Gumbo Recipe Background
This gumbo recipe actually comes from a place close to home for me. When I was visiting my folks for the holidays, my mom hosted a little party for her cousins. One of the conversation topics that came up was my great-grandmothers gumbo. Everyone chimed in how much they loved it! When I asked if anyone knew how to make it, everyone scratched their heads. “She never made it the same way twice.” My mom explained to me that her grandma used whatever she happened to have. Sometimes it was full of whole crabs and chicken. Other times it would be sausage. I guess that’s why no one thought to write it down.
Obviously, this gumbo recipe isn’t anywhere close to what she made. She lived in Alabama. However, I did successfully recreate it. This traditional New Orleans gumbo is much closer to the original. But I didn’t want to just follow another recipe. Can’t exactly just repost other people’s work can you? So I set about putting my own spin on gumbo. That idea came from making mapo tofu. What if I added Szechuan peppercorns to give it a ma and la sort of feel? What if I added other Chinese ingredients as well?
How To Make A Roux
First, and most importantly, the roux. No matter what gumbo you are making, you need a perfect roux. The roux serves to help thicken the gumbo. Some people say you need to do it low and slow (for hours). There is also the dirty roux where you do it fast and furious. Both methods work, the faster one has less room for error. For this roux I used 1 cup flour and 3/4 cup bacon grease. That’s right, bacon grease. Don’t throw it away, save it in a jar and you can create tons of flavor. Plus, the alternative is using vegetable oil and I feel like animal fat is healthier.
Don’t leave the roux unattended. You need to constantly watch and stir to make sure it doesn’t burn. At the same time, you need to let it sit and caramelize a little bit. That’s how you get the dark mahogany color we want. The roux above took me about 20 minutes on medium high heat. Generally, the closer your roux is to burning, the better it is. If the roux is burnt, then it is ruined. Interesting dichotomy, right? Once you have mastered your roux technique, a lot of dishes become available, not just Cajun ones!
Next, take the roux off the heat and add the Cajun holy trinity: onion, green bell pepper, and celery. Also, add garlic. Put it back on lower heat and saute for about 10 minutes. This will soften the veggies and release their flavor so it doesn’t have to stew forever.
Adding Stock And Spices
Next, the gumbo recipes will differ. Some will add chicken broth. Others add beef broth. For this one, I added 3 quarts of water with 6 beef bouillon cubes. Bring it down to a simmer and add your spices. Bay leaf, thyme, salt, sugar, cajun seasoning are all pretty mandatory. I also added tomatoes (some gumbos don’t), and Chinese five spice. Be careful about adding too much salt. The gumbo will simmer down some, so it is better to salt a little too bit now than have it be too salty at the end. The okra will also be added later, so that it doesn’t become too mushy from being boiled forever.
The Chinese Ingredients
Well, I already mentioned Chinese five spice. There are 3 other ingredients I used that make this gumbo interesting. Fish balls were a delicious addition. I recommend them even if you are making regular gumbo. I substituted oyster sauce in place of Worcestershire sauce, hoping to get more of a seafood flavor. Last, what really sets this apart. The Szechuan peppercorns.
The peppercorns are the only part that requires some care. I recommend grinding them as fine as you can, some people dislike the slightly bitter taste of chewing on an intact peppercorn. The cool part about them is the tingly feeling they will give you on your tongue and in your mouth. If you are unsure of whether others will like this, you can always put it on the side and let others decide how much of it they want to add to their bowls.
Gumbo File and Other Notes
I am not exactly sure how much of a difference gumbo file makes in this recipe. However, it’s a spice that has gumbo in its own name. I couldn’t find it at my grocery store for some reason, so I ended up ordering it on Amazon. It arrived at the exact moment it was time to serve my gumbo. I will treasure it forever.
Finally, some other thoughts. If you are using shrimp, make sure to only add it at the very end. Shrimp is tender and only takes a few minutes to cook. No need to cook it to death. If you use crab or fish meat, try not to stir it too much after you add it. The meat tends to fall apart and you lose those nice clumps you had before. Last, be sure to let me know what you think of my gumbo recipe! Whether you think it is a gift to mankind or an abomination to Cajun society, I want to know.
- 1 large pot
- 1 cup flour
- ¾ cup bacon drippings
- 1 green bell pepper diced
- 1 yellow onion diced
- 1 cup celery chopped
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- 3 quarts water
- 6 beef bouillon cubes
- 1 tbsp sugar
- salt to taste
- 4 bay leaves
- ½ tsp dried thyme
- 2 tbsp hot sauce
- ½ tsp Chinese five spice powder
- ½ cup Szechuan peppercorns crushed
- 14.5 oz stewed tomatoes 1 can
- 6 oz tomato sauce 1 can
- 1 lb andouille sausage sliced
- 2 tsp gumbo file
- 2 tbsp white vinegar
- 2 tbsp bacon drippings
- 2 cups okra chopped
- 1½ lbs fish balls
- 1 tbsp oyster sauce
- 2 lbs shrimp
- 2 tsp gumbo file
- 3 cups rice
- Combine the 1 cup of flour with 3/4 cup of bacon drippings in the pot on medium heat. Let it darken while stirring continuously. Do not let it burn. Remove from heat once the color is a dark brown, like mahogany. Should take about 30 minutes. Continue stirring for a few minutes after it is off burner.
- Add the pepper, onion, celery, and garlic. Return to burner and set heat to medium low. Saute for 10-15 minutes or until veggies are tender.
- Boil the water and bouillon cubes in a separate pot, stirring til cubes are dissolved. Then, add water to roux, stirring til combined. Put heat on low.
- Add the other stock spices, herbs, the sausage, and the tomatoes. Simmer it on low heat for an hour, after 45 minutes add 2 tsp of gumbo file.
- Melt 2 tbsp of bacon drippings in a skillet. Add the okra and the vinegar. Saute for 10 minutes over medium heat. Add into gumbo pot.
- Add the fish balls, oyster sauce, and 2 more tsp of gumbo file. Simmer for another 45 minutes, add shrimp after 30. Serve with a scoop of rice in the middle.