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Feb 20, 2009 09:24 PM

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: , 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 or 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.