If you ask anybody from Louisiana or the Mississippi Sound about making gumbo, the first thing they will tell you is about making the roux.
Good Gumbo Starts with Good Roux
My college roommate (from Metairie), my brother’s girlfriend (from Biloxi), and my parent’s neighbor of 35 years (New Orleans), have pretty much all told me the same thing, “My mother used to take out an old penny and sit it next to the pot. ‘You’re done when the roux is the color of this penny.’”
Now, these women certainly did not have the same mother, but they shared the same story. I’m guessing making a proper roux must be a rite of passage for a kid from around those parts, and probably a bit challenging because it requires a little patience. Twenty-five minutes or so of stirring can seem like forever to a 10 year old!
Good Roux = Oil + Flour + Time
But it really is the roux that makes the difference. The slow cooking of of oil and flour together create a wonderful flavor as the flour browns.
Now, I’ve also read about gumbos made with a “blonde” roux, in which the roux is not browned nearly as much. So, I would love to get your opinion on this if you are familiar with the various approaches to making gumbo.
What is the Holy Trinity?
Once the roux is made, the next step is to mix in and cook the “holy trinity”. The “holy trinity” in Cajun and Creole cooking is bell pepper, onion, and celery. It’s called this because it forms the foundation of a lot of recipes in this cuisine.
What is Filé?
Another hallmark of gumbo is the use of filé powder. If you are not familiar with filé (fee-lay), it is a powder made from dried sassafras leaves. It is a powerful thickener, but must be added at the end of cooking or it will form slimy, ropey strands in the gumbo. Filé is available in many supermarkets (we found ours at Whole Foods), or online.
Make-Ahead Steps for Gumbo
The dark roux can be prepared ahead of time and either kept refrigerated for several days, or frozen for up to three months (thaw before using). Just make sure to warm it up before continuing with the recipe. You could even double or triple the recipe for roux if you would like to have some on hand for future batches.
You could also prepare the gumbo up to the point before you add the shrimp, and then chill and refrigerate for a day or two. Warm it up again on the stovetop and finish cooking the gumbo with the shrimp.
What to Serve with Gumbo
To serve, sprinkle the gumbo with filé powder and hot sauce.
Storing and Freezing Gumbo
Shrimp doesn’t reheat very well; it tends to get a little rubbery. This means this gumbo is at its very best if made and served the same day it’s made. That said, if you don’t mind the shrimp, leftovers are great reheated for lunch or dinner. Leftovers will keep for about three days in the fridge.
Gumbo doesn’t freeze well once you’ve added the shrimp. If you’d like to freeze, prepare the gumbo up to the point of adding the shrimp, freeze, then add the shrimp when you’re ready to serve.
More Great Recipes from New Orleans
Updated March 31, 2020 : We spiffed up this post to make it sparkle! No changes to the original recipe.