HOME > Chowhound > Home Cooking >


Gumbo - Okra: Yea or nay

I mistakenly posted this query in the San Francisco regional board. I'm a newbie.

Your response and your reason would be appreciated.

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. I always put it in. The books mostly tell you to use EITHER okra OR filé powder (sassafras), but several recipes I've seen say they've always used both. You mustn't cook it after the filé goes in, though - do that at the end.

    FWIW, I am far from an okra freak - I like it pickled or in soup, and that's about it. I always use frozen - cut up usually, though going to the trouble of cutting up frozen whole okra gives a better result. Often I get bags of frozen mixed okra and tomatoes and save a few steps there, too.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Will Owen

      Really? Cutting up frozen whole okra eh? I'll try it!

    2. Funny you should ask...
      I find it almost essential as a thickening agent, though I don't like the whole, slimy "wheels" into which it's typically cut. I like it diced small, as the greenish flavor offsets the other heavy flavors of the sausage & roux.

      2 Replies
      1. re: foodiegrl

        I'm rather fond of the slimy wheels. I like popping the seeds between my teeth. Some days it's the only exercise I get.

        1. re: beckiefd

          Definately YEA! I'm partial to Okra and can't stand Filé powder.


      2. Depends on what your idea of gumbo is....if it's light tan in color and thick than yes go for okra...but if you invision a broth as dark as a hershey bar and thin as a soup than NO. okra gumbo and "new orleans seafood" gumbo are 2 total different creatures...

        2 Replies
        1. re: TulsaNoah

          Thank you TulsaNoah for your response. Now my next question is: What is the difference between okra gumbo and "NOLA seafood" gumbo? Hmmmmmmmmmmm?

          1. re: beckiefd

            okra gumbo is a side dish...a veggie per say (an equivalent to east texas okra and tomatoes)....and NOLA seafood gumbo is a "course". I think okra gumbo is great along side pork tenderloin, but never as a dish by itself. like dishing up mashed potatos and serving them without a main...sort of akward.
            ::blank stare at a plate::

        2. I prefer fresh okra when I can get it but have used frozen in a pinch. I have file powder on the shelf but rarely use it.

          I like okra pickles, fried okra and okra on gumbo but as a side with tomatoes it is not a favorite.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Candy

            Yes'm. . okra pickles!!
            I've found frozen, breaded okra at the safeway. 'spretty good.

          2. The word gumbo is an African word that actually means okra.
            I usually use okra in my gumbo, but not always. I don't think it tastes as good in a seafood gumbo.

            1 Reply
            1. re: Spencer

              So the general consensus is for no okra in seafood gumbo. I prefer the andouille myself.

            2. It's really not a yeah or nay issue. As TulsaNoah implies, what's your preference? How do you like your gumbo? I go with a very dark roux, no okra, no file. But that's how I like it. Your mileage may differ.

              1 Reply
              1. re: JoanN

                I like the dark roux. . which seems to happen by accident for me. Lots and lots of okra. . not too much rice IN it. . and never OVER rice. Ick.

              2. If you're worried about using okra because you've never liked it (like me), don't worry too much. Gumbo is pretty much the only way I'll eat okra, because I hate the slimey interior of the pod. It's great as a thickener, and the funny taste gets cooked away. Between okra and file, I say okra.

                1 Reply
                1. re: Pei

                  Okay then. It is a funny thickening agent isn't it?

                2. Okra in gumbo? Yea. No question. For me, it's not gumbo without.

                  And I'm Cajun born and breaded.

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: rjw_lgb_ca

                    And so according to Spencer gumbo is an African word for okra. As for me. .. I like it (okra) any way I can get it.

                    1. re: rjw_lgb_ca

                      I've always wanted to bread a Cajun. Just how is that done?

                    2. I'm not Cajun nor of Cajun (or French) descent, but for some reason the redundancy of the term 'okra gumbo' makes my skin crawl. Do I like okra okra or how about gumbo gumbo? Adding beans to 'chili con carne' bothers me in similar manner, but with 'okra gumbo' *shuddering* it's especially irritating. The term reeks of okraphobia. If you don't like okra, that's fine, but perverting the name of the dish to suit your likes/dislikes... no, sorry, that's just wrong.

                      8 Replies
                      1. re: scott123

                        Yeah, I know what you mean - 'chai tea' is my pet peeve.

                        1. re: sweetTooth

                          Yes! Can I interest you in some tea tea with your okra okra? ;)

                          *looking around*

                          Is there an echo in here?

                        2. re: scott123

                          I'm cajun, from a french-speaking family, literally born on the bayou, and everybody I know says "okra gumbo" IF they're referring to a gumbo that contains okra. "I'm gonna make an okra gumbo this weekend, y'all pass by my house after church to have a bowl" as opposed to "My nannan heard you weren't feeling well and made you this duck gumbo." Many varieties of gumbo don't contain gumbo, so it's far from a certainty in south Louisiana that your gumbo will include okra.

