#10 Gumbo

Seafood Gumbo

I wouldn’t be able to forgive myself if I didn’t talk about the ultimate Cajun meal…gumbo! Now I’ve held off talking about gumbo for this long to avoid covering the most common Cajun topics, but enough is enough. There’s no denying gumbo’s place in a Cajun’s heart…or belly.

The very word gumbo makes a Cajun man or woman drool like ‘dem dogs with the bells and stuff. Gumbo is the ultimate Cajun comfort food, enjoyed on a cold night with friends and family, or by your lonesome if you don’t feel like sharing the good stuff. Eating it brings back memories of childhood, of the gumbos made with love by your mama or mom-mom. Cajuns have even coined the term ‘gumbo weather’ to hint to each other that it might be time to whip up a pot…and invite us over. Pretty much anything under 60 degrees is considered ‘gumbo weather’ to a coonass.

Gumbo is basically a stew or thick soup, made with a handful of simple ingredients, and served over rice. You start with water and a thickening agent like okra or roux (depending on the type of gumbo), then we add the holy trinity, or Cajun Mirepoix, which is a magical combination of onions, celery, and bell pepper that gives most Cajun food its signature flavor. After that, we throw in some meat and sausage, season with salt, cayenne, and garlic, and let it cook till it’s done.

There are no hard and fast rules for making gumbo. Each family has their own special recipe passed down over the generations. Think of them as Cajun snowflakes, each unique in their own special way. That said, there are NO TOMATOES in a real Cajun gumbo! Sorry, but there are few things that’ll make a Cajun man’s blood boil faster than trying to pass off a fake gumbo. You might find tomatoes in a New Orleans, or Creole gumbo, but that’s an entirely different beast than a Cajun gumbo. If a restaurant tries to serve you a tomato gumbo, demand a refund…cause you been ripped off.

Here’s a good chicken gumbo recipe I found online. You can save some time on the roux by buying it in a jar (sometimes we cheat a little). Next time ‘gumbo weather’ rolls around, I’ll try to write down my own recipe and post it (I usually just eyeball everything).

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51 thoughts on “#10 Gumbo

  1. I just GOTTA have shrimp, chicken, AND sausage in mine. ALL THREE! Btw: Disneyland’s Blue Bayou restaurant in New Orleans Square makes an excellent gumbo!

  2. My favorite is my mom’s seafood gumbo. Shrimp and okra is a close second, followed by chicken and sausage. Throw in a spoonful of chow chow or hot sauce, and I’m good to go.

  3. WORD! I HATE when restaurants and/or people put tomatoes in their gumbo! GROSS! Same with jambalaya. DOES NOT belong! GAH. That’s Creole, not Cajun. ICK.

    and would you believe that my husband prefers Mam Papaul’s boxed gumbo mix over homemade? (i know, WTF?) but in a pinch, I’ll use it because it saves me a TON of time and effort!

    and you are right, everyone’s gumbo is different- what I find interesting is that down the bayou, near Cut off, etc. people put potato salad in their gumbo instead of rice. I had never seen that until my sister moved to Bayou Gauche and she started seeing her neighbors do that!

    My family is from Cenla, like I mentioned before, so they were strictly rice people- but do people in Acadiana do it that way?

    I sometimes write about “stuff Louisiana people do and/or like” in my blog- I’d love your input on some of it sometime. Just click on the “Louisiana” tags. :)

    • Know exactly what you mean. I was on a “Hot Pepper” site and this dude was bragging of his Texas gumbo with a roux then he hit it with tomato paste. I just couldn’t bite my tongue, so I wrote back saying why brag about a a beautiful brown roux then you go muddle it up with tomato paste- I explained that real country cajuns made Brown gumbo and Brown Jambalya. Only the uppy ones think they ahve to make em red. They thought I was crazy but I know where you are coming from.

  4. I’ve been known to put a scoop of potato salad in my gumbo, but that’s in addition to rice, not instead of it. Gotta have my daily dose of vitamin R.

  5. My grandfather is the only person I can remember who put potato salad in his gumbo. But he had rice in there, too. He lived his entired life in Acadia parish.

    These days, if we’re having potato salad, I like to do the same – ca c’est bon, yeah!

  6. As a conessieur of fine gumbo, I NEVER order gumbo in a restaurant outside of Lafayette Parish. Even New Orleans gumbo gets a little to “red” for me.

    In Mobile, they think they invented gumbo and it all has a tomato base. No use arguing with them, though. I mean, these are people who are still hoping that “The Bear” will somehow be resurected from the dead to come back to coach The Tide.

