Gumbo (First, Make a Roux - in the Oven)

The Recipe: Every good gumbo – according to some, every good Cajun dish – starts off with a roux, a silky fat and flour mixture cooked to colors ranging from Mardi-Gras gold to black-as-voodoo. This gumbo recipe uses Cook's Illustrated's almost-no-stirring technique where the roux [pronounced ROO] is baked in the oven to a rich mahogany color. My Gumbo King thought the shortcut foolhardy and unnecessary but came away impressed by the results. "Seriously terrific gumbo," he called it, then paid the ultimate compliment, "Justin Wilson would be proud."

The Conversation: How to make a perfect roux in the oven.

Gumbo

If you asked Justin Wilson, the storied Cajun humorist, "What's for dinner?" he'd answer, "Whaddaya got?" Except that's not quite right – in fact, he would probably say, "First, make a roux. NOW whaddaya got?"

A roux isn't hard to make. In fact, home cooks make a roux every time we cook butter and flour as a thickener for soup, cheese sauce, etc. All it takes is fat, flour and patience.

Patience comes into play because a good roux, a pitch-dark roux, takes time. Find yourself a stool and a spoon and just stir and stir and stir and then stir some more, never letting up, never letting the mixture separate or burn, letting the color and flavor develop over an hour or longer.

As they are wont to do, Cook's Illustrated turned that formula upside down, putting the roux-maker out to pasture by letting the oven do the stirring.

Praise be, the technique works like a charm.

Cook's Illustrated also uses an unusual ingredient that boosts the seafood dimension of the gumbo. It's fish sauce, the salty liquid known in Thai and other Asian cuisines. I had no trouble finding a bottle in the Asian shelf in my everyday supermarket and in the pantry, not the fridge, it keeps for a long time. Fish sauce has a distinct flavor, I use it occasionally in recipes here, see recipes calling for fish sauce. But if you can't find a bottle, then I'd suggest shelling the shrimp while the roux cooks. Make a simple fish stock by cooking the shells with 5 cups of water, an onion, a carrot, a rib of celery, simmering for an hour to cook down to about 4 cups. Use this instead of chicken stock.

MORE JUSTIN WILSON Want to know more? Books and cookbooks by Justin Wilson.

SHORTCUT GUMBO? I started to call this recipe "Shortcut Gumbo" because honestly, I took shortcuts at every turn, using garlic from a jar, bouillon cubes instead of homemade chicken stock. But two hours of hands-on time is hardly an every-day cooking session. Even so, gumbo is no high art. It's Cajun peasant food, completely forgiving, so long as it starts with a good roux.

Gumbo makes great party food. In these parts, it's tradition to serve gumbo on Christmas Eve afternoon and last year, we made a big pot for a Mardi Gras party complete with a crawfish boil in the back yard, the kitchen table spread with newspapers for easy clean-up of the shells, finished with bananas Foster.

Laissez les bons temps rouler! Let the good times roll!

ALANNA's TIPS This recipe makes a huge pot of gumbo, great for a Mardi Gras party but perhaps a lot for a family. I don't recommend halving the roux itself, however, just make the full amount and save half for another dish or discard. While the roux bakes, do yourself a favor and prep the remainder of the ingredients, it'll help things move along once the roux is done. If your andouille sausage is spicy, consider using less cayenne pepper. I do NOT recommend a supermarket variety of andouille from Johnsonville Sausage which is no more than a bad hot dog, no andouille spices at all. The thing about gumbo, it's just better if it gets a chance to rest for at least a couple of hours before serving, either on the stove a-simmerin' away or in the fridge overnight. But the other thing is, you really want to add the shrimp and okra just before serving, keeping both fresh-cooked. My compromise is to add about a fourth of the shrimp and okra (and the andouille, for good measure) early, then, just before serving, to add the rest. Gumbo is served with rice. Unless you're making the gumbo ahead of time, make Oven-Baked Brown Rice (another recipe from Cook's Illustrated!) as soon as the roux is done baking, while the oven's still hot.
Kitchen Parade is written by second-generation food columnist Alanna Kellogg and features fresh, seasonal dishes for every-day healthful eating and occasional indulgences. Do you have a favorite Cajun recipe that other Kitchen Parade readers might like? Just send me a quick e-mail via recipes@kitchen-parade.com. How to print a Kitchen Parade recipe. Never miss a recipe! If you like this recipe, sign up for a free e-mail subscription. If you like Kitchen Parade, you're sure to like my food blog about vegetable recipes, too, A Veggie Venture. Follow Kitchen Parade on Facebook!

GUMBO

Hands-on time: 2 hours
Time to table: 4 hours
Makes 16 cups
    FIRST, MAKE A ROUX
  • 3/4 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
    START THE GUMBO
  • 1 large onion, chopped fine
  • 1 large poblano pepper, chopped fine
  • 1 large green pepper, chopped fine
  • 1 rib celery, chopped fine
  • 5 cloves garlic
  • 1 tablespoon flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (see TIPS)
  • 15 ounces canned diced tomato
  • 4 cups chicken broth, room temperature
  • 1/4 cup fish sauce
  • 2 pounds chicken, preferably boneless, skinless chicken thighs, chopped into small pieces and seasoned with black pepper
    JUST BEFORE SERVING
  • 16 ounces frozen okra, thawed to room temperature
  • 2 pounds fresh shrimp, peeled, deveined and halved
  • 8 ounces andouille sausage, chopped small
  • Salt & pepper to taste
    FOR SERVING
  • Cooked rice, Oven-Baked Brown Rice is great
  • Filé powder, also called gumbo filé (don't skip this)

FIRST, MAKE A ROUX Place an oven rack in the lowest position, preheat oven to 350F.

