Authentic Louisiana Creole Gumbo transports your taste buds to the Big Easy with every spoonful. This hearty and humble Creole classic stew celebrates everything sacred about Soul Food- culture, customs, and community.
If I must have okra, it must be in a seafood gumbo! Gumbo, a renowned dish rooted in Louisiana’s Creole-Cajun heritage, blends influence from African, Native American, and European cuisines. The people who built their lives in South Louisiana created a distinct food culture that is still celebrated worldwide.
I say all the time that I come from a long line of misfits and characters. The legacy of my family’s recipes, including New Orleans Pralines, Dirty Rice, and Shrimp Etouffee, have endured generations, each branch adding its unique touch.
Although not specifically her recipe, this Creole gumbo recipe draws inspiration from my great-grandmother, a woman who owned her own nightclub in New Orleans. Known as a wonderful cook and entertainer, she crossed paths with my great-grandfather, a bootlegger and mobster, resulting in a scandalous yet happily ever after tale. Only in New Orleans!
*Chef Note: If you’re accustomed to starting with a roux in your gumbo process, this version may send you reeling. There’s no flour! Instead, we use okra as a thickener. Try this roux-based chicken and sausage gumbo if you don’t like okra.
What is Gumbo?
Gumbo is a popular and iconic stew that originated in the south, particularly in Louisiana.
Ingredients vary widely, and debated quite hotly, but typically include a strong-flavored stock, meat or shellfish, and vegetables like okra, celery, bell peppers, and onions. Gumbo is often served over rice, and it is known for its rich and complex flavors.
The name “gumbo” has two likely sources. One is traced back to the African term “kingombo,” meaning “okra,” from which the French word “gombo” also originates. The second theory is that “gumbo” is a variation of the Choctaw Indian term “kombo,” which refers to filé powder, due to the prevalence of the sassafras tree in the region. While not every gumbo includes these ingredients, this recipe incorporates both!
Ingredients and Notes
The full recipe including ingredient quantities are featured at the bottom of this post. This section helps to answer any questions about sourcing ingredients and substitutions.
Okra. Choose fresh or frozen and sliced with the seeds intact. Okra is quite slimy on the inside, but you won’t notice that in this gumbo.
Vegetables. I don’t use celery since I use so much okra, but the onions and green bell peppers from the Cajun holy trinity are still there. I also added a can of whole tomatoes.
Seafood. Personally, I find that okra pairs much better with seafood than chicken. To keep costs low I chose shrimp, but adding crab meat would also be delicious. I recommend large shrimp, such as jumbo, 21/25 or 26/30 per pound for a stew.
Smoked Sausage. My preference is a mild smoked sausage for this recipe, but Andouille sausage or Chorizo are both options. No, really. It’s fine. Andouille doesn’t have to go into everything for it to be considered authentic.
Parboiled Rice. Use parboiled rice for the best texture. Rice is optional for this recipe because it can be a stew or even thicker with the rice added.
Filé. Filé powder is both a thickening agent and an herb. It’s completely optional as I know it’s decreased in popularity over the last several decades. I add a touch but if it’s your first-time making gumbo, skip filé for ease.
How to Make Okra Gumbo
For this recipe, I highly recommend practicing mise en place or French for “put in place”. What this means is that ingredients are prepped, tools are gathered, and everything is organized before any cooking begins. This recipe doesn’t include a 3-hour roux that allows you time to prep.
Photo 1 – Okra.
The process starts by browning the okra. The okra is supposed to cook down heavily until a black-brown like mushrooms. You need to stir quite frequently to keep it from burning. The okra will get really dark- you don’t want to burn it black– and lose any slimy texture. The bottom of the pan may blacken.
Photo 2- Vegetables.
Add the onions & peppers; sauté slightly to bring out the flavors. Season and butter while scraping any brown bits from the pan. Add a bit of stock or butter to the bottom of the pan to keep anything from sticking as needed.
Photo 3 – Simmer the gumbo for richness and blending.
This photo was taken before the 45-minute simmering, which is done uncovered. The next photo shows it after.
*Chef Note: Your gumbo may end up a lighter color than the featured example. The color will vary based on how long you cook the okra, the color of your broth, and tomatoes.
Photo 4 – Add final ingredients.
