A peek into a pot of gumbo is a lesson in the rich history of Louisiana. Learn about gumbo and get tips and recipes to make this beloved Cajun-Creole dish.

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What Is Gumbo?

Gumbo is one of the most famous dishes to result from Louisiana's shared Creole-Cajun heritage. Gumbo falls somewhere between a thick stew and a hearty soup, and can contain ingredients such as chicken, sausage, ham, seafood, okra, tomatoes, and greens. What goes into your own pot of gumbo depends on family traditions and personal taste.

As varied as the recipes can be, there are a few ingredients that all gumbos have in common: homemade stock; the "holy trinity" of celery, onions, and green peppers; and roux.

The Pot Thickens

Most gumbos use two distinctive ingredients to thicken and flavor them: roux and either okra or filé powder.

Roux:

  • Roux is a cooked mixture of equal parts flour and fat. The fat in the roux can be butter, oil, bacon grease, or lard.
  • Roux can range in color from white to brown to black, depending on how long it's cooked. The darker the color of the roux, the deeper the flavor.
  • Cajun gumbos tend to use very dark roux, usually made with oil or pork fat, whereas Creole gumbos might favor the more delicate flavor of a light roux made with butter.

Okra or filé (FEE-lay) powder:

  • Okra is a green pod-like vegetable native to Africa. It was brought to Creole households by African slaves who worked on the wealthy planters' estates. In Umbundu (a language spoken in Angola, where many Southern slaves came from) the word for okra is ochingombo, which was eventually abridged to "gombo."
  • Filé powder is made of ground sassafras leaves, native to the southern U.S. Filé was introduced to Cajun settlers by the Choctaw Indians who helped the settlers survive in the wilderness. And the Choctaw word for sassafras? Kombo.
  • Okra and filé powder are rarely used in the same batch of gumbo; some cooks think that using both will make the gumbo too thick, while others assert that the two flavors "cancel each other out."
  • If you're using okra, it should be cooked for long enough that it loses its slimy texture, about 45 minutes.
  • Filé powder, on the other hand, should not be added until the very end of cooking; boiling filé will cause the whole pot of gumbo to become stringy and gummy.
  • You can also wait to add the filé to each individual bowl of gumbo (about ¼ teaspoon stirred into each bowl). This is a handy method to use if you plan on having leftovers to reheat later.

The Gumbo Grab-Bag of Ingredients

Gumbo can be a veritable grab-bag of ingredients, including sausage — especially Andouille and chaurice, tasso (cured pork shoulder), crawfish, crab, shrimp, oysters, chicken, duck, rabbit, or other game. Mirlitons (also known as chayote squash) sometimes show up in gumbo, as do tomatoes, depending upon the cook's preference.

Common flavorings for gumbo include cayenne pepper and black pepper, dry mustard, paprika, sage, cumin, bay leaves, thyme, and parsley. You can also find pre-mixed Cajun seasoning blends at most grocery stores.

Cajun Spice Mix
Credit: TTV78

How to Make Gumbo

Watch Chef John make intensely flavorful gumbo with braised duck legs, smoky andouille sausage, and succulent shrimp. He also drops some tips on preparing the all-important roux.

More Gumbo Recipes to Try

bowl of Boudreaux's Zydeco Stomp Gumbo with chicken, shrimp, and sausages, and hushpuppies on the side
Credit: Allrecipes Magazine

Boudreaux's Zydeco Stomp Gumbo: THIS IS AWESOME! If your in the mood for some foot stomping "toe-curling" gumbo - this is the recipe to try! Even if you've never had gumbo before - this would be a great recipe to convert you!" —DREGINEK

Chef John's Duck, Sausage, and Shrimp Gumbo: "This can be made with hundreds of different combinations of smoked meats, game, poultry, and seafood, and in my opinion, the more the merrier. The procedure is pretty straightforward, although you're talking about a full day's project. Serve in a large soup plate with a scoop of cooked white rice, a sprinkle of green onion, and a pinch of cayenne." —Chef John

Good New Orleans Creole Gumbo: Allrecipes homecook dailyrecipedoctor shares this recipe inspired by his mother and grandmother, who were "born and raised in New Orleans and really knew how to cook."

Husband's Grandmother's Shrimp Gumbo: Allrecipes contributor ranch_maven says, "My husband's grandmother taught me this recipe. She actually cooked for Cajun festivals. She used 40-gallon trash cans for her stock pots. People would line up for this authentic Cajun specialty. This recipe serves eight but multiplies well. Serve gumbo over cooked white rice."

Instant Pot Chicken and Sausage Gumbo: "Making gumbo can be time consuming, so speed things up by using your multi-functional pressure cooker." —Soup Loving Nicole

Vegan (Say What?!) Gumbo: "I was really surprised with the recipe and loved it. As others have said I made the roux first and added the vegetable to stop the roux from over cooking." —KennyD

Diet-Friendly Chicken and Sausage Gumbo: "This is a very hot and spicy gumbo, but a healthier version. It takes time, patience, love, and devotion. My husband and dad love this dish and will eat it for days, with no complaints of having leftovers. They savor every drop... they are so funny." —Melissa Goff

Gumbo: Cajun or Creole?

The ingredients and cooking techniques involved come from a remarkable array of cultures and traditions — all of which have combined over the centuries to create a uniquely American story.

Creoles descended from wealthy French and Spanish colonists who settled in southern Louisiana.

  • "Creole" also includes the African and Caribbean heritage of the region.
  • Creole cuisine was born in upper-class households and still carries the reputation of being more refined and fancy, and of using more expensive ingredients, than Cajun cooking.

Cajuns are the descendants of French colonists who settled in Acadia (modern-day Nova Scotia).

  • The Acadians were driven out of Canada in the 1750s and many fled to southern Louisiana.
  • They survived with the help of Choctaw Indians who taught them how to hunt and fish and forage.
  • Cajun (shortened from "Acadian") cuisine was developed by these hardy people who made do with whatever they could grow or hunt in the bayous and prairies of Louisiana.
  • Traditional Cajun dishes are cooked in one pot — a throwback to when the settlers had no stoves and did their cooking over open fires.