In South Louisiana, at least the area in which I was privileged to live for a few years, there’s an actual season called “Gumbo Weather.”
It begins around November when temperatures start to drop and continues well into February, or at least until many Cajuns strut their gumbo prowess on Super Bowl weekend. You won’t find the official dates on most calendars but for people like me it just symbolizes that glorious time during cooler months when you’re yearning for some comfort food and when turning on the stove doesn’t also necessitate turning on the air conditioner.
In the 1901 Picayune Creole Cookbook a reference is made to “the occult science of making a good ‘Gombo a’ la Creole.'” Despite this rather off-putting assumption, no voodoo, sorcery, and certainly no culinary degree is required. A good gumbo though, can feel a lot like magic.
For me, learning to make gumbo involved a lot of trial and error- mostly error, but thankfully my foibles are not our focus here.
Typically a Cajun gumbo starts with a dark roux, carefully tended at very low temps with constant stirring- and that’s constant with a capital D-O N-O-T S-T-O-P. It definitely requires patience if not any particular culinary skill. If you think you might need to answer your phone in the other room or if, heaven forbid, you may need to go to the bathroom, you do not need to be starting on a dark roux.
In contrast, a Creole gumbo might be made with a much lighter, thinner roux requiring just a bit of oil and flour and very little stirring time.
If the thought of making a roux makes you sweat and slightly twitchy, I recommend a great little product called Tony Chachere’s Instant Roux mix. It can become your best friend if making a roux from scratch is not in your wheelhouse. There are actually lots of other sources for ready-made roux , some frozen, some jarred. All easy. All non-anxiety producing.
Just don’t disclose to a real Cajun Mamaw that you had some help from Mr. Chachere or a jar. That way no one gets hurt, and we all eat gumbo anyway.
You’ll find at least a million recipes out there for gumbo-one for every cook who decides to make one. You’ve got your chicken, sausage, shrimp, duck, and all kind of iterations and combinations hereto. The debate rages strong on whether okra is a mandatory ingredient, and some cooks wouldn’t think of serving their gumbo without offering a little potato salad to eat along with it. I prefer mine over rice, am not opposed to throwing in some okra if I have it, and don’t mind a little gumbo file’ (dried sassafras leaves) to sprinkle over the top.
In my opinion a couple of things are non-negotiable: 1. the roux, and 2. the “holy trinity” of chopped onion, bell pepper and celery. These are what make gumbo taste like gumbo and not like soup, and are probably the “occult science” thing alluded to back in 1901.
Whatever your preference, whatever the recipe, there’s a gumbo out there for you- and bonus- it tastes even better the next day!
Here’s my favorite:
Shrimp and Sausage Gumbo
Luann at Hobnob Kitchen
- 1 cup vegetable oil
- 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 3 celery ribs, chopped
- 1 green bell pepper (sometimes I use orange instead), chopped
- 1 tablespoon garlic, finely chopped
- 6-7 cups chicken stock
- 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
- Pinch of cayenne
- Dash of hot sauce
- Salt and fresh ground black pepper
- 2 or 3 bay leaves
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme
- 1 (15 oz.) can petite diced tomatoes
- 3 links andouille sausage, sliced in 1/4-inch thick rounds, browned and drained on paper towels
- 1 pound peeled and deveined shrimp (I always slice mine in half bilaterally)
- 6 green onions, chopped
- 1/2 cup coarsely chopped parsley
- File powder, for serving
- Slice the sausage into 1/4 inch thick rounds and brown (in a bit of oil) in a skillet. Drain on paper towels, and set aside.
- Make a dark roux: Heat oil in a large Dutch oven over high heat. When oil begins to smoke, whisk in flour. Continue to whisk constantly until mixture is a rich brown color. Be careful not to produce specks of black. That means the flour is burning. If specks appear you must start over. When roux is dark peanut-butter colored, add onions, celery and bell pepper.
- Stir mixture until the vegetables are softened. Add garlic and cook for 1 minute. Slowly whisk in the stock and the can of tomatoes (juice included) , the Worcestershire, hot sauce, and cayenne. Season lightly with salt and pepper and bring the liquid to a boil. Add the bay leaves and thyme and simmer about 30 minutes. Stir in the sausage and simmer for another 15 minutes. Stir in shrimp. Cook just until shrimp is opaque. Turn off the heat.
- Serve over rice with a sprinkling of green onions, parsley, and file powder