I wrote about how my grandmother’s mean chicken made its way to the gumbo pot in an earlier post, and this post will be about the key ingredient in Gumbo, the roux.
I believe that the most essential part of a good gumbo is a good roux. Pronounced roo, it is the basis for the gumbo’s flavor. If you can make a good roux, you can probably make a good gumbo. There are only two ingredients in roux, oil and flour.
To make a roux, take about equal parts oil and flour (I go a little bit heavier on the flour than the oil) and mix them together in a cast iron pot. I usually use about 1 cup of oil and 1 1/4 cups of flour. Make sure they’re mixed very well and then turn on the stove and stir the mixture with a wooden spoon as it cooks. Scrape the bottom of the pot to make sure that none of the roux sticks and burns. Do not stop stirring. You have to start over if you burn the roux.
The roux needs to cook to a nice dark brown color. Most of Cajun cooking is done by feel and not by recipe, and knowing the right color is something learned over time. Roux has a very distinct, smoky flavor, and the darker the roux, the bolder the flavor.
When the roux is nearing completion, pour it into a glass bowl so it will stop cooking until you’re ready to put it into the gumbo. The roux is by far the trickiest and most intensive part of making a gumbo. The rest is easy! Roux keeps well in the refrigerator, so you can always make it in advance and store it when you need it.