                          The rule of thumb I was taught (by both cooks in my family as well as traditional cooks throughout SE LA) regarding okra in gumbo: okay with fowl, sausage, and some seafood (shrimp, oysters), but never with crab. The stringiness of the okra is thought to reinforce the sliminess of okra in a negative way.

                          Certainly you can use okra with any damn combination of ingredients you want...that's the beauty of an old dish rooted in an improvisational, creolized cuisine. As Leah Chase told me last night, "Put what you like in your gumbo--you're the cook! Make it your own!"

                          1. re: Hungry Celeste

                            My auntie's family is also from the bayou, and they use "gumbo" to refer to any sort of potluck or food gathering. "Y'all are comin' up for my gumbo tomorrah?" literally means "are you coming to my house for dinner?" sometimes gumbo doesn't even make it into the mix. Do you ever use it in that context?

                            1. re: foodiegrl

                              Never heard this useage, but there are lots of different bayous in LA and as many dialectical variations as bayous!

                            2. re: Hungry Celeste

                              Hey Celeste-- Where were you talking to Leah Chase? Is she still teaching at Savvy Gourmet?

                              1. re: JGrey

                                Don't know if she's still teaching at Savvy, but I saw her at a Southern Foodways/Tabasco event at Restaurant August. She told me that she hopes to be cooking in her own kitchen again by late October. And she admonished me to "never put an even number of greens in gumbo z'herbes; it's bad luck...always use an odd number"...and we discussed sources for peppergrass, a hard to find "yard herb" (aka weed) that folks use for gumbo z'herbes.

                              2. re: Hungry Celeste

                                Hungry Celeste, allow me to introduce you to fellow Cajun rjw_lgb_ca:


                                I'll let you two battle it out.

                            3. My oh my. I've been enlightened, educated, chastised and damned in the same paragraph. Well, there's only one response to a citation such as that, aside from a trip to the dictionary.

                              "Foreigners cannot enjoy our food, I suppose, any more than we can enjoy theirs. It is not strange; for tastes are made, not born. I might glorify my bill of fare until I was tired; but afer all, the Scotchman would shake his head, and say, "Where's your haggis?" and the Fijan would sigh and say, "Where's your missionary?""
                              - Mark Twain "A Tramp Abroad"

                              1 Reply
                                1. Typically i dont make gumbo until it starts to get cold because then you will often have some wild shot ducks on hand. However, the fresh okra is not around by then. Frozen is not as good but i always use it anyway. About the only thing i do with fresh okra is stew it with some tomatoes and thick cut bacon. Tasso is also really good in stewed okra. As i mentioned on an earlier Gumbo thread, i rarely if ever use file. There is a neglected bottle of it in my fridge as we speak.

                                  There have been lots of good comments on the subject of gumbo on this thread and they seem to jive with my experiences. For instance i cant recall crab gumbo with okra in it. I learn more and more stuff on this board each day. Thanks for all the thoughtful comments. (not that it was my thread or anything)

                                  1. FWIW
                                    I'm not Cajun, of Cajun decent or have ever been to Louisiana. I do however make gumbo at home. Often in fact. I have no idea if I'm right but I'm led to believe that there are two ways of thickening a gumbo. With a roux and with okra. If I wanna make the best gumbo I can make, I make a roux. If I want it to be a lot more healthy (Since my roux is flour/butter/bacon drippings) I use okra. In my mind and my southern wifes mind, both are excellent. Just slightly different back ground tastes.


                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: Davwud

                                      Gumbo always starts with a roux, regardless of whether or not it contains okra.

                                    2. In Spain, to avoid the inevitable debate about what does or doesn't constitute an authentic paella (I won't even get into it...) many exasperated home cooks (like a family friend from Valencia with some very opinionated great aunts) simply label what they make an "arroz" which comes with the liberty to add anything you like without starting an argument.... even if what you end up with is what many would call a paella.

                                      So, not being from gumbo country, I wonder if there is a similar more general term that can be applied here so we can all just eat what we like without having to get into one of these kinds of debates... :-)

                                      2 Replies
                                      1. re: Pincho

                                        In my heart of hearts I simply wanted to start a conversation regarding the pros and cons of okra in a dish I was told is named gumbo. We can call it goo soup if you want. Or the muguffa dish, it makes no never mind to me.

                                        1. re: beckiefd

                                          Okay, back to your desired focal point: okra can have a grassy flavor that overwhelms seafood flavors, IMHO. I like chicken-n-okra gumbo enough to eat other people's versions, but I almost never put okra in a gumbo I make myself. And I like okra--I just like it better by itself or in "okra-centric" dishes. Like stewed with tomatoes & shrimp, or cut small and smothered with fresh corn cut off the cob. Or fried in cornmeal..or stir-fried with indian spices.

                                          And, as one poster above so astutely noted, I generally make gumbo in cooler weather, when okra's not readily available fresh.