Gumbo Recipes Use Seafood, Okra, Smoked Sausage and More

Stew offers West Africa, Creole and Cajun influences, and these gumbo recipes are thickened with roux or okra.

| March/April 2013

  • bowl of gumbo
    You can add okra to chicken and smoked sausage gumbo; anything goes for this dish.
    Photo By
  • basket of okra
    Okra is a traditional gumbo ingredient.
    Photo By iStockphoto/Alison Stieglitz

  • bowl of gumbo
  • basket of okra

Gumbo recipes are as varied as the cooks who prepare the Louisiana delicacy. You start with a roux (flour and oil or butter cooked to a dark brown), or not; you add cooked okra, or not; you thicken with filé (powdered sassafras root), or not; and you add seafood (shrimp, crab, shellfish) or cooked chicken and smoked sausage.

For gumbo, anything goes.

No one can quite agree on the dish’s history, either. While many mention African, French or Choctaw beginnings with German, Creole and Cajun additions, most food historians now point to the undeniable influence of the okra stews the West African people brought to the area around New Orleans in the mid-1700s. A language lesson finds that “okra” is “ki ngombo” in a West African dialect, a region known for okra stews. Okra is a thickening agent for gumbo.

Of course, this being Louisiana, the history doesn’t stop there. Sometime along the way, a French roux was adapted, adding flavor and texture. Native Americans, notably the Choctaw tribe, introduced filé, another thickening agent. For another curve, the Choctaw word for “sassafras” is “kombo.”

One note: Gumbo aficionados don’t mix okra and filé, though combining either with a roux is fine; they also don’t mix seafood and poultry, and, other than sausage or perhaps ham and other pork pieces, they don’t include red meat. Oh, and tomatoes are debatable; go without if possible.

The Cajuns — transplanted Acadians from Nova Scotia — began fishing the Gulf waters for shellfish and shrimp, thus adding their influence. The Germans settling the region threw smoked sausage into the pot, and then in recent years, the Creoles incorporated their love of spices. And there we have gumbo.



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