    Put me down for the potato salad in the gumbo, but sans rice. Also, nothing better than a baked sweet potato with that gumbo.

  7. Mom mom bakes fresh sweet potatoes to go alongside her gumbos. The sweetness goes nicely with the spicyness of the gumbo.

  8. The best gumbo, cher, is not in our restaurants. It’s in our kitchens. They got a thousand ways to make gumbo and everybody like to make their’s a bit different. No, I don’t put tomatoes non potatoes in mah gumbo. Get your roux just right – t’row in your onion, bell pepper, celery, garlic – then get creative wit’ your seafood or chicken/sausage. I like to drop eggs in mine. Some prefer potato salad while others prefer sweet potato to go along with it. Depends on what part of acadiana you from.

  9. Got that right, nothing better than home cooked gumbo (especially on the second day). I’m more partial to sweet potato, but I like potato salad in my gumbo too. Call me a cheater, but I usually use Kary Roux (or Pat’s), and keep adding until I get the right consistency.

  10. Please refer to my website (ok, it is a myspace page) but I’m actually trying to get my PhD on mapping gumbo recipes so if anyone has one they want to share and be part of the mapping process please shoot me an e-mail. Make sure you state where in Acadiana you are from :)

    • Dec. 23, 2012
      I realize that your post is from 2008…but if this reaches you and you are still interested in yet another gumbo recipe let me know. My paternal grandmother grew up in /near New Orleans and i have been making her gumbo all my adult life. We always make a big pot for Christmas Eve. It’s different than any recipe I’ve seen. My email address is kbsathome@q.com.
      Merry Christmas. Katherine

  11. Ok, I’ll link to you, despite my dislike for all things Myspace (isn’t use of MySpace enough to disqualify any PhD candidate?) Anyway, keep up the good work. Next time I cook a gumbo, I might commit the recipe to paper so you can see what a Cecilia gumbo is like.

  12. Not that I feel like I have to explain myself but I figured the myspace page would be another avenue to get informants/contacts since ethnography is a major portion of my project. Plus it was good for a laugh at the conference I presented the preliminary research to in April.

  13. I was just poking some fun. I find the whole idea of mapping local gumbo variations very interesting, if not challenging. You could pick any street in Acadiana and each house would have their own unique gumbo recipes. I propose finding the exact boundary where tomatoes get introduced and redraw Cajun Country based on that. Good luck with your work.

  14. Yeah, the tomato in gumbo thing is apparently a point of contention. I grew up with the notion that if you put a tomato in gumbo then it is “Creole”. However, when I started doing this project I received a number of gumbos from people claiming to be Cajun who put a can of rotel in their gumbos. At first I thought well this must be a New Orleans thing thiking that the closer you are to NO, the more likely you will put a tomato or 2 in the gumbo. However, after mapping the recipes I found that both Eastern and Western Acadiana are more likely to have tomato while Central Acadiana are much more purist. At the same time Central Acadiana gumbos are more likely to use more vegetables so go figure.

  15. I’ve always found the best gumbo is made at the camp, by the men there to hunt and drink beer. A duck & andouille gumbo w/a dark roux and lots of gizzards is hard to beat. Occaisionally someone will add a quart of oysters at the last minute. Mmmmm.

  16. I love a dark roux gumbo, and no tomatoes in most of the gumbo I make. The exception is shrimp and okra gumbo. Rotel and okra go together so well. Yum!

    Isn’t the Atchafalaya Basin a sort of dividing line? East of the Atchafalaya more likely to have tomatoes, west of the Basin less likely? Even though we almost all NOW use andouille, wasn’t that more common on the east (German coast) side?

  17. For the best gumbo you ever tasted north of the border, try the Double Musky Restaurant in Girdwood, Alaska. The ole boy there cook gumbo like he was born in Loisiana. Except he uses King crab legs, Kachemak Bay oysters and caribou sausages in his. Not cajun, but good to eat anyway.

  18. Gumbo. It was the very first thing I remember hearing about Louisiana before moving here. I was 15, and an Army brat, stationed in Stuttgart Germany with my father. My english teacher, a crusty old man named Mr. Grogan, upon finding out that my father was to be stationed at Ft. Polk in Louisiana, made sure to tell me about Gumbo. His description made my mouth water (well, he WAS an english teacher, after all) and sure enough, the very first thing I looked for upon arrival was Gumbo. For those of you that don’t know, Ft. Polk is in CENLA and the area is not known for it’s good Gumbo. Even so, I liked what I had, but it wasn’t until I began attending national guard meetings in Lafayette that I had my first REAL Gumbo, a great seafood gumbo at a place called Langnieux’s. I’ve been a connesieur ever since, trying out the gumbo anywhere they offer it. So far, and I’ve been all over Louisiana, the Lafayette – Opelousas area has the best tasting variety of gumbos. Although, I must say that I’ve had some good gumbo in New Orleans, just not in the touristy areas of New Orleans.

