Gumbo: A Simple Delicious Recipe and Cooking Techniques
Ah gumbo, when made correctly gumbo is a spicy stew with layers of flavor and textures. When made improperly it can become a slimy, mushy mess. It can easily be made too thin, too thick, bland, over spiced or just plain awful. This hub aims to get you on the right track with gumbo, giving a simple base recipe and hopefully the information you need to personalize your own gumbo.
Here is a simple and flavorful recipe that should feed about 6 people:
Shrimp, Chicken and Sausage Gumbo
For the Roux:
- 1/2 cup flour
- 1/2 Cup + 1 tablespoon oil (I recommend blended olive oil or E.V.O.)
For The Rest:
- 4 cups chicken stock. Use a low sodium chicken stock or Rachel Ray 'Stock in a Box' (whatever you think about Rachel is irrelevant because the stock is great)
- 8 to 10 oz Shrimp (peeled, de-veined)
- 8 oz Andouille Sausage 1/2 inch pieces
- 2 cups of coarsely chopped cooked chicken - 1/2 inch pieces ( I roasted a large half chicken and just pulled the meat off, but you can use any chicken you have)
- 3 white onions - fine dice and cooked until translucent in oil or butter
- 1 poblano pepper - 1/2 inch dice
- 2 green bell peppers - 1/2 inch dice
- 6 stalks of celery - 1/2 inch dice
- 5 cloves of garlic - minced
- 2 tomatoes (peeled, diced)
- 4 bay leaves
- 6 cloves
- 1 tablespoon paprika
- 2 teaspoons black pepper
- 1 teaspoon cayenne
- kosher salt (to taste)
- 1 1/2 tablespoons of fresh thyme or 1 tablespoon dried thyme
- 1 cup okra, 1 tablespoon filé powder or 2 tablespoons cornstarch
The first step is not to make the roux but to prep all your vegetables and meats. Make sure you have everything chopped, diced, cooked and set aside. I STRONGLY recommend cooking the onions in the pan used to cook your chicken.
Now, put your stock in a small pot and keep it on low heat.
Then.... we make the roux. Every chef has a nuanced way to make a roux. They will tell you how hot they make the oil before adding the flour or perhaps what oil and what flour are the best to use. For a gumbo, none of that really matters. When making a gumbo roux you are basically going to cook it until it is close to burning. Whatever nuance there is in using California olive oil over an Italian olive oil is basically lost.
Add your oil and flour to a big pot ( one that will fit all of your gumbo in it), and over medium to medium-high heat, stir constantly until it looks dark. I mean it should be real dark, like chocolate dark. This takes about 20 to 30 minutes. You can stir slowly but it must be constant. Pay attention to the center of the pot and the edges where flour might settle out and burn. Despite making a dark roux, you don't want to burn it, if you do, throw it out and start over. Seriously, if it burns throw it out otherwise your gumbo will taste like a fireplace.
When the roux is done, turn the heat to low wait for a minute or two and whisk in the stock. If the roux is too hot and the stock is too cold you will get roux separation (flour separation) likewise if the roux is too cold you will get roux separation. Add the stock and whisk to mix, don't stir. Turn the heat to medium and whisk until the two are incorporated.
Now the hard part. Dump everything else in the pot except the thyme. Set the to make the gumbo simmer and cook for an hour or so. If you want to use okra you should add it now, if you areusing file or cornstarch hold off until later.
After an hour the gumbo should be thoroughly cooked , and layers flavors should be present. Add salt to taste, you shouldn't need much with the andouille sausage. Turn the heat to low. Now here is where you have to judge the consistency of your gumbo. If it seems watery you will want to add the cornstarch or filé powder, half at first and stirring as you add either.
Let it cook for another 5 minutes, check the consistency and add filé or starch again if necessary. If you added okra the gumbo should be farily stew like, but you can always add file or cornstarch as a thickener as well. Once you have the consistency you want, add the thyme, and finish cooking at low heat for 5 minutes.
Looking Further into Gumbo
When you cook gumbo all the ingredients should be fresh, although finding fresh okra can be hard if you are not in the south. If you have to use canned okra, don't skimp, get good quality and preferably organic okra. Cheap okra (the .49 cent stuff) will make a slimy mess in your gumbo.
Filé powder is a bit harder to find, if you don't have a good place to buy spices, pick some up online, its a great and unique spice to have (I prefer it to okra and cornstarch to help thicken gumbo) and will definitely be a talking point when people try your gumbo. Filé is dried and ground sassafras leaves, you can make your own, if you have the means. Adding fresh sassafras leaves just doesn't have the same effect (trust me). Remember, filé is a spice, not just a thickener, so don't add too much, you can always add some file and some cornstarch to avoid over saturation of filé flavor in your gumbo.
You can substitute jalapenos for a poblano, but make sure to be careful about how spicy you want your gumbo, and remember that jalapeno can overpower other delicious flavors with a sharp heat.
Now a few thoughts of my own on gumbo. There is a lot of discussion in both professional and 'foodie' circles regarding what technically constitutes certain dishes. I am referring to which ingredients are acceptable to use and still maintain the title of a dish. Gumbo is one of the dishes that is often scrutinzed for not being authentic, because it does not use, okra, or andoullie or filé powder.
I have never, and likely will never pay much attention to naysayers who want a chef to stick to a strict guideline for any dish in the hopes that it remains 'authentic'. Cook what you want in your gumbo, I hope you take the recipe I provided and modify it to something unique, if the end result is delicious, then it is a success.