3 Tips For Cooking Gumbo

There is a rich culinary history that permeates much of New Orleans, traditions that date as far back as the early 18th century. Though staples like etouffee and Jambalaya have roots in the region, perhaps the most famous dish from “The Big Easy” is gumbo. This is a stew or soup comprised of flavored stock, meat or seafood, bell peppers and onions. Despite its relatively simple recipe, gumbo has grown from a local favorite into a symbol of New Orleans’ food culture. Want a taste of Cajun country without having to book an airline ticket? Here are some crucial tips for cooking up gumbo:

The perfect roux is crucial
All great gumbo recipes must start with the roux, a mixture of flour and fat that serves as a thickening agent. It’s a simple mixture, but not having the right color and consistency can often throw off the entire pot of gumbo. As a rule, you want your roux to be similar in color to melted dark chocolate, as a pale roux doesn’t have quite the same flavor and depth to it. A perfectly colored roux should have a smoky, slightly bitter flavor overall. Part of a successful roux is all about the relationship between flour and fat, and most recipes will call for about a 60:40 ratio between the two ingredients. How you actually cook the roux will also make a difference. While microwaving and the dry method are available, most chefs opt for a stovetop approach, cooking at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 90 minutes.

Always consider the meat
Perhaps one of the reasons that gumbo is so popular is because of how versatile it is. Popular meat additions include chicken, rabbit, duck, sausage and hen, while seafood gumbo is usually made with blue crabs, catfish or shrimp. For chefs with true gumbo cooking experience, meat is almost secondary, with the roux regularly the focus of their culinary efforts. However, there are a few considerations to make when adding meat to gumbo. First, you always want to brown any meat beforehand, as this will activate all sorts of additional flavors. You also want to keep the bones in, which means using bone-in chicken or whole fish. By letting the meat simmer for several hours, you’ll help extract marrow out of the bone, and this is where most of the flavor can be found.

Spices can make or break gumbo
As with the roux, experienced chefs will ensure their pot of gumbo is perfectly spiced. Popular add-ins include sage, cumin, thyme, black pepper, parsley, dry mustard and cayenne pepper. Most chefs also add in green or red pepper. The former is noted for being slightly bitter, while the latter has much more of a sweet aftertaste. Given that Cajun cooking is all about heat, Tabasco sauce is also a popular option. Not only does it give that bite of intensity, but Tabasco can lend your gumbo recipe a bit of piquancy. If nothing also, salt should always be included, as it helps play off the flavors of the meat or seafood. Finally, be sure to adjust your recipe continually. By spicing throughout the cooking process, you can better control the final product’s taste and spiciness.

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