Gumbo A-Ha: Roux, Okra Slime, and Just-Right Shrimp

September 10, 2009 | By | Comments (11)

Mexico-gumbo-ck-222872-x An abundance of okra in my CSA box has given me a much-needed nudge into unfamiliar culinary territory. The first week, it led to my first stab at pickling okra–an overwhelming success. The second week, I felt lazy and gave it to an pod-loving friend. The third week, I decided to buckle down and try my hand at a dish that, until now, I had been too timid to attempt: gumbo.

It was the roux that scared me. Something about browning flour in searing-hot butter (or oil) screamed danger. I didn't know what a proper gumbo roux should look like (reddish-brown to almost-black) or smell like (just shy of burnt toast), and I had the vague notion that if I messed it up, it would spontaneously combust, possibly setting my hair on fire. But with an armful of green and daringly red okra before me, I felt obligated to give it a try.

Full disclosure: For my first gumbo, I chose a traditional, roux-based recipe instead of one of our more healthful Cooking Light versions. Many of our lightened gumbo recipes forego the roux (and with it, gobs of calories and saturated fat) by toasting the flour in the oven, or in a dry pan on the stove. But I decided that before I was ready to make it light, I should confront my fear of the roux.

My recipe called for heating a half-cup of Canola oil close to its smoke-point, then slowly whisking in an equal amount of flour until the roux turned a glossy dark-brown. I resisted a strong urge to don protective eyewear. I occupied my toddler outside of the kitchen. I turned on the fan and focused on stirring, stirring, stirring the roux. It became quite meditative. As it slowly changed color before my eyes, I felt like an alchemist. And like a real cook.

Epiphany #1: Avoid distractions, keep stirring, and your roux will be fine.

The rest of the gumbo was a breeze, really. Holy trinity–check. Andouille sausage–yep. Spices, etcetera–no surprises there. It wasn't until I added the okra that I had my real a-ha moment. The slime that makes okra, well, okra, is key to thickening the gumbo to that perfect consistency. (In some recipes, filé powder, a gumbo spice made from ground sassafras leaves, does that job.) I had never considered okra slime to be a particularly desirable property, and enjoyed learning ways to reduce the slime-factor (roasting or grilling work well, my colleagues tell me). I now respect okra.

Epiphany #2: Slime is your friend.

Because I was cooking for friends, I saved the last step–adding the shrimp–until just before serving. I added the shrimp when the gumbo was just at a simmer and cooked it for just three minutes. That, I learned, helped me avoid the tough and rubbery morsels I'd inadvertently made in the past.

Epiphany #3: Don't overcook the shrimp.

All in all: a success. My guests loved the gumbo, and it left me feeling confident and encouraged to try it again. Next time, I'll make it light.


RECIPE PICTURED: Gulf of Mexico Gumbo


  1. Zachary

    Not everyone seems to be capable to post like this.
    Preserve up the good perform, search forward for your future

    May 28, 2014 at 7:09 am
  2. Paul

    My recipe called for heating a half-cup of Canola oil close to its smoke-point

    January 18, 2011 at 11:57 pm
  3. virus classification

    Shrimp belong to the group of crustaceans within the seafood, a food that has a low level in fat and calories compared to beef and chicken, beef or pork.

    May 17, 2010 at 5:03 pm
  4. kim

    this sounds great

    September 22, 2009 at 11:30 am
  5. Kim Cross

    Hey Liz,
    Thanks for your comment. How funny you had the same train of thought a
    few weeks ago. I’m glad you liked CL gumbo – I’m going to give it a try
    next. What else have you done with your gumbo? It continues to stump
    Kim Cross
    2100 Lakeshore Drive
    Birmingham, AL 35209

    September 22, 2009 at 10:40 am
  6. Liz D.

    How funny to find this post about being gumbo-inspired because of an abundance of okra in the CSA box. That is exactly what spurred me to make my first gumbo a few weeks ago. And I did use a Cooking Light recipe (from 2005) and the result was absolutely delicious. And this is coming from someone who has had her share of gumbo. Next time I might just add a pat of butter though because you really can’t substitute for that flavor.

    September 21, 2009 at 7:18 pm
  7. Kitchen Cookware

    I love gumbo and I agree, the orux is the tricky part; texture, consistency and flavor. I am trying this recipe this weekend.

    September 16, 2009 at 11:08 am
  8. Yoda Smith

    Yes, gumbo is yummy! Has anyone tried baking with stevia instead of sugar? or have used stevia in beverages? Stevia is the only sweetener that is norishing to the body. I perfer SweetLeaf stevia. I’m looking forward to trying their root beer liquid stevia in carbonated water. It’s supposed to taste like actual root beer! Anyone else game?

    September 15, 2009 at 7:07 pm
  9. Kim Cross

    Hi Thembi,
    Thanks for your comment. I’m glad your gumbo turned out well. I’m a
    little nervous about the browning-the-flour part myself, but plan to try
    this method next. It’s a good time of year for gumbo, isn’t it?
    Kim Cross
    2100 Lakeshore Drive
    Birmingham, AL 35209

    September 14, 2009 at 12:14 pm
  10. Thembi

    Funny, I just made gumbo for the first time ever as well but I did try the cooking light version in the new cookbook. Because I don’t eat gumbo I didn’t have anything to compare it to. The browning of the flour was the trickiest part but it looked ok. I handpicked my own crabmeat and used fresh corn from my CSA so those flavors are center stage in my gumbo and I’m pretty happy with the results. Congrats on your first gumbo!

    September 14, 2009 at 11:58 am
  11. Katrina Russo

    Okra is such a flexible vegetable, who knew? My last gumbo was RICHARD’S Seafood Gumbo, xoxo kat

    September 10, 2009 at 9:40 pm

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