The foundation of any great gumbo is a great roux. I have seen some gumbo recipes that do not build a roux, and I’m guessing they would probably taste good, but I have no interest in finding out.
A roux consists of flour cooked in oil that slowly browns until it achieves a chocolate color. The more you darken the roux, the richer the flavor gets. When combined with vegetables that you toss around in a pan, I like to think of a roux as a deconstructed deep fry. If I had decided to deep fry the vegetables, they would’ve been patted with flour, and cooked in hot oil.
Even though I have spent so much time talking about the roux, other elements of gumbo are important. File powder is hard to get; it acts as a thickener, but I have used okra here for the same purpose. I thought I had file powder, but my son saw it, and decided to start putting it on hamburgers. He thought he was reading “filet” as in “filet mignon”. I didn’t find out he used it up until I started to make this. I can’t imagine it helped the flavor of the burgers much.
4 ounces canola oil
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup celery, chopped
1 large bell pepper, chopped
1 large shallot or 1/2 large red onion, diced
1 large tomato, seeded and diced <- purists who believe there should never be tomatoes in a gumbo should avert their eyes!
4 large garlic cloves, diced
2 large jalapeno peppers, diced
2 ears corn
10 ounces okra, sliced, stems discarded
32 ounces chicken stock
1⁄2 teaspoon Old Bay Seasoning
1 tablespoon fresh thyme, finely chopped
1 tablespoon fresh oregano, finely chopped
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon pepper, freshly ground
2 bay leaves
1 1/2 pounds catfish, cut in chunks
1. In a large pot over medium heat, add the oil. When the pan is hot, stir in flour using a hard plastic spatula to begin preparation of the roux.
2. While preparing the roux, heat a pot of water with a teaspoon of sugar in it until it boils. Add corn and heat until bubbling again, then reduce heat to a simmer. Cover and cook for 8 minutes. Remove corn from water. When cool, cut kernels off the cob and set aside.
3. Continue stirring and turning over the roux until the color resembles chocolate, about 30 minutes.
No, this is caramel color...keep heating!
Here's what you want for the color. If you're not sure, buy a chocolate bar, and hold it up to the roux. NOTE: I do know of people who darken it to the point of resembling dark chocolate. Expect to be at it for about an hour, depending on how dark you want it.
4. Add the shallots, celery, jalapenos, and bell peppers, cooking for 5 minutes, stirring into the roux to ensure that every part is coated. Season with salt and pepper. Scrape the bottom of the pan and move the vegetables around so all of them have an equal amount of time on the bottom of the pot.
5. Add the tomatoes, garlic, corn, and okra and cook for about 5 minutes, scraping and stirring as in the previous step.
6. Stir in the stock, bay leaves, oregano, thyme, and Old Bay. Bring the liquid up to a boil, about 8 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium, and continue cooking for 15 minutes.
7. Fold the catfish into the pot, reduce the heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Add water, increasing or decreasing to achieve desired consistency. Remove from the heat. Remove bay leaves and discard.
8. To assemble, ladle the gumbo into a bowl with rice.