The final steps include cooking the shrimp and remaining okra and adjusting the seasonings to your preference. You can serve over rice or as a stew by itself.
Tips for Making Gumbo
- Watch the okra. The biggest hurdle in this recipe is burning the okra. I’ve done it. Once you get past that step, it’s actually simple to execute.
- Use whatever sausage you like. I prefer a strongly smoked sausage over Andouille sausage for this gumbo but choose whichever kind you prefer.
- Adjust the seasonings to your preference. As written, this gumbo is well rounded with a heat meter slightly milder than medium wings. I also go light on salt.
- Use canned whole tomatoes. Squish them by hand over the pot- it’s incredibly satisfying– or break them up with a wooden spoon in a bowl before adding. This adds so much more flavor than using crushed tomatoes.
- Freeze leftovers for up to 3-4 months. Gumbo will keep in the fridge for 3-4 days, if stored separately from the rice. To reheat in the microwave, cook in 30-second bursts until it reaches your desired temperature. You may notice a thin layer of separated oil, which you can skim off or not, depending on your preference.
- One-part white rice to two parts gumbo. Gumbo is supposed to be similar to a stew and the rice is a thickener. This stew is pretty thick on its own.
- Have some hot sauce on the table. Slap Ya Mama is our go to.
*Heat Note. I make my recipes for a variety of taste buds. Since my family is a bunch of self-proclaimed wimps when it comes to spicy food, I keep the base flavorful but go easy on the cayenne pepper. It’s easy to adjust the seasonings at the end for more heat if desired.
The addition of Filé is completely optional. It’s a personal preference in taste for gumbo. Although it was quite common in traditional gumbo recipes, its popularity has declined in modern versions.
There was significant overlap in Creole and Cajun cuisine because both styles relied on ingredients that were readily available to the cook. The use of tomatoes in this gumbo is a giveaway that it’s a Creole gumbo. Secondly, Cajun recipes tend to use oil or animal fat rather than butter because dairy products were not often available outside of Louisiana cities in the 18th and 19th century. For this recipe particularly, okra is used as a thickening agent in place of a roux.
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Louisiana Creole Gumbo
- ⅓ cup Vegetable Oil or Bacon drippings
- 1 ¼ pounds Okra, fresh or frozen about 5 cups, cleaned, thawed and big slices
- ½ teaspoon White Pepper
- ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
- ½ teaspoon Black Pepper
- 2 cups Yellow Onions diced
- 1 Green Bell Pepper chopped
- 6 cups Seafood Stock divided
- 2 teaspoon Minced Garlic
- 1 teaspoon Onion Powder
- 1 teaspoon Thyme dried
- 4 tablespoon Unsalted Butter
- 1 can Whole or diced tomatoes 14.5 ounce
- 1 lb Smoked Sausage
- 1 lb Shrimp Peeled and deveined, 26/30 with no heads or shells
For Serving (all are optional)
- ½ cup Green Onions Sliced
- 2 tablespoon Gumbo Filé also known as Sassafras Powder
- 3 cups Cooked Parboiled Rice
- In a larger saucepan or Dutch oven, add the oil over high heat until it just begins to steam, about 3 minutes. (You may see a very slight puff of evaporation, which I call "steam", but don't let it cook too long if you don't see it.) Alternatively, you can use an oil thermometer and it should be at least 350-375 degree.
- Add 3 cups okra. Cook for about 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add white pepper, cayenne, and black pepper. Continue cooking until the okra well browned, about 7-10 minutes, stirring very frequently. Ideally, you are looking for a deep dark brown in most areas, not burned black. Some okra will still be green.
- Reduce heat to medium. Stir in the onions and green pepper. Cook for 5 minutes scraping the bottom of the pan as needed.
- Add 1 cup of stock and scrape any bits from the bottom of the pan. Add garlic, thyme, onion powder, and butter. Stir until butter is fully melted. Add the remaining stock and tomatoes with juice. Break up the tomatoes if whole. Bring to a boil.
- Add sausage and bring back to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 45 minutes uncovered, stirring occasionally.
- Add remaining 2 cups of okra simmer for 10 minutes.
- Add shrimp and return to a boil. As soon as the shrimp is pink and cooked barely through, remove from heat and stir well.
- Add filé, more cayenne, or salt to desired taste. Serve with rice, if desired, and garnish with green onions.