Gumbo is one of those dishes that are both time consuming and can be easy and relaxing to cook. Somewhat like baking bread, there are parts of the process that need careful attention but plenty of time in between to prep as you go or relax a little.
The first step is most time consuming where you cannot turn your back for a moment. In gumbo, the base is a roux, however unlike a blond roux the Cajun roux is cooked to a dark brick red color walking a fine line between burning and developing intense flavor. If you burn it, you have to throw it out and start over – there is no way to recover from that.
Use equal parts AP flour and oil (I used olive oil but prefer canola usually) over medium heat and constantly monitor the progress and stir as necessary to avoid any of the roux from sitting against the bottom of the pan for too long. It helps a lot to have a thick cast iron pot to avoid any hot spots, as even heat and constant stirring are critical. As the flavors develop an intense nutty smell similar to popcorn should let you know you’re on the right track.
Separately I prepared some vegetable stock – you could use chicken stock or even beef stock depending on your preference. It is important to bring the stock to a boil before combining it with your roux. Be very careful when adding the liquid. The amount of heat the oil in the roux holds can be very deceptive. I believe my pot is 12 quarts and I used ¼ cup of flour and ¼ cup of oil for the roux. Then I added approximately 4 cups of simmering stock with a whisk.
Separately I sautéed our aromatic mix of celery, onion, and bell pepper known in Cajun cooking as the holy trinity. You can use green or red bell pepper or a mixture. White or yellow onions work, typically not red. The amount is based on preference but a few cups prior to sweating them down is a good amount.
For seasonings, this time I used a pre-mixed blend but you most likely have spices in your kitchen already – typically a combination of chili powder (add cayenne powder if you like more heat), garlic powder, Italian blend of herbs, onion powder, paprika, salt, etc. You can always fine tune your spice blend to create your signature flavor. The file powder comes in a little later.
For this gumbo, I decided to include all three proteins of andouille, chicken, and shrimp. It’s very common to see variations on this, chicken and sausage for instance or sometimes shrimp and sausage. The traditional sausage to use is smoked andouille but you could substitute other types of smoked sausage and come close if you can’t find andouille.
The sausage is sliced in the bias and joins the party with the roux, stock, and aromatics
I also added a can of diced tomatoes at this point. That is not always included in gumbo – more often I see it in jambalaya but I enjoy the color, texture, and slight acid the tomatoes add. I also added the okra at this point. I use frozen okra as it is readily available year-round and works well in this application.
For the chicken, I chose boneless skinless chicken thighs. I find that the thighs are affordable, and tend to hold up very well to roasting and pulling without drying out. I trim any excess fat from them and roast them at 425F with just a light coating of canola and salt and pepper.
After they’ve cooled down I prefer to pull them, but you could chop them into cubes if that is your preference
Finally I added a tablespoon of the file powder. This is very traditional and used both as a thickener and as a flavoring agent. File is actually ground dried and ground leaves of the sassafras tree. It has a pungent almost tea smell and deepens the brown color of the gumbo.
I also added in the peeled, de-veined, and tail-less medium gulf shrimp.
Traditional serving is with white rice. Garnish with a little parsley. Glass of wine is optional!