The reason the word “gumbo” has a G, an M, and an O in it is because OMG, it’s good! Today, October 12th, is National Gumbo Day and we’re going to travel in my kitchen to Louisiana where I’m going to show you how to make a really good Gumbo Filé with Chicken, Sausage, and Shrimp.
Now, there are a lot of gumbos out there and that’s really what’s so special about it. You can twist it and tweak it and make it your own. There are a few things that make gumbo, “Gumbo,” though. So, you’ll want to take note.
There’s Something About Gumbo
The main thing about gumbo is the roux. Roux is what makes gumbo be gumbo, alright? You can throw chicken, turkey, shrimp, ham, crab legs, crawfish, oysters, and/or sausage in a pot with some veggies, stock, and spices and call it stew, but it won’t be gumbo without the roux.
Another thing about gumbo is it’s made with the Holy Trinity of Cajun cuisine – onions, celery, and bell peppers, plus the Pope – garlic. Lastly, it’s commonly served with a side of rice. Though, back in the day, it was often served with a side of corn meal mush.
What Is Roux?
The first time I ever made roux was in the Army. We all thought making it was torture, because well, pretty much everything having to do with military training, whether it be cooking at 3 a.m. or crawling under razor wire, has a tendency to be tortuous. Now, that I’m older and very much wiser, I know making roux is not tortuous, at all. It’s meditative and it’s worth it.
Roux (pronounced “roo” or “rū”) is flour and oil or fat cooked together to make a thickener for sauces, stews, and gravies. I call it fried flour, but “roux” sounds much more appetizing. Unless, you say “farine frit” which means “fried flour” and is a very old term for roux. Then it sounds good. French words for food always sound good. Actually, French words sound good in general, don’t they?
To make a roux, you combine equal parts of flour and fat by weight, and cook it over low to medium heat, stirring constantly, until it gets to the level of brownness desired. For this gumbo recipe you’ll want it as brown as you can get it. Chocolate brown. That means you need to stir it for about 35 – 45 minutes. So, grab a drink and your phone and park yourself in front of the stove, relax, and… stir. Just don’t get all into watching “The Great British Baking Show” on PBS or Netflix and burn your roux. If you burn it, you have to start over. Probably better to just watch the roux, instead of British bakers. Wax on, wax off. Woosah… there you got it.
BTW, you can use any fat you like to make roux, but if you use butter, you will not be able to get your roux to turn the dark brown color.
The great thing about gumbo is it’s so American. It’s a melting pot. Gumbo embodies the culture and foods from the people from west Africa to Native Americans to the French. Everybody’s in there. Well, not everybody. But, maybe we could invent an Everybody Gumbo that has a lot more stuff in it. Like, say… Shrimp Taco Gumbo with Curry Powder and Red Wine Sauce? Hey! They say fusion cooking is the new thing. But, obviously, it’s not that new. Gumbo proves that.
Ok. Let’s quit the brainstorming and get back to reality. Maybe, a Master Chef could make my idea work. I don’t know. There are some limitations when it comes to food.
Anyway, gumbo filé powder is made of ground sassafras tree leaves and is, at least one, of the Native American contributions to this type of gumbo. On its own, it smells like eucalyptus and sugar and tastes like rootbeer. It acts as a thickener and when added to a savory sauce it tastes like thyme. But, you ask, doesn’t roux thicken the sauce? Why, yes, it does, but the darker the roux, the thinner the sauce. So, it needs a little help. Other types of gumbo use okra as a thickener. We’re sticking with the sassafras leaves because, honestly, I’m not really that into okra.
Just FYI – There was no gumbo filé powder to be found in the stores near me. They blamed the lack of it on COVID. I ordered a big, ol’ jar of it from Amazon and now have enough to last me 20 years.
Mise en Place
Here we go with the French words again. “Mise en place” (pronounced MEEZ ahn plahs) is a French phrase meaning “everything in place.” Having your pots, pans and utensils ready, vegetables peeled and cut, spices, grease and flour measured, chicken and sausage cooked and stock prepared is very important before you get ready to assemble this dish.
This can be done in stages. For instance, I stewed and cut up my chicken and made the chicken stock a day ahead of time. Of course, you can use store-bought rotisserie chicken and commercially-prepared chicken broth, if you like. Nobody will give you demerits. Unless you’re in a cooking competition or something. You just need some cooked chicken. How you get it is up to you.
Life will be much easier if you have everything ready before you make the roux, though. Especially, the vegetables, because you’re going to throw these in to cook in the roux as soon as it’s done. So, please, read through the entire recipe and do what you can ahead of time. Then building your gumbo will be a breeze.
About the Shrimp
I use pre-cooked, frozen shrimp in this recipe. You use what you like and have access to. If using pre-cooked frozen shrimp, thaw it in a bowl of cool water and add it to the gumbo when it’s done, or nearly done, cooking. This will heat up the shrimp and keep it from turning to mush.
How to Serve Gumbo Filé with Chicken, Sausage, and Shrimp
Serve your gumbo piping hot ladled over a helping of white rice with a side of hush puppies or corn bread.
And… Bon appétit!
Looking for more southern comfort food? Try my Hamburger Gravy – SOS – Army Style recipe!