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What Is Gumbo?

What Is Gumbo?

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Gumbo is perhaps the dish that represents both Creole cuisine and New Orleans the best. It epitomizes Louisiana’s culture — a melting pot of the many different cultures that coexist within the state and have influenced its cuisine.

While it can be prepared in many ways, most typically, it begins with a dark roux that's used as a thickening, flavorful base for the stew. Traditionally, both okrah and filé powder are also added to thicken it even more. (Photo courtesy of flickr/NG71)

From there, the dish can be made with various meats like chicken and sausage, or shellfish like shrimp or crab, and vegetables like tomatoes and onions, and, of course, okra.

The dish itself is a mixture of French, German, Italian, and African cooking traditions. While scholars are relatively uncertain of the exact origin of the food, it is widely accepted that its etymology stemmed from the word okra in West African.

New Orleans was established in 1718 and quickly became the first French colony in Louisiana. Soon it became one of the most diverse and culturally rich environments in the United States. Germans migrated there in the beginning of the 18th century and introduced the art of sausage making. Spaniards settled there in the middle of the 18th century and brought with them their love of spices and their fisherman abilities. By the beginning of the 19th century, most families in New Orleans purchased slaves, who brought with them okra and hot pepper plants from Africa. The combination of these cultures’ foods led to the creation of a dish bursting with savory and mouthwatering flavors. All of the immigrants brought with them new foods and spices that contributed to the development of the most iconic New Orleans dish today.

The cookbook, Housekeeping in Old Virginia by Marion Carbell Tyree, was published in 1879 and contains the first known gumbo recipe. This gumbo was filé-based and utilized oysters, chicken, spices, and vegetables. Since then, there have been many different recipes for gumbo, which include chicken, seafood, and sausage, and are thickened by pods of okra, roux, and filé powder. There is definitely an art behind gumbo preparation, but it does allow for a lot of room for the chefs' personal taste preference. (Photo courtesy of flickr/Alessandro Guerani)


Gumbo (Louisiana Creole: Gombo) is a soup popular in the U.S. state of Louisiana, and is the official state cuisine. Gumbo consists primarily of a strongly-flavored stock, meat or shellfish, a thickener, and the Creole "holy trinity" ― celery, bell peppers, and onions. Gumbo is often categorized by the type of thickener used, whether okra or filé powder (dried and ground sassafras leaves).

Gumbo can be made with or without okra or filé powder. The preferred method in the historical New Orleans variation is with a French dark roux. The flavor of the dish has its origins in many cultures. Creole gumbo generally contains shellfish, and a dark roux, filé, or both. Tomatoes are traditionally found in Creole gumbo and frequently appear in New Orleans cuisine but there is a "camp" of gumbo cooks who believe that tomatoes should not be used as with okra. Cajun gumbo is generally based on a dark roux and is made with shellfish or fowl. Sausage or ham is often added to gumbos of either variety. After the base is prepared, vegetables are cooked down, and then meat is added. The dish simmers for a minimum of three hours, with shellfish and some spices added near the end. If desired, filé powder is added after the pot is removed from heat. Gumbo is traditionally served with rice. A third, lesser-known variety, the meatless gumbo z'herbes, is essentially a gumbo of slow-cooked greens. Gumbo does vary by region, town and even within the family and in some ways is like Minestrone in that no two recipes are exactly the same.

The dish combines ingredients and culinary practices of several cultures, including African, French, Spanish, and Native American Choctaw. Gumbo may have been based on traditional native dishes, or may be a derivation of the French dish bouillabaisse, or Choctaw stew, but most likely all of these dishes contributed to the original recipe. It was first described in 1802, and was listed in various cookbooks in the latter half of the 19th century. The dish gained more widespread popularity in the 1970s, after the United States Senate dining room added it to the menu in honor of Louisiana Senator Allen Ellender. The popularity of chef Paul Prudhomme in the 1980s spurred further interest in the dish.

What Is File Powder?

Filé powder, also known as gumbo filé, is an herbal powder made from the dried and ground leaves of the sassafras tree (Sassafras albidum), native to eastern North America. The roots and bark of this same plant were the original base for root beer. It used to be frowned upon for human consumption because the plant contains a weak carcinogen called "safrole." It's been determined that, while the roots and bark of sassafras contain significant amounts of safrole, the leaves do not contain enough safrole to even be detected by normal testing, and filé powder has been declared safe for human consumption.

Best Gumbo Recipe

This is the best gumbo recipe because it’s made with wholesome ingredients. If you’ve ever bought those box kits to make a simple gumbo recipe at home, you can now toss the box and make it fresh yourself.

