It must be thick but not too thick, hot but not too hot, and it's not a stew. The roux, which is the gumbo's base, must be a perfect shade of "dark chocolate" brown. The word "gumbo" is a derivation of the African word for "okra." Okra was brought over on the slave ships.
There are non-negotiable ingredients and methods, though no two gumbos are the same.
Dark Roux - you must make a dark roux to make a good gumbo. You can spend about a half-hour making the roux -- a combination of oil and flour -- which will probably look like peanut butter. Or, you can double the time and come up with a chocolate-colored roux that will add body and taste to the gumbo. Always use a heavy cast-iron skillet on top of the stove and a wooden spoon, and once you start stirring the flour in the oil, never stop until it's ready. Don't let it spatter on your skin. Don't let it burn or you'll have to throw it away. See those little black flecks? It's ruined. Toss it out.
Crab boil - a pinch added to the stock,
Crawfish fat - along with crawfish, for great flavor.
Generally, meat and seafood don't mix well in a single dish, but the best gumbos have combinations of oysters and shrimp and crawfish, so I am told, right along with rabbit, duck, chicken, sausage and ham.
For Seafood Gumbo, most prefer crawfish over crab for its richer flavor. If you must use crabmeat, use only claw meat.
It's important to season as you go. Don't just add all the seasonings at the end... you want to build the flavor.
The depth of your gumbo depends on how hard you want to work. When a recipe calls for chicken stock, you can use regular canned stock and make a decent dish. Or you can scatter poultry bones in a roasting pan and roast them until they have a deep caramelized sheen. Then place the bones in the canned stock and let the pot simmer for a couple of hours. The difference will be worth the wait. While you've got the roasting pan handy, you can deglaze with a little stock, toss in carrots, onions and celery, and let them roast. The vegetables and juices add well to the stock. Strain before using and you will have a deep broth with extra taste.
Gumbo should have enough body to easily coat the back of a spoon. Gumbo is one of those wonderful dishes in which a written recipe is simply a crude outline.
Gumbo is a personal choice; you add what you want and leave out what you don't. There are no rights or wrongs.
Gumbo should always be served over rice.
File - ground sassafras leaves - came from the Choctaw and Cherokee Indians and is used as a flavoring and thickening agent. It has a woodsy taste and is best added to the individual bowls when served, because undue cooking causes it to become tough and stringy. Never use both File and Okra.
Okra – For flavor and as a thickener. Never use both File and Okra.
Personally, I don't use either one, preferring to control thickness with the amount of broth added.
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