Given the title of both a soup and a stew, gumbo is a comfort food delight that really speaks to the soul. (Kind of like that book series, “Chicken Soup for the Soul,” only better).
This aromatic soup-stew is normally thickened with a roux. A variety of protein sources can be used – you can enjoy chicken gumbo, sausage gumbo, seafood gumbo or anything else you fancy!
You start with onion, celery, and bell pepper as the main ingredients, and add in filé powder, which is made from the dried leaves of the sassafras tree. You can then add additional ingredients like okra, chicken stock, and other seasonings. Once the gumbo looks and smells amazing