Gumbo Ingredients

  • Flour – this is part of the base of the roux
  • Butter – and this combines with your flour to create the roux
  • Celery, bell peppers, and onions – the perfect base veggies for your gumbo often called the ‘Holy Trinity’
  • Okra – a key veggie in the making of homemade gumbo
  • Andouille sausage – a must for any Louisiana gumbo recipe
  • Hot sauce – gives your gumbo a kick
  • Cajun seasoning – need we say more? A mandatory ingredient in a cajun gumbo recipe
  • Cornstarch – helps thicken up your gumbo to the right texture

Gumbo’s so good it has its own season.

Easy Gumbo Recipe

I know the ingredient list looks a little daunting. I’ll admit, it’s long, however, you should have most of those ingredients in your pantry and fridge to begin with so it will all come together quite easily. It does take an hour to prepare but that’s mostly chopping and such. In the end, you get to put your feet up and enjoy the rest of your day off, soon to be better with a bowl full of shrimp and sausage gumbo!

How do you Make Gumbo from Scratch?

The key to making gumbo from scratch is making the roux first. From there, you add in the sausage and veggies, and then create the soup base. It will look more soupy until you add the cornstarch toward the end to thicken things up. The key is fresh ingredients because they make the best flavors.

Expert Tips and Tricks for the Perfect Gumbo Every Time

  • Pre-prep – I thoroughly recommend that you prep as much as you can before you begin. The roux needs your full attention. Turn your back on it and you’ll ruin it and have to start all over. Yes, you need 20 to 30 minutes to get the roux to just the right color. But if you have everything prepped before all that, once it’s finished, you can keep moving on the rest of the recipe with ease.
  • Use the right pot – Using a heavy-bottomed pot can really help you make the best gumbo.

How to Cook Gumbo

A seafood gumbo recipe begins with a good roux. Once you prep everything, make the roux and then follow the steps. Once everything is in the pot, you can relax a bit more and enjoy the wonderful Cajun aroma in your home!

Why do they call it gumbo?

The word “gumbo” is derived from the word for okra in West African dialect. Okra is a key ingredient used in gumbo.

What makes gumbo a gumbo?

Gumbo has that telltale stock, Cajun spice, and the trinity of veggies that include onions, celery, and bell peppers. It traditionally contains okra and can have meat or shellfish, sometimes both.

What is the difference with jambalaya and gumbo?

The biggest difference is that jambalaya is cooked with rice (similar to paella) in the pot while gumbo is served atop separately cooked rice.

What does gumbo taste like?

Gumbo is rich, earthy, and very seasoned with just enough spice to give it a kick yet without burning your mouth.

How to make roux for gumbo?

In an authentic gumbo recipe, you’ll whisk flour and ¾-cup of butter over medium heat. It will turn mahogany brown after about 20 to 30 minutes and should be smooth in texture when it is ready.

How much roux do I use for gumbo?

Always use this basic rule of thumb when making gumbo in that you will need one cup of roux per gallon of gumbo. Not to worry as this recipe has everything measured for you so you’ll get it right.

What are the 3 types of roux?

There are white, blonde, and brown roux types though for gumbo, you need to make brown roux.

Should gumbo be thick or soupy?

Gumbo should be thick, almost like a stew. The roux helps make it thicker, but at the end of cooking, cornstarch thickens it up to the right texture.

How do you add flavor to gumbo?

Flavor comes from all the veggies, herbs, sausage, crabmeat, shrimp, and broth. This recipe will give you all the complexity in traditional flavor that you’re looking for. If you like more heat you can always add more cayenne pepper.

How to make seafood gumbo?

Making seafood gumbo is as simple as following this shrimp gumbo recipe. It includes lump crab meat and shrimp for that truly New Orleans flavor.

What goes with seafood Gumbo?

We enjoy our gumbo served on top of rice. You can also round out the meal with cornbread, hush puppies, corn on the cob, or a nice garden salad.

How long should gumbo simmer?

Gumbo needs time to come together with all those flavors. As such, it is best to let it simmer for at least one hour prior to adding in the seafood.

How to Store Gumbo

Seafood gumbo keeps well in the fridge for as long as 3 days. It tastes the best the second day since everything has had a chance to come together in flavor.

Can You Freeze Gumbo?

Freezing gumbo is one of the best things you can do to have a speedy and nutritious meal on a busy night. Just put it in airtight freezer-safe containers and it will keep for up to 8 months.

How to Reheat Frozen Gumbo

Take your frozen gumbo and set it in the fridge the night before. And if you forget, you can let it sit in its sealed container or bag within a bowl of cold water in your sink. Swap the water every 30 minutes until it becomes looser in texture. Then warm it in a pot on the stove.

