I am a gumbo snob. I admit it. I judge restaurants based on their gumbo. I judge cookbooks based on their gumbo recipes. And I judge people based on their idea of what makes good gumbo.
There are a several criteria I look for in good gumbo. First is the roux, which is flour browned in grease. Nobody wants any pale, anemic gumbo. The roux has to be as dark as melted chocolate and about the same consistency. It’s the roux that gives gumbo one of its many layers of flavor, and if the roux is too pale or burned, the whole dish is compromised.
Second, gumbo must have okra in it. “Quingombo” is the word for okra in the Niger-Congo language spoken by many slaves who were brought to America. Sound like something familiar? It’s believed that what we know as gumbo is based on a West African stew featuring okra combined with meat and shrimp and that slaves continued to make this traditional dish and incorporated other local ingredients such as rice as well as cooking methods from French and Spanish settlers.
The next thing I look for is filé, which is ground sassafras often used as a thickener. “Kombo” is the word for sassafras that was used by the Choctaw people in Louisiana, and it’s another word that’s very similar to the word “gumbo.” Some historians believe that gumbo is based on a stew made by Native Americans and adapted into a French Creole cooking style.
There is great debate about whether or not gumbo should contain tomatoes. I am pro tomato. It gives the soup a little color, the acidity cuts the grease from the roux, and it rounds out the flavors. Now, you don’t want your gumbo to be glorified tomato soup, but some tomato is certainly a welcome addition. You’ll miss it if it’s not there.
And finally, I’ll say these words: There is NO CORN IN GUMBO. Got that? No corn. If you put corn in your gumbo, it’s just glorified vegetable soup. Don’t be fooled by Publix’s gumbo mix. It’s a lie. There is no corn in gumbo. I once met a woman who just crowed and crowed about how wonderful her gumbo was. Oh, she claimed she just made the best gumbo you ever did eat. Naturally, I asked her what her recipe was. She talked about the roux, and the broth, and the celery and onions, then she said the fateful words, “Next I put the corn in.” That’s when I stopped listening because she was obviously a crazy person.
Gumbo is my favorite food and my signature dish. My family has cooked and eaten gumbo my entire life. We’re not barbeque people. We’re not chili people. We’re not lasagna people. We’re gumbo people. Each of us makes it just a little differently, but all of us use the same basic ingredients and recipe. And today, for the first time ever, I’m sharing my recipe so you can be gumbo people too.
Our’s is more of a Gulf Coast style gumbo than a Cajun gumbo. I don’t like to make it too spicy because hot sauce can be added later, and I don’t put bell pepper in my gumbo. You can put it in if you want, and the result will be similar. You can also substitute chicken and sausage for the shrimp and crab. Just make sure you brown the sausage before you add it to the gumbo. Otherwise, your gumbo will be greasy. Plus, boiled sausage just isn’t very appetizing. Finally, my brother jokingly calls me Sister Audnitha, so that’s where my gumbo gets its name.
Sister Audnitha’s Filé Gumbo
- 8 cups chicken stock
- 2 cups water
- 1 chicken bouillon cube
- ⅔ cup flour (Note: If you are gluten-free, you can substitute in rice flour with the same result.)
- ⅔ cup Crisco or bacon grease or lard
- 2 cups finely diced celery
- 1 finely diced onion
- 2-3 bay leaves
- 2 cans diced tomatoes with the juice
- 1 Tbsp salt
- 2 Tbsp Old Bay Seasoning
- A few shakes of Crystal hot sauce or your favorite hot sauce
- 1 bag frozen okra
- 2 lbs shrimp, peeled and deveined
- 1 lb crabmeat
- 2 Tbsp filé
- Combine first three ingredients in a large soup pot, bring to a boil, and reduce to simmer.
- Make the roux by melting the grease in a cast iron skillet over medium heat and adding in the flour. Brown stirring constantly until the mixture is the color of melted chocolate. If the roux burns, throw it out and start again.
- When the roux is done, take it off the heat and add in a few ladles of the broth. Be careful because it will spatter. Whisk it so that there are no lumps.
- Add the roux to the warm broth, then add in the celery, onion, bay leaves, tomato, salt, Old Bay, and hot sauce.
- Let this simmer for a while so that the flavors come together.
- Add in the okra and heat through.
- Add in the shrimp and crabmeat, and heat until shrimp are pink, about 3 minutes.
- Sprinkle the filé over the top of the pot and stir in. Adjust seasonings to taste. Once you add the filé, you shouldn’t bring the gumbo back to a boil.
- Serve over hot, white rice and enjoy!