Gumbo, Gumbo, Gumbo!

Three Different Gumbo Recipes

Eugenia Uhl Photographs

I never cease to be amazed by the infinite varieties of gumbo, some of them born of necessity, others of premeditation and still others that emerge from someone’s inspirational flight of fancy. Hidebound conservatives may think there are gumbo traditions that must be maintained against the barbarians at the gate, but often their notions of what is right and proper are merely parochial and uninformed.

All one has to do is look at early Louisiana gumbo recipes to realize that originally people made gumbo from whatever was at hand. Turtle gumbo? Yes, indeed. Gumbos made with beef, veal, bacon, green corn or salt cod? Yes, those ingredients also appear in some 19th-century recipes. As the late Howard Mitcham wrote about making gumbo, “It’s an improvisational thing, like early jazz.”

Today, seafood and non-seafood gumbos constitute two of the most common categories, but some of the earliest recorded recipes for gumbo use a combination of meat or poultry and seafood, the Louisiana version of surf and turf. Gumbos are also categorized by whether they are thickened with okra or with filé, which is made from the ground leaves of the sassafras tree.

Each of the three gumbo recipes this month illustrates a different approach. One is thickened with okra; one is thickened with filé; and the third is thickened with roux, which is flour browned in oil. Two of the recipes call for a dry roux, which is simply browned flour without the oil. A dry roux can be used as a thickener and is popular with those who wish to reduce their consumption of fats, but in these recipes it is used to coat steak and chicken before browning. Substituting dry roux for white flour results in remarkably beautiful browning. It’s worth noting that some early Louisiana gumbo recipes call for browned flour as an ingredient.

All of these gumbos are served with rice, which for most will be white rice, though, personally, I’ve come to prefer brown rice in my bowl. As another historical aside, before the large-scale commercial cultivation of rice in Louisiana, gumbos were sometimes served with a cornmeal mush. That sounds strange, but I’ve tried it, and it’s not bad.


Crab-and-Okra Gumbo

This gumbo can be prepared, from start to finish, in less than an hour. Cooking okra in oil before adding liquid eliminates the sliminess that some people find unpleasant. Because this recipe does not include flour, it is a good choice for those on gluten-free diets.

1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 medium onions, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 pound okra, sliced
1 28-ounce can whole tomatoes
6 cups chicken stock or broth
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Hot sauce to taste
1 pound claw crabmeat
1 pound lump crabmeat
1/4 cup chopped parsley
Steamed rice


In a large Dutch oven or heavy casserole, cook the onions, celery and okra in the oil on medium heat, stirring frequently until softened, about 10 to 15 minutes. Add the tomatoes, stock and bay leaves; break up the tomatoes with your fingers or a spoon. Bring to a boil; reduce the heat; and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the okra is tender, about 30 minutes. Season with thyme, salt, pepper and hot sauce. Add the crabmeat, and cook until crabmeat is just heated through. Add the chopped parsley. Serve with steamed rice. Serves about 6 to 8.


Steak-and-Oyster Gumbo

Steak and oysters are a classic combination in toothsome dishes such as steak-and-oyster pie and carpetbag steak, in which a thick steak is stuffed with oysters before it is broiled or grilled. If you can’t find seven steak, substitute another cut, such as round or chuck. If you shuck your own oysters, add the oyster liquor to the gumbo. A glass of Guinness stout is an excellent accompaniment.

2 pounds seven steak
Creole seasoning
Dry roux (browned flour)
Vegetable oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
1 bell pepper, chopped
5 cups beef stock or broth
2 bay leaves
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Hot sauce to taste
1 pint (or more) shucked oysters
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
2 tablespoons green onion tops
Filé
Steamed rice


Cut the steak away from the bones. Trim and discard fat. Cut the steak into 1-inch cubes. Season the steak and bones liberally with Creole seasoning, and dredge in the dry roux. Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a large Dutch oven or heavy casserole. Brown the meat and bones in batches, and remove, adding additional oil as needed. Scrape up the browned bits from the pot, and add to the meat. Cook the onions, celery and bell pepper in additional oil, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the stock and bay leaves; return meat and bones to pot. Bring to a boil; reduce heat; and simmer, stirring occasionally, until meat is tender, about 2 hours. Skim fat from the surface of the gumbo. Remove the bones. Season with salt, pepper and hot sauce. Add the oysters, and cook only until they shrivel, about 3 minutes. Add the parsley and onion tops. Serve with steamed rice and filé. Serves 4 to 6.


Chicken-and-Smoked Sausage Gumbo

Most chicken gumbos these days are served with chicken that has been removed from the bone. In this recipe, the chicken is left on the bone, which, to my taste, makes for a better gumbo, though, admittedly, it is somewhat messier to eat.

1 pound smoked sausage, sliced
Vegetable oil
1 4-to-5-pound chicken
Creole seasoning
Dry roux (browned flour)
2 medium onions, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
2 bell peppers, chopped
8 cups chicken stock or broth
1/4 cup dark roux
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Hot sauce to taste
1/4 cup chopped parsley
1/4 cup chopped green onion tops
Filé (optional)
Steamed rice


In a large Dutch oven or heavy casserole, cook the sausage in 2 tablespoons of oil over medium heat, stirring frequently, until browned. Remove the sausage, and set aside. Meanwhile, cut the chicken into serving pieces; remove the skin and visible fat. Season the chicken liberally with Creole seasoning, and dredge it in dry roux. Brown the chicken in batches, adding additional oil as needed. Remove the browned chicken, and set aside. Cook the onions, celery and bell peppers until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the chicken stock, roux and bay leaves; stir to dissolve roux. Return the chicken and sausage to the pot. Bring to a boil; reduce heat; and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the chicken is falling off the bone, about 2 hours. Skim the fat from the surface of the gumbo. Season with thyme, salt, pepper and hot sauce. Add the parsley and onion tops. Serve with steamed rice; filé is optional. Serves about 8.

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