You can freeze or keep this gumbo fresh to enjoy for a few days. In an airtight container in the fridge, the gumbo will last for 3 to 4 days. This is a great make-ahead recipe for meal prep. You can make a big batch on Sunday and enjoy gumbo for lunch for several days during the week.

To freeze gumbo, let it cool fully to room temperature before transferring to an airtight freezer-safe container. In the freezer, the dish will last for up to three months. When you’re ready to eat your frozen gumbo, let the container thaw overnight in the fridge before transferring it to a pot to reheat on the stove. You can also speed up the defrosting by running the container under hot water until the gumbo releases from the container.

  • ¼ cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon canola oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 large green bell pepper, diced
  • 1 stalk celery, minced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 4 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 14-ounce can whole tomatoes, drained and chopped
  • 10 okra pods, trimmed and cut into 1/2-inch-long pieces (1 cup)
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon dried thyme
  • ¼ teaspoon dried oregano
  • ⅛ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 bay leaf
  • ½ cup long-grain white rice
  • 6 ounces medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 4 ounces boneless, skinless chicken breast, or thigh meat, trimmed and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 2 ounces andouille or kielbasa sausage, thinly sliced
  • Salt, to taste
  • Hot sauce, to taste

Heat a heavy cast-iron skillet over medium heat. Add flour and cook, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until the flour turns a deep golden color, 7 to 10 minutes. Transfer the flour to a plate and let cool. (There will be a strong aroma similar to burnt toast. Be careful not to let the flour burn reduce the heat if flour seems to be browning too quickly.) Alternately, toast the flour in a pie plate in a 400 degrees F oven for 20 minutes.

Heat oil in a heavy stockpot over medium heat. Add onion, bell pepper, celery and garlic sauté until the onions are lightly browned, about 7 minutes. Stir in the toasted flour. Gradually stir in broth and bring to a simmer, stirring. Add tomatoes, okra, pepper, thyme, oregano, cayenne and bay leaf. Cover and cook for 15 minutes. Stir in rice and cook, covered, for 15 minutes longer.

Add shrimp, chicken and sausage simmer until the shrimp is opaque inside, the chicken is no longer pink and the rice is tender, about 5 minutes longer. Discard the bay leaf and season with salt. Ladle into bowls and serve with hot sauce.

Chicken and Sausage Gumbo With Tomatoes

This traditional Creole recipe without the shellfish is ideal for the whole family or perfect for a cozy dinner with friends. Combining chicken breasts and thighs with smoked sausage, the stew is rich in flavor and texture, including red and green peppers, garlic, and diced tomatoes.

Andouille Sausage Gumbo

Cajun goodness is yours with a quickness in this recipe idea from Johnsonville. This satisfying gumbo has all the great authentic flavors of a traditional gumbo in only thirty minutes! Johnsonville Andouille Sausage provides all the important flavors to bring this dish to life. Serve with Uncle Ben&rsquos Ready Rice for a quick and easy way to spice up your next meal.

Cajun goodness is yours with a quickness in this recipe idea from Johnsonville. This satisfying gumbo has all the great authentic flavors of a traditional gumbo in only thirty minutes! Johnsonville Andouille Sausage provides all the important flavors to bring this dish to life. Serve with Uncle Ben&rsquos Ready Rice for a quick and easy way to spice up your next meal.


Uncle Ben's® Ready Rice® Original Long Grain

(14.5 ounces) diced tomatoes



In medium sauce pot, heat until hot. Add sausage and sauté until browned. Remove sausage and set aside.

In same pot, with fat from sausage left behind add in onions, green bell pepper, celery, garlic and Cajun seasoning. Sauté until onions are soft.

Remove vegetables and set aside with sausage.

Melt butter and combine with flour to make a roux. Cook roux until it becomes a medium brown color.

Add in water, chicken bouillon, sausage, vegetables, can of tomatoes and Worcestershire sauce. Mix well to incorporate roux.

Bring to a boil, then simmer on low for 30 min. Stirring occasionally.

When gumbo is almost done, season with salt, pepper, and filé powder. Stir and mix well.

6 – Baked Beans with Onion and Bacon Bits

There are many reasons why baked beans with onion and bacon bits are a great side dish to serve with gumbo.

First, it has the perfect combination of sweet and salty that compliments many dishes.

It also provides some texture, so you don’t have just one type of food in your meal.

The ingredients are simple, but the ways they combine can be surprising.

You can make this side dish with canned beans, dried beans that have been soaked overnight in water or even using a slow cooker recipe.

No matter what type of baked beans you use, they’ll be delicious when mixed with some onion and bacon bits.