  19. Mama made a pretty good gumbo, too. Filé powder was added at the very last minute of cooking.

    I’m from Opelousas & mama from Ville Platte and we never heard of adding potato salad with a gumbo. The side dish they had, besides bread, was sweet potatoes. When we first heard about potato salad in a gumbo we were like huh?

    I “axed” a couple friends of mine from NOLA about tomatoes in a gumbo & Stephen from ‘da 9th Ward/Chalmette said no tomatoes in a gumbo ever. He swore his mama’s was the best.

    Lindsay was from Treme & they didn’t add tomatoes, either. Both said nobody they knew did but both are Black. Maybe White New Orleanians use tomatoes? I think use of tomatoes is a Spanish influence.

  20. No tomatoes in gumbo…yuck. Had that before…it even had BEANS in it…disgusting…couldn’t finish first bite.

    I still prefer to make the roux (and gumbo itself) from scratch. Part of the fun is the smell of the roux getting darker! You don’t get that satisfaction from a jar.

    Not too crazy about sausage in gumbo…sausage flavor usually seems a little too overpowering…just my preference.

    I like to do shrimp, crabs, oysters, and whole chicken together mostly. Gotta have okra in there, too. Cook it up at least a day before serving it over rice with file’ on top…sometimes with a little hot sauce and Tony’s to taste. Something about leaving it in the fridge overnight makes it all the more better to serve and eat the next day.

    My memaw would never do seafood and chicken together but I like having all that good chicken juice in there! I like it either way…seafood only, seafood and chicken, and occaisionally chicken and sausage…long as there’s no tomatoes, rotel, etc.!!!

    Damn, I’m hungry.

  21. I just wrote about gumbo on my blog. It is one of my favorite things!! When my husband and I moved to TN we had to learn to make our own roux, since you can’t get it in the stores here.

  22. Okay, never, never order gumbo in Texas. I’ve made that mistake too many times. One problem is is that everyone has their opinion of what makes a good gumbo, but what makes me steam is when people don’t use file in their gumbo! My maman’s gumbo is the best (to me, of course) and I swear by her recipe and her’s alone. D’:

  23. All preferences aside fom what folks may have grown up with at home. I think chicken and sausage gumbo is the most common gumbo made, at least in the average cajun household. The plethora of seafood gumbos in restaurants, while delicious in it’s own right is mostly made to cater to tourists-I can’t tell you how many times some new acquaitance of mine has axed me about my gumbo and whiat kind of seafood I put in it. I have to explain to them that lots of gumbos (maybe most) contain no seafood. Same could go for okra (I recall a dictionay definition many years ago that stated okra as a staple, basically an essential part of the gumbo, so I think that had an influence on non-Cajun expectations. If you took a poll, you’d find okra as more of a New Orleans/Creole staple).
    9 times out of 10 my mom fixed chicken (the whole chicken, bones and all) and sausage and saved seafood for a paticular guest who liked it. Never used okra. Never used file. Often used potato salad. Never ever mixed seafood with any meats.
    I read recently of a Cajun historian who stated that most Cajuns refrained from making seafood a normal part of thier diet until sometime after 1900.
    I’ve tried a lot of gumbos all over the world. The worst by far was in Denmark. I found a “Cajun” place and of course, despite my misgivings had to check it out. I saw the gumbo on the menu and asked what was in it. The server then commenced informing me what a gumbo WAS. I played stupid and ordered it. Think hormel chili (tomatos??) with rice (I can’t recall, but it might have had beans—ugh!!!!!).
    There seem to be enough folks here who ae transplants, maybe we could have a competition to see who’s had the worst.
    Well, beat my hormel gumbo, if you can.

  24. For all…If you cheat you can use Rotel. Not gross!!!. A little bit of tomato, whether it is puree, sauce, or a few crushed tomatoes is actually a must in a good gumbo as it blends with the roux really well. Make the roux in the oven in large batches and refrigerate for months. I have won many a gumbo contest with my seafood gumbo from New Mexico to Mississippi, and have had the coonass of all coonasses, (my wife) tell me it was better than anything close to the western louisiana border. Keep the tomato to a minimum and de-seed before adding. Green chiles for a spicier gumbo and for heavens sake always use file, even if you have to bring sasafrass root to the party and make your own. Beans are for chili stew only!!!

  25. Thanks for this. I want to make gumbo and almost every recipe I find uses tomatoes!!! And some that say no okra! What? I don’t remember ever having gumbo with tomatoes and no file or okra when I was in the south. My aunt always made that deep dark roux and that was enough. I don’t think people have the patience to make a good roux, so they plop in a can of tomatoes. Yuck!
    So thanks again, for being a true gumbo lover.

  26. I make the best gumbo in the world and have dragged my recipe around the world to prove it. No, I ain’t givin it away. Sorry. Started learning it from Vashti, the big black maid my mamma used to have come watch me when I was a tot. (Mamma was a schoolteacher… couldn’t boil water!). My daddy was an oilfield switcher and refined my gumbo skills. It IS a family thing…

  27. “A little bit of tomato…a must in a good gumbo…”?????
    I beg to differ. I’d put my mom’s gumbo recipe up against ANY others and she’d roll over in her grave if I threw in tomatoes. There are some creole gumbos that use tomatoes. I just have an issue with the “must” part, especially in a coonass gumbo.
    No offense!
    Also, winning a gumbo contest anywhere other than Acadiana is a waste of time. Since I left home to serve in the AF, I can’t tell you how many folks I’ve met(some of them quite proficient cooks) who just don’t have a clue what a gumbo is or what it tastes like. I’ve had folks cook me an assortment of gumbos (and jambalayas and the like) that they swore by as authentic/award winning/the best ever/etc. Some of them were delicious, but none of them were what I’d find anywhere in So LA. I managed to get down to the Rice Festival a few years ago and got some conplimentary gumbo fom the folks that ran it (mass produced) and it tasted like my mom’s to the “T”.

  28. y’all making cajunsr. very hungry for home as i live in florida. perhaps i visit very soon to baton rouge and gonzales where my relatives are. it is a good thing my wife can cook good cajun here in my home. merci bien et a bientot.

  29. SFrioux, Totally agree. I’ve lived in TX for 30 years and some of the stuff they call gumbo here is laughable. As you say, sometimes it tastes good but it sure ain’t gumbo. Went to a church pot luck a few months ago. Lady served something she called gumbo. It had bite sized carrots and bell peppers floating in it. The “gravy” was nearly clear. Tasted good but wasn’t gumbo. As for as tomatoes in gumbo, a no-no from my wife and she’s nothing but LeBlanc, Landry, Guidry. I would never mix anything seafood with chicken sausage gumbo. Waste of good seafood as the taste is lost. I love a good chicken sausage gumbo, but appreciate seafood too.
    @Cajunsr, you’re probably dreaming about LSU but here’s hoping.

  30. I grew up w/some ppl from Louisiana and I swear there gumbo was soooo good growing up..I made my first a few months ago my husband and I felt I did a good job..I made the roux from scratch I used the louisiana gumbo seasoning..I believe I added the file, bay leaves, crab meat, crawfish, andouille sausage, shrimp and shell, crabs;mayb chicken..also okra, but I’m makin some today w/no okra just cuz its too slimy for me..my husband loves it tho…or mayb I won’t use as much..cuz even I feel it ain’t right w/o the okra…I’m from dallas-fort worth and I feel the same way…do not order gumbo in TX its not gonna be authentic gumbo…been disappointment 2x’s too many..its like they say seafood gumbo and all it has is shrimp n sausage?! Wth?!!! Its like really dark like they use a lot of roux or flour to thicken to take up for the missing ingredients..it might taste ok or good, but it isn’t gumbo..like I dnt want it real thick and I dnt want it soupy either..like theirs is like a stew just about…& oh yeah tomatoes in gumbo yuck!!! That just doesn’t seem right.

  31. It’s interesting what people on here are agreeing with. When axed what my favorite gumbo is, I always say, “Momo’s.” But she’s cooking in Heaven now, so I eat Dad’s. That’s it. I won’t order it in a restaurant because it’s always a big let-down. They’re from Ville Platte and NEVER used tomatoes. Ro-tel?!?! Jesus Mary and Joseph. It’s funny, cause I was raised in New Orleans. But I won’t eat the gumbo there. I do eat red beans and rice, which I never saw anybody eat in Ville Platte. Not that they don’t. I just never saw anybody. I guess you can say I’m multi-cultural. :)

  32. I gotta go off on another rant and this one is off-topic…
    I went to a “Mardi Gras” party a friend threw a few days ago. He spent some time going to LS-WHO? and I guess that qualified him to cook up a mess of Jambalayas/Gumbos and Etoufee. When I’m a guest I refrain from critiques and you folks are my chance to let off some steam… The one dish that TOTALLY threw me was some sort of dark watery soupish concoction that had only shrimp in it. We’re talking about a quart of black water with about 30 shrimp tossed in (so black, I couldn’t see the shrimp until I mixed it with a spoon). Now right next to it he had his Seafood Gumbo that had an assortment of seafood I’ve never seen in a gumbo before (I’m living in the mid-west these days). But even up here, you can find pre-packaged crawfish in the local stores. Also (cardinal sin!) he had the rice mixed in with the gumbo. Anyhow, when I axed him what the dark soupy dish was, he told me it was Shrimp Etouffee.
    REALLY????
    I now have a winner for the worst etouffee I’ve ever laid my eyes on, and with no rice even served with it. I will now have to task myself with making my mom’s etouffee to cleanse my palete.
    Where do people get these recipees from? I know BR is not the heart of cajun country, but it’s butted up between NO and Acadiana!!!
    Let’s not talk about the other dishes – not enough time to get through it all.
    Good guy by the way.

  33. i am an odd mix, colombian father, mother from Gibson, Louisiana. Lived until age 12 in Houma, til age 30 in new orleans, and of course the 4 years in Thibodaux. Plus, had to live two years in lake charles.

    Acadiana gumbo is far superior to New Orleans gumbo, and i am a bit of a purist.

    Seafood gumbo needs no sausage(it over powers the seafoods flavors)

    All Gumbo Needs Okra.

    Leave the tomatoes in the Salad.

    Though in new orleans it is possible to find good gumbo, just not any huge chains or commerical places. The Trolley Stop and the Napoleon house are two that come to mind.

    Baton Rouge does not qualify you to cook gumbo. Baton Rouge is, well Baton Rouge. Not my favorite place. I would rather go to Morgan City.

  34. I’m quite the purist too.

    To each his own, but still Okra is optional. In fact the best gumbos I’ve tasted had none.

  35. Gumbosis, I have it bad….Really miss that flavor….I have a fear of Roux, so unstable, unpredictable, and the stocks take me three day to make! Oh well….

  36. OK people, stop right now – you all got me so darn hungry for gumbo I think I am gonna eat my left hand right now. Hey I too like and make a deep brown roux gumbo but so many still like their tomato red gumbo. Is it wrong?-ma-no.
    Thats what makes us so different than the rest of the country – our versitility of red gumbos and those that only make the brown ones.

    Go to this site – http://www.chefrick.com/cajun-recipes/

    They try to give a lil explaniation of the difference of Creole vs Cajuns and why we cook different. Don’t matter – if its good – so be it.
    I don’t think it can be mapped into certain areas, because just here in the Bayou Lafourche area, parts of Thibodaux are different than other parts of town. Same in Raceland and down the bayou toward Larose and Golden Meadow. I think it may have all been brown at one time, but as people invented and tried for new flavors and taste they added the red stuff or they just couldn’t make a good thick roux without burning it so they added tomatoe paste or ro-tel to thicken it.
    But one thing – I like brown gumbo with rice, and yes plop a big scoop of fresh potatoe salad right into that bowl on top of everything.

  37. Ok, did not have time to read comments so if my answer is their i apologize beforehand. Anyways i just threw on a pot of boxed gumbo (first time gumbo maker) and now its like no soup just cooked rice with all the stuff? Any tips or maybe a recipe by scratch would be awesome, in case your wondering I’m from Seattle so I’ve never even seen a picture of gumbo besides the one on the top of the page lol and that looks completely different than mine… Plz help.

    • Well it’s been over a year since you posted that Scottie in Seattle. I hope you had time to think about where you went wrong! It started with the box. Gumbo mixes are fine when you are talking about roux (the base) but never a full mix that has instant rice in it. All you are gonna do is end up with weird runny jambalaya. Rice absorbs all the juices. Here in Southeast Texas there are roux’s aplenty in stores from powdered to jarred to canned. If you can not get a roux think… beef stew seasoning , garlic powder, cayenne pepper, maybe some hot sauce get that mixed in some boiling water and then start thickening it with flour. (okra is kinda slimy and will thicken it also) my sister does not use flour very well so she actually mixes brown gravy mix in with beef stew seasoning. Not too bad. Then mirepoix is really key. Onions, celery, bell peppers chopped small. I go lighter on the celery. I only use the best sausage too, i like burton’s all beef sausage, but that is regional. Just dont skimp with cheap stuff get a nice dark cased all beef sausage. Boneless skinless chicken breast also gets chunked in mine. I make mine in the crockpot that means low simmering all day but if you do it on the stove same concept… boil it for a bit then simmer on low for as long as you can stand it :D

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