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.
There are no hard and fast rules for making gumbo beyond the basic roux, okra or filé powder, and your imagination.
There are probably as many distinctive recipes for gumbo as there are cooks in Louisiana.
The All-Important Roux
A roux is a thickening agent, made from cooking flour with a fat. 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.
To make the roux, combine the fat with an equal amount of flour--1/2 cup of each will make a good amount and any excess can be stored in the refrigerator. (Many cookbooks call for a little more fat than flour - 2/3 cup oil to 1/2 cup flour is a common ratio.) Melt the fat in a black 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.
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.
Sausage and Shrimp Gumbo
This classic gumbo recipe includes the quintessential Cajun trio of onion, celery and bell pepper.
The andouille sausage brings some heat to the dish and the shrimp add a nice seafood flavor.
Truly classic, this gumbo includes a roux, okra and file powder. It 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.
Shellfish-Free Chicken and Sausage Gumbo
A traditional-tasting gumbo alternative for those who don't care for shellfish or who have an allergy.
Ideal for the whole family, or perfect for a cozy dinner with friends. A traditional recipe without the shellfish.
A flavorful gumbo without the stovetop cooking time! Once you make the roux, it's up to the slow cooker to do the work.