In a large heavy Dutch oven, toast flour on medium heat, stirring continuously. It will take some time for the flour to begin to cook, watch for a little smoke rising, then observe the texture change and the color to almost imperceptibly begin to darken. This takes about 10 minutes, stirring continuously, keeping a close eye.

Remove from heat and stir in the oil, a bit at a time. If little chunks of "fried flour" form, try to break them up, if not, at the end, fish them out.

Cover and bake for 45 minutes. Remove from oven and stir well, don't be alarmed by what appear to be dark chunks, these are easy to stir out. According to Cook's Illustrated, a roux can be made ahead of time and refrigerated for up to a week. If so, bring the roux back to a boil before continuing.

START THE GUMBO Over medium heat, stir in onion, poblano pepper and green pepper and cook, stirring often, until vegetables are soft, about 10 minutes.

Stir in garlic, 1 tablespoon flour and cayenne, cook for about 1 minute.

Stir in tomatoes, cook until the liquid is absorbed into the gumbo about 1 minute.

A splashful at a time at first, stir in chicken broth and fish sauce, letting the liquid become fully absorbed by the gumbo before adding more. Take your time here, it will pay off in texture.

Stir in seasoned chicken and bring just to a boil. Reduce heat to maintain a slow simmer, cover and let simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

IF ADDING SOME OKRA, SHRIMP & ANDOUILLE EARLY (see TIPS) Stir in about 1/4 the okra, shrimp and andouille, then return to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and let simmer for another 30 minutes.

IF MAKING AHEAD Stop here, let cool, cover and refrigerate for a day or so. Before serving, return to a simmer.

JUST BEFORE SERVING Stir in the andouille and let heat through. Stir in the okra and cook for about 5 minutes. Stir in the shrimp and cook for about 5 minutes or until the shrimp is fully cooked. Taste and adjust seasonings.

TO SERVE Place a spoonful or two of cooked rice in a bowl, top with gumbo and sprinkle with filé powder.

NUTRITION ESTIMATE Per Cup: 279 Calories; 11g Tot Fat; 3g Sat Fat; 127mg Cholesterol; 685mg Sodium; 11g Carb; 2g Fiber; 3g Sugar; 29g Protein WEIGHT WATCHERS POINTS WW Old Points 6 & WW Points Plus 7
Adapted from The Best of America's Test Kitchen 2012: The Year's Best Recipes, Equipment Reviews, and Tastings (Best of America's Test Kitchen Cookbook: The Year's Best Recipes) which is currently $35 on Amazon but which I found at a Barnes & Noble with a cover price of $9.95 through March 26, 2012.

This Week, Years Past 2002 - 2011

Lentil Soup Vincent Smashed Potatoes & Broccoli Trio of Vegetables with Sour Cream On-the-Run Breakfast Bars Black Walnut Bread One-Pot Chicken with Beans & Vegetables Julia Child's Soubise (Onion & Rice Casserole) (<< personal favorite) Chimichurri

This Week, Elsewhere

Jambalaya from Quintessential in St. Charles
My Column in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch


More Favorite Shrimp Recipes

(hover for a description, click a photo for a recipe)
Easy Shrimp Bites Lazy Man's Ciopinno, Shrimp & Fish Stew Shrimp with Tomatoes, Spinach & Feta
~ more shrimp recipes ~

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Mardi gras gold and Black-as-voodoo - what great colour descriptions :)
 
I love Justin Wilson! His programs are such a hoot. Anyway, this is a terrific post. I've never done the oven roux thing, but it makes total sense. I've read freezing roux works quite well - need to try this. Great post - I haven't made gumbo for ages, now you've got me thinking! Thanks for this.
 
Alanna, can you freeze the leftover roux if you're halving the recipe?
 
What a great idea to make the roux in the oven and save all the hands on time. We love gumbo, so I'll have to give that a try next time I make a pot.
 
Can't wait to try this recipe. BTW, I called my Barnes & Noble to reserve a copy of "The Best of America's Test Kitchen 2012..." and was told it costs $35.00. Nobody had heard of it being offered for less. Bummed.
 
Savannagal ~ Hmm, you know, is it possible that the phone people just "look it up" and get the online price? The price printed on the cover is $10 not $35. Maybe if you just go in ...

I was quite taken by a number of the recipes here, enough that I purchased it, despite having MORE than enough cookbooks and recipe ideas already. The gumbo alone was worth the price --
 
Denise ~ John said that he hears roux can be frozen, but just to test, we are making another roux (without shortcuts, cooked "black as a carpetbaggers heart" I am told ;-)) for another gumbo tonight.
 
Hi Alanna,

I tried this recipe for my first-ever gumbo. For the most part it seemed great, but the gumbo itself was very acidic. I don;t mean it was too spicy - while it packed some heat that wasn;t a problem.

I'm wondering whether the canned tomatoes (15-oz can of Hunt's - should have been fine) or perhaps the fish sauce (Vietnamese, seemed pretty standard) contributed to this. My roux came out just about the same color as your photo, so I don;t think that was the issue.

Any input?

Thanks, Mark
 
Mark ~ I’m as stumped as you, wouldn’t have thought that gumbo could ever turn out “very acidic”. We made a huge pot for Christmas Eve, no issues at all, and we’re not particular about either the canned tomatoes or the fish sauce.

Did you add something to balance the acidity? No letting a potentially good gumbo go to waste!
 
I made this yesterday, it was hours of work, but very good! I added more celery than called for in recipe & left out the okra. Turned out great.
 

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Thank you for taking a moment to write! I read each and every comment, for each and every recipe. If you have a specific question, it's nearly always answered quick-quick. But I also love hearing your reactions, your curiosity, even your concerns! When you've made a recipe, I especially love to know how it turned out, what variations you made, what you'll do differently the next time. ~ Alanna