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Gumbo virgin - what am I getting into?

I'd like to make gumbo for the first time this weekend as I won't have the opportunity to celebrate Mardi Gras proper. I've never had it before, I've never had okra before, and I've never had file powder before. Would anyone be able to describe the flavors of gumbo, okra, and file to me? I'm cooking for some picky eaters and would like to know if I should adjust for them.

Also, this new recipe from Epicurious/the CIA seems manageable enough: http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/foo... , but I also have the Cooks Illustrated recipe. Can anyone speak for one or the other?

Thanks much :D

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  1. I've made the cooks illustrated recipe that doesn't use file powder or okra. I felt the flavor was excellent but it was definitely not as thick as I have seen in restaurants.

    1 Reply
    1. re: bmubyzal

      I'm planning on making that same recipe on Tuesday. Ive never made gumbo before, so do you have any hints or suggestions. I do have fil'e powder that I was planning to use.

    2. Go to emerils.com or southernliving.com to see recipes. I've made gumbo countless times and never use file powder - it's a thickener just like okra (and roux).Make a dark, dark roux, and toss the okra into a hot skillet with a little flour to de-slime it if you wish.
      Here in the deep South okra is a stable - it's really delicious and we don't mind the slime factor. File powder doesn't add taste. For us, okra is essential. Must use a seafood broth (use the heads and shells off the shrimp). Because my DH and family prefer it, I usually add some Zatarain's Gumbo Base - makes it extra rich and tasty. Add some keilbasa or andouille. We add gumbo crabs (halved, cleaned crabs) or crab claws, plus oysters at the last minute. Really yum. Don't have a recipe, just raised on it.....

      1. Thanks for the tips :) Would this be better served with green beans or collards?

        1. Okra - as a steamed/cooked vegetable *by itself* is a slimy mess (sorry Southerners!). Rolled in breading and deep fried, however it's a tasty morsel. The thing that okra adds to a gumbo isn't flavor, but thickening power. Filé is made from dried, powdered sassafras leaves. It has a basic dry powdery taste. Again, it's not taste that it adds to gumbo, but thickening. Some people add filé to the gumbo while cooking, others offer it as a condiment on the side. The third gumbo thickener is roux - a good dark (nearly brick colored) mixture of equal amounts of flour and butter cooked together.

          1. I'll disagree a little about file powder. It's mainly used as a thickener, but it has a subtle flavor that's distinctive enough that when I make gumbo I'll eat some with file stirred in and some without.

            1. Just don't burn the roux! As long as you get that part right, everything else just kind of falls into place...

              1. PBS' Create channel featured an entire day of shows with the theme, "Laissez les bontemps roulez" - let the good times roll, in celebration of Mardi Gras. There must have been a dozen versions of gumbo and jambalaya. One of the Louisiana chefs explained that well-heeled people thickened their gumbo with a flour roux; poor folks couldn't afford flour so they used file powder. Famed chef Paul Prudhomme was making roux and showed the range of color. A pale roux is at least as dark as a brown paper bag. A dark roux - and that's what he was using - is almost as dark as semi-sweet chocolate. He kept talking about how blazing hot the pan needed to be - the oil was smoking before he added the flour, which browned instantly as he vigorously stirred. He had minced onion at the ready and stirred some of that in, both for flavor and to drop the temp so the flour wouldn't burn. Still seeing some oil, he added more flour. His dark gray pans looked like thin cast iron - they had blue handles. I don't think they can have been nonstick because he was using such high heat, but they were definitely not as heavy/thick as regular cast iron. He set aside the roux pan, adding the roux to the ingredients in a different pan. Another interesting thing he did was to stir small amounts of oil into his prepared veggies before adding them to the pan, which was not oiled. He explained that this decreased the amount of oil in the dish by half, and that he did not want the pan to be heating oil that was not in contact with food, because that would have a negative effect on the flavor.

                1. When you add okra, l cut whole ones in 3-4 pieces, each @ 3/4 inch,into your broth the slime cooks in and thickens and thus 'disappears'. For file l use a homemade one, not my home, and it thickens as well, with a wonderful subtle leafy flavor, add at the very very end .For roux l use a Louisiana brand called Kary's Roux, they have light and dark, have both use both, but way more dark. Used to make my own roux, but this stuff works perfectly, costs almost nothing, and last unrefrigerated, it seems, forever. Thus three thickeners, but three added layers of texture as well as flavor. Still use Paul Prudhomme's original books for recipes but as long as you use the basic ingredients, any recipe will work. One of my favorites recipes uses chicken thighs, another uses crabmeat and another is italian sausage freshly grilled and put on top when serving. No rice, no starch.

                  1. Here where I live, it's usually served with potato salad - some people (not us) put the gumbo over the potato salad. We like a basic green salad, hot rice and french bread with ours. Our neighbors do cole slaw and corn on the cob...I guess what ever moves you.

                    1. I would also suggest Alton Brown's recipe on food network's site. Very easy, good flavor. It might not be "authentic" for some, but I've never had any complaints.

                      One tip I would throw out is the base. The recipe calls for boiling whole shrimp for flavor (as do others, I'm sure.) I've used a jar of lobster base for mine, and it works great.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: Pylon

                        l use unsalted stock, whether seafood, homemade, or chicken or vegetable, purchased.

                      2. You're just getting into making a soup. It's nothing to be afraid of. Everyone has a different recipe, and for every "you must..." there will be someone who insists "you must not..."

                        Roux-wise, most restaurants use super-dark roux because they can make a huge batch and use it for months without it going bad, not because it tastes better.

                        I prefer to use a roux that's the color of peanut butter. I've heard that the lighter roux and tomatoes are both more creole style- both of which are musts for my gumbo.

                        1. I learned to cook from my mother-in-law in St. Martinville, LA. Every cook makes their gumbo differently. My m-i-l would never put andouille with shrimp. She does use both a dark roux and okra (okry as she calls it) to thicken a shrimp gumbo. Her daughter, on the other hand, makes a simple gumbo, using a very dark roux to thicken her shrimp gumbo. Adding crab claws and some picked crab meat is wonderful.

                          In south Louisiana, some potato salad and, maybe some bread is all you need to go with.

                          Be sure to use the shrimp shells to make the stock!!!