, if cooked right, will not be slimy and serves as an additional thickener.
The main thickening agent of a gumbo is the roux. A roux is equal parts flour and fat. I prefer butter, but if you are trying to stay healthier, adjust it to your liking. Roux can range from blonde to black. Typically a black roux is baked as if you try to do a black roux on the stove top you will probably burn it and you don’t want to do that as it takes a long time to darken up your mixture.
A roux should be cooked over medium-low heat and should be constantly stirred to prevent it from burning. The longer you cook the roux the darker it will be and the darker the roux the richer the flavor, but the less thickening ability. The lighter the roux is the better it will be to thicken your dish, but the flavor will not be as developed. You have to cook it long enough to cook out the flour taste so a dark blonde roux is best for gumbo, in my opinion. Again, this could be debated forever, but my opinion is just that: an opinion.
The last time I made gumbo, I planned on making my traditional chicken and sausage gumbo, but after I started, I realized I was out of sausage, but had some shrimp on hand. So I thawed and peeled my shrimp and added that. I loved the flavor combination of a modified surf and turf gumbo. It was something that I had not had before.
Another thing that, I believe, is important with gumbo is how you serve it. I like to serve mine over rice, which is traditional. I also shower it with hot sauce and always have some fresh cornbread to go with it. My favorite cornbread recipe calls for fresh jalapenos and freshly shucked corn. It adds a different texture and a little bit of sweet heat that is wonderful. It is a recipe I found a while back and added my own spin on. I rarely bastardize someone else’s recipes, but in this case, when I made it, I knew it was going in my repitoire. I also would like to add that I encourage people to use my recipes and then alter them to fit your needs. I would love to hear and see your alterations.
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, plus butter for baking dish
1 cup cornmeal
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
3 Jalapenos, seeded and diced
2 ears of corn, dekernelized
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Lightly grease an 8-inch baking dish.
In a large bowl, mix together the cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, jalapenos, corn and salt.
In a separate bowl, mix together the eggs, buttermilk, and butter. Pour the buttermilk mixture into the cornmeal mixture and fold together until there are no dry spots (the batter will be very lumpy). Pour the batter into the prepared baking dish.
Bake until the top is golden brown and toothpick inserted into the middle of the corn bread comes out clean, about 20 to 25 minutes. Remove the cornbread from the oven and let it cool for 10 minutes before serving.
You could always use a Jiffy mix if you are in a hurry or you forget the cornbread until the last minute. No one will judge you, I promise. I find it is best to make the cornbread and, once it is in the oven to start your roux. Usually the cornbread will have been cooling for a bit longer than ten minutes by the time your gumbo is done, but there is nothing wrong with that. Serve it with some butter or honey and you are good to go.
People complain that rice is hard to cook. Those with a rice cooker find this not to be the case, but most people don’t have one of those. Let me give you some tips on cooking rice.
First of all the ration is 2:1 for water to rice. I always like to salt my water and add a bit of butter as well. This give the rice a little bit more flavor and who doesn’t love salt and butter? Now, to cook it, use a pot bigger than you think you are going to need. I use a six quart pot for two cups of rice just to give you an idea. I don’t rinse my rice, unless I am making a risotto or sushi. People will scream that you should always rinse your rice, but I like the added starch from not rinsing it. Next, put your pot on a burner on high heat. Add your rice and then add your water. As soon as it starts boiling, this means you have to watch it closely (yes a watched pot will boil), drop the heat to medium-low, just above low, and cover it. The water is going to boil over a bit, don’t freak out. When the rice is done cooking you can clean up that mess easy enough. Then set a time for fifteen minutes. No more, no less. Don’t touch it. Definitely do not remove the lid. After the time goes off, remove it from the heat and let it sit, still covered, for an additional fifteen minutes. After the second fifteen minutes are up, remove the lid (remember this should be the first time you remove the lid) and fluff the rice with a fork. As a note: rice doubles in volume. So, if you cook one cup of rice with two cups of water, you will end up with two cups of rice. I always plan for 1/2 a cup person, per serving and when making gumbo, not many people only eat one serving.
Now for my gumbo recipe. This can be altered to fit any kind of protein or perhaps a vegetarian gumbo. Just make it once and then alter it to your liking.
Chicken and Shrimp Gumbo
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
6 tablespoons AP Flour
5 ribs of celery, diced
2 green pepper, diced
2 medium yellow onions, diced
8 cloves garlic, minced
4 Bby leaves
2 lbs ochre, sliced (frozen works best)
2 cans diced tomatoes
3 lbs grilled boneless, skinless chicken thighs, diced into 1” pieces
3 lbs large shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 tablespoon dried thyme
1 tablespoon oregano
2 tablespoons gumbo file
3 qt chicken stock
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
salt and pepper
6-8 Cups cooked white rice
1 C chopped parsley
Louisiana style hot sauce
In a small sauce pan over medium-low heat, melt butter and whisk in flour. Continue to stir with wooden spoon until the roux is a deep brown. DO not burn the roux as you will have to start over. This takes some time, so do it while you prepare everything else, just make sure you keep stirring.
In a large stock pot, heat 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil over medium high heat. Add in onions and garlic. Cook until the onions are translucent.
Add in celery, and green peppers. Cook for 5 minutes. Add thyme and oregano. Reduce heat to medium and add in tomatoes and ochre. Stir to incorporate. Add in 2 quarts of the stock and file powder and cook for 20 minutes. Add bay leaves and additional quart of stock.
Add chicken to pot and cook for 15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Add in shrimp and simmer until shrimp are fully cooked (3-7 minutes). Serve immediately with white rice, hot sauce, parsley, and cornbread.
As always, if you have comments or questions, do not hesitate to contact me.