These Top Ten Gumbo Cooking Secrets are your road map to making fantastic gumbos first time and every time.
Gumbo is not difficult to make. But there are some rules that need to be followed precisely in order to get the best results from your cooking efforts. Here in this Top Ten list of tips you will find the gumbo cooking secrets that will help you succeed. Follow these rules and you are guaranteed to become a Master of Gumbo.
Endeavor to bring your roux to the color of milk chocolate. This is your most important step of all the gumbo cooking secrets. A dark roux is required to get that rich and classic taste authentic Louisiana gumbo is known for. A dainty light colored roux will produce a gumbo that lacks the rich and deep flavor that comes with a dark roux.
The only exception to this rule is when making specific recipes like a New Orleans Creole seafood gumbo that specifies a lighter color roux or a recipe that uses okra for the thickening agent instead of flour.
Your first law of gumbo physics is: A dark roux is required to achieve the maximum potential flavor from an authentic Louisiana gumbo. This gumbo cooking secret will render a delicious recipe every time.
Note: When adding the required water or stock to your roux, add slowly while stirring rather than putting the entire measure in at one time. I like to add about one cup at a time, stirring between cups, until I get all stock put in. If your stock is cold you can shock the roux and it will curdle and separate. Warming the stock can help prevent this too.
I have an old ladle I inherited from my parents that I use to ladle in the stock. My technique, which works well, is to add one ladle then stir. Add another ladle then stir. Do this until all stock is added.
A flavorful stock is easy to make and will always make a much better gumbo compared to using plain water. You can find seafood and chicken stock recipes on this site and they are recommended highly. If you don't have the time or inclination to make your own then use canned stock. But be careful of the salt content in commercial stocks and reduce the amount of salt specified in the recipe to avoid over doing it.
This gumbo cooking secret is second only to a dark roux. I can't
emphasize enough the importance of using home made stock. It is far and
away the best approach and well worth the extra time. To really draw out
maximum goodness cook your stock for 2-3 hours so flavors from the
bones are fully extracted.
Fresh is best period. Onions, celery and green pepper make up the TRINITY, and to get maximum flavor use fresh if possible. Seafood especially is best when fresh. If you can purchase fresh whole chicken or turkey use them in your gumbo for an exceptionally flavorful taste. Organically grown chicken, or yard birds available from local farmers makes an "OUT OF THIS WORLD" gumbo and is a little known gumbo cooking secret.
It is not always possible to get everything fresh but use what you can get particularly the vegetables. Some recipes on this site use frozen ingredients and are intended to be used for the fast and easy recipes and this is ok. If you cannot get fresh meat or seafood don't worry as you can still make a fantastic gumbo using frozen ingredients.
No matter which type of gumbo you make, all will benefit from adding smoked meat to flavor. Whether it is seafood, chicken, turkey or vegetable, smoked meat will add flavor and authenticity. In Louisiana, andouille and tasso are are popular smoked meats used in gumbo. But any type of meat that has been cooked with heat and smoke will work. Try buying smoked chicken from your local barbecue restaurant without sauce and keep in your freezer for the next gumbo.
I don't recommend using liquid smoke as it produces a fake taste most diners can identify.
5. Use the bones...
Chicken, turkey and fish bones add lots of flavor and should be used when you can. Most diners don't want to find a bone in their bowl of gumbo. Understood. But you can use bones in the stock and this produces lots of flavor. Straining the stock before using will remove even small fish bones.
Putting whole pieces of chicken in your gumbo and allowing it to simmer for a couple of hours will extract lots of flavor. You can debone the chicken at the end of the cooking process and return the meat to your pot before serving.
6. Make it in advance...
Like a good wine, gumbo gets better with age. It is ok and even recommended to make it ahead of time particularly if you are serving a group of people. This is one of the gumbo cooking secrets many New Orleans Chefs employ consistently. You can store it in the refrigerator for a couple of days or in your freezer for months. The flavors meld and become more intense with proper storage over time. Over the years I have found gumbo stored in my freezer for more than a year. They were as great as the day I made them. Even better.
7. Long and slow is best...
Gumbo cooked over low heat and uncovered for 2-3 hours is best. Although you can make a great gumbo in one hour or less, the flavors do not meld and intensify until the cooking time has reached at least 2 hours. It is not necessary to cook for longer than 3 hours as some recommend.
There are those who cook gumbo all day long and insist that makes the best. If you have the time go for it but be careful that your ingredients do not cook completely to pieces. I have found most diners enjoy the texture of firm but tender meat or seafood in their delicious and dark gumbo and that is why I caution against over cooking.
8. Use a heavy pot of sufficient size...
A heavy cast iron pot properly seasoned will make your best gumbo. But any heavy pot is fine. I regularly use a big cast iron dutch oven when making a large volume of gumbo. Avoid light weight pots with thin bottoms. These do not conduct heat evenly, require frequent stirring and can burn the ingredients on the bottom. Use a pot large enough to allow for space at the top. I sometimes use a large stainless steel pot to simmer an extra large volume.
9. Tweak and polish during the cooking process...
Gumbo is like snowflakes. No two are exactly alike. And gumbo is flexible. That means that during the cooking process you can tweak to improve the flavor or correct mistakes. If it is too thick add a little water. If it is too thin add roux. You can make a second batch of roux on the side to add to the pot if you need to thicken. I have done this many times with great success. If you find your gumbo lacks flavor, you can add more meat. Just make sure you continue to cook long enough to ensure the added meat is done. You can add salt or spice also during the cooking process to satisfy your tastes. So tweak along the way for perfect gumbo. It is one of the easiest gumbo cooking secrets to master.
10. Brown meaty ingredients like chicken, turkey and sausage first...
This is an extra step that will add another layer of flavor. Browning these ingredients first in a little oil will produce a crispy browned crust on the meat and imparts extra flavor and some color. This adds time of course but is worth the effort if you want to get the best gumbo possible. It's best to do the browning step in the heavy pot you will use for the gumbo so the particles stuck to the bottom will be used.
Keep this list of gumbo cooking secrets handy as you cook your recipe. It will help you immensely in making Louisiana's favorite food delicious.