For the best results, cook your bacon first before adding to the simmering pot containing your favorite variety of baked beans.

If cooking from scratch, start by sauteeing chopped onions in olive oil until they are translucent, then add them to the baking pan along with salt and pepper for flavor.

Gumbo: What is it & How to Make it

Gumbo is a type of spicy stew typical of Louisiana. It is a staple that is cooked up in big cast iron pots and stirred with large wooden spoons—or boat oars, depending on how many people are going to be fed. The dish consists of two basic ingredients: broth and rice. While this may sound boring and limited, gumbo is actually a dish with an extremely large variety of flavors and consistencies, depending on how the broth (or roux) is made. Variations of the roux-based soup include chicken and smoked sausage, shrimp and okra, wild duck and smoked sausage, even rabbit or seafood gumbo with shrimp, crab, and oysters.

The rice used in gumbo is prepared separately and only added to the dish at the time of serving. Gumbo is consumed primarily during winter months because its hearty consistency makes it a great choice for cold days. Also, the dish requires a long cooking time, as the broth must be left to simmer for hours to achieve the appropriate thickness.

One interesting yearly tradition centers on the preparation of gumbo it is the annual Fat Tuesday Run or Courir de Mardi Gras. Usually held in rural communities, it is a tradition that dates back to Medieval France. A parade of Mardi Grasꃎlebrators, often in costumes, go from house to house collecting ingredients for their gumbo by performing dances and chasing a chicken. The community of Iowa, LA still hosts such a parade.

New Orleans Gumbo Recipe

*Complete recipe instructions are located in a printable recipe card at the bottom of this article.


Olive oil
Andouille sausage, sliced 1/2 inch thick
Boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into 1 inch pieces
Cajun spice
Onion, diced
Bell pepper, diced
Celery, diced
Garlic, minced
Kosher salt
Chicken stock
Diced tomatoes

*Our favorite Cajun seasoning is &lsquoSlap Ya Mama&rsquo from Louisiana. You can find it online or at some large grocery stores. However there are milder blends as well for those who don&rsquot like a lot of heat.


The first step in making New Orleans Gumbo is to brown the meat. Begin by heating 1 tablespoon of oil in a large pot.

Then add the sliced sausage and cook until well browned on both sides, which will take about 4 minutes.

Once the sausage is browned use a slotted spoon and transfer the sausage to a large bowl, leaving as much oil behind as possible.

Next add the chicken thighs to the pot and cook until well browned on both sides, approximately 6 minutes. Remove the meat from the pot and add to the bowl with the sausage.

Be sure to leave as much fat and liquid behind as possible.

Although traditional Gumbo recipes call for Okra of File powder to thicken the sauce, we are using a standard flour roux mixture because not everyone has access to those Southern ingredients.

Thickening Agents

The next step is to make the roux which will help thicken the gumbo. Start by adding 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, flour, and Cajun seasoning to the stockpot.

*Side Note &ndash traditional southern Gumbo will add sliced okra or file powder to thicken the roux. However, both of these ingredients aren&rsquot readily available in all parts of the world.

Therefore, we have left out those two ingredients in this New Orleans Gumbo recipe and use a roux instead.

Whisk the ingredients together and cook, whisking constantly for 3-4 minutes or until a thick paste forms.

Then add the onion, bell pepper, celery and garlic to the roux. Sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt and cook, stirring often, until the vegetables soften, about 5 minutes.

Many New Orleans based meals start with the Holy Trinity of vegetables which consists of diced green peppers, celery and onion.

Now it is time to add the sausage, chicken thighs, and any juices left in the bowl back into the pot.

Quickly pour in the chicken broth and stir, scraping the bottom of the pot to make sure the roux isn&rsquot sticking. Finally, stir in the diced tomatoes and it is time to get the New Orleans Gumbo cooking!

Traditional Stove Top Cooking Times:

Bring the mixture to a boil and simmer for 45 minutes to an hour.

Slow Cooker Cooking Times:

Follow above directions and cook in your slow cooker on LOW for 6 hours, or on HIGH heat for 2 hours.

Pressure Cooker Instructions:

You can use your electric pressure cooker to make this New Orleans Gumbo as well. Simply use the saute feature to brown the meat.

Then add the remaining ingredients as stated above. Except, the only thing that you want to do different is to place the diced tomatoes on top of the other ingredients and DO NOT STIR.

Next, lock the lid in place and move the valve to the sealing position. Pressure cook on High pressure for 10 minutes.

Then turn off the heat and let the pressure come down naturally, about 15 minutes.

To serve: ladle the gumbo in a large bowl and add a scoop of cooked white rice on top or on the side of the bowl.