Rich in heritage, gumbo is like the melting-pot of Louisiana cooking and is often confused with jambalaya and étouffée. They all contain similar ingredients, but the textures and flavors vary a bit.
What’s the difference?
Think of Jambalaya as like the paella of New Orleans. It consists of meat, veggies and rice thickly combined, while gumbo on the other hand contains veggies and seafood or other meat served as soup with rice on the side. Étouffée is usually made with a shellfish like shrimp or crawfish submerged in a thick sauce.
According to Southern Food Ways, the gumbo name “derives from a West African word for okra, suggesting that gumbo was originally made with okra. The use of filé (dried and ground sassafras leaves) was a contribution of the Choctaws and, possibly, other local tribes. Roux has its origin in French cuisine, although the roux used in gumbos is much darker than its Gallic cousins.”
The first documented references to the tasty dish appeared in the 18th century with slaves and it made its way into cookbooks in the 19th century. A long tradition, gumbo was said to be served at a gubernatorial reception in New Orleans in 1803, and at a Cajun gathering on the Acadian Cost in 1804.
Back then, gumbo contained “chicken, ham, bacon, oysters, crab, shrimp, and beef, among them. Some of the recipes are made with okra, others with filé. Although there is no mention of a roux in any of the recipes, some of them called for the addition of flour or browned flour as a thickener” and the gumbo was served with corn meal mush. Today, roux and rice are key ingredients.
One of the greatest things about gumbo is that it’s easy to make. Try it at home with this recipe from MyRecipes.com below!
- 2 red onions, sliced
- 1 (10 oz.) package frozen cut okra, thawed
- 1 large yellow bell pepper, seeded and chopped
- 4 ribs celery with leaves, sliced 3/4 cup finely chopped, fresh flat-leaf parsley
- 4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme
- 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
- 12 chicken thighs
- 1 pound cooked andouille sausage or kielbasa, sliced
- 1/2 inch thick
- 1/3 cup vegetable oil
- 2/3 cup all-purpose flour
- 6 cups chicken broth
- 1 (6 oz.) can tomato paste
- 1 (14 to 16 oz.) can whole peeled tomatoes, drained and chopped
- 1/2 cup minced scallion greens
- 2 tablespoons distilled white vinegar, or to taste
- 12 cups cooked white rice
Step 1: In a large bowl, stir together onions, okra, bell pepper, celery, 1/4 cup parsley, garlic, bay leaves, salt, thyme, cayenne, black pepper and allspice. Set aside.
Step 2: In a large Dutch oven, cook chicken in batches over medium heat until browned, about 5 minutes a side; transfer to a large bowl. Cook sausage in Dutch oven over medium heat, stirring constantly until lightly browned, about 6 minutes; transfer to bowl with chicken. Pour fat from Dutch oven into a glass measure and add enough vegetable oil to equal 2/3 cup. Pour into Dutch oven and heat over medium-low heat, scraping up any browned bits. Gradually whisk in flour and cook, stirring frequently, until it is a very dark, rich brown, about 30 minutes; be careful not to burn it.
Step 3: Add broth all at once and scrape up any browned bits. In another bowl, blend tomato paste with 2 cups water and stir into broth with chopped tomatoes. Add reserved vegetables, chicken and sausage. Bring to a boil over high heat; reduce heat to low and simmer for 1 hour, until thickened.
Step 4: Stir in remaining 1/2 cup parsley, scallion greens and vinegar and cook, stirring, for 5 minutes. Remove Dutch oven from heat, cover and let stand for 10 minutes. Discard bay leaves.
Step 5: Serve gumbo on top of rice in bowls.