Gumbo is one of the hardest recipes to get down on paper. It seems as if there are no two gumbo recipes alike, and everyone has an opinion on what makes a good gumbo and, if you are talking to someone form the deep south, they use their great-great granny's secret Creole recipe. Gumbo can be intimidating to make, until you realize that the most important aspect of making a really good gumbo is to cook with your heart, not your head. That sounds trite, but in no dish is it more important to follow your heart, than in making a rich pot of gumbo.
Put into the gumbo what you like—shrimp, crab, fish, chicken, sausage, duck. Use roux if you like (I do), but skip it if you want to and thicken the gumbo with okra or filé powder (one or the other, never both). I think good stock is important, but many recipes call for water instead.
Below is my recipe for gumbo—feel free to change it around and make it your own. If you've got a favourite gumbo recipe, I'd love to see it-- post it in the comment box!
4 ounces (about ½ cup) vegetable oil
4 ounces (about ½ cup) flour
8-10 cups good chicken, fish, or shellfish stock
2 tins chopped tomatoes (including juice)
8 ounces boneless, skinless chicken thighs, chopped
8 ounces smoked sausage (Andouille is the best, of you can find it), sliced
1 and ½ cups fresh okra slices (or frozen)
1 large onion, chopped
2 green peppers, chopped
1 cup chopped celery
Seasoning: Cajun or Creole mix, or black pepper, cayenne pepper, thyme, bay leaves, mustard powder, paprika
1 pound raw shrimp, shelled
1) Combine the stock and tomatoes into a large stock pot and bring to a gentle simmer. Add in the chicken. While that is going on, make the roux: Whisk the oil and flour together over medium to medium-low heat. You must be vigilant—watching, and stirring your roux constantly until it is the color that you like—I prefer a light roux and this takes close to 45 minutes-- the darker you like it the longer it will take-- and don;t take your eyes off that roux! Once it is the color that you like, dump in the chopped veg (the holy trinity-- green bell peppers, onion and celery), to stop the cooking process and soften the vegetables. Stir the vegetables around for a bit, off the heat (if the roux is threatening to burn), then add this mess into the pot of stock/tomatoes/chicken and bring to a simmer, stirring. This will flavour and thicken the gumbo.
2) Cook the sausage in a pan sprayed with non-stick spray (or a bit of oil) until just browned up a bit, set aside. In the same pan, dry cook the okra until not stringy (this will get the slimy goo out of the okra), set aside. You can skip this step, just make sure to cook the okra in the gumbo for at least 60-90 minutes to render it goo-less.
3) Whew! Now add the sausages and okra into the gumbo, stir and add in seasoning to your liking and any salt you may want. Last, add in the shrimp and simmer, gently until they are just pink and cooked—anywhere from 10 to 25 minutes. This is the last step and should not be done until everything else in the pot is cooked to your liking and you are ready to serve up the gumbo-- cooking the shrimp for too long will make them tough.
Gumbo is best made a day ahead, ‘cured’ in the refrigerator overnight, and reheated the next day (or day after that). Serve with white rice, chopped green (spring) onions and hot sauce. Serves 8