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  • Writer's pictureJohn Ashouri

It ain’t Gumbo without the Roux

As a child, I learned this recipe from my mother and it's the same recipe I tell my kids how to make when they call. I put a lot of love into the big pot every Friday when I make it for the restaurant. Therefore, it will always have a special place in my heart. Louisiana cuisine is renowned for its gumbo, and the dish is probably the most popular among Louisianans.

There is no class barrier to gumbo, as it appears on the tables of both the rich and the poor. As emblematic of Louisiana as chili is of Texas, a steaming bowl of fragrant gumbo is one of life's cherished pleasures, no matter the ingredients. A bowl of gumbo can tell you a lot about Southern food history. There is a compelling reason why gumbo is now closely associated with Louisiana and Cajun cuisine. By 1721, more than half of the residents of New Orleans were black because of the massive influx of enslaved Africans into the French colony.

One of the oldest dishes in Louisiana and a source of culinary pride as far back as there are written records. As much as jazz or the bayou, it has become a cultural symbol of Louisiana. It has been almost 300 years since this region first produced Gumbo, a soup-and-rice dish that is quintessentially Creole. In colonial Louisiana, many slaves came from West Africa, which is where kingombo, the word for okra, was derived. Slaves in those days consumed okra stews with rice as a staple food. Slaves often thickened their broth with okra (though not always). This leads many culinary historians to conclude that the dish itself also has an African influence. It's no secret that gumbo isn't a one-trick pony.

There are endless ways to make it. Ultimately, it boils down to what you have on hand. Most gumbos are, in fact, double-thickened—first with a dark, oil-based roux and then using either okra or file powder, but never both. Seafood Gumbo: Contains some combination of oysters, shrimp, crawfish, and/or crab, and is more often made with okra than file.

Poultry and Sausage Gumbo: Which uses either chicken or turkey in combination with pieces of andouille or other smoked sausages, and is more often made with file than okra. Lee Esther's Way: A mixture of both While many people will claim that their preferred gumbo is their version, gumbo is—and will always be—an ever-evolving group project that I'm honored to be a part of. Every day, new ways to enjoy the dish are created, as young cooks add their own special touches, fresh ingredients emerge, and creative ways to enjoy it.

However, Lee Esther's (my mom's) way will always remain my favorite. What’s your favorite way to cook gumbo? Let us know in the comments

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