If you’ve ever tasted gumbo, you may have wondered how this delicious concoction of meat (or seafood), rice and spices is made. Surprisingly, gumbo can actually be made in a variety of ways. Some use seafood, some add sausage, some are tomato based and some make it with okra. It’s really your choice. And, luckily, there is no wrong way!
But, there is a little secret that not everyone knows about…and it’s the key to making the perfect pot of gumbo. This little known process is called a roux. Pronounced “rue” or “roo”, this thickening agent hails from classical French cooking methods and is used as the base for many of their sauces.
The History of Gumbo
Let’s take a step back and look at the history of gumbo for just a minute. Technically, gumbo is a stew that originated in south Louisiana in the 18th century, but it is influenced by many cultures. As stated above, it has French influence, but it also has German, Spanish, Native American and African culinary characteristics. Gumbo is commonly used as a popular analogy for the mix of cultures in south Louisiana.
Since Okra was the original thickener for gumbo, many believe that the word gumbo is derived from the West African word for okra, ki ngombo. According to Wikipedia, gumbo is probably a reinterpretation of traditional African cooking. West Africans used okra as a base for many dishes, including soups, often pairing okra with meat and shrimp, with salt and pepper as seasonings. In Louisiana, the dish was modified to include ingredients introduced by other cultural groups. Surviving records indicate that by 1764 African slaves in New Orleans mixed cooked okra with rice to make a meal.
Whether you’re making Creole, Cajun or vegetarian-style gumbo, one thing is for sure- you’ll need a roux.
How To Make Gumbo Using a Roux
Unfortunately, many people are nervous to make a roux. But, it really is not as scary as it seems, so give it a try!
Measure equal parts flour and whichever fat you will be using (butter, lard, oil). A good place to start is one cup flour to one cup of fat. This will give you a nice amount of roux, but is not an overwhelming amount to start with. Mix them together in your pot.
Place your pot on the stove and turn the heat up to medium high. (Note: some people do it on high, but you have to be careful- a roux can burn quickly and you’ll have to start all over again).
Start stirring. This is where the work is. Once your pot starts heating up and your roux starts bubbling, you will have to stir almost constantly so it doesn’t burn. Keep in mind, there are different kinds of roux- so how long you stir will depend on which roux you want. There is a white roux, which is cooked very briefly and should be removed once it starts bubbling. A blonde roux is cooked longer than a white roux and is slightly darker in color than the white. And lastly, is the brown roux, which is brown in color due to it’s caramelization. (Note: this brown color can range from a copper penny color to the color of dark chocolate- it’s up to you). The brown roux is most commonly used in gumbos and provides a tremendous amount of flavor.
Follow the rest of the recipe you are using.
Pair it with a tasty craft beer and enjoy! We have many local craft beers on tap, but the Legend Brown Ale would be the best beer to pair with gumbo. Since it is a bold and heavy dish, a brown ale will be able to stand up to the weight of the dish. Enjoy the contrast of the spicy gumbo and the slightly sweet maltiness of the beer.
Although we’re known for our delicious sandwiches, we also have a tasty New Orleans style Turkey gumbo on our menu that is made daily with a roux. Come on by and have taste- we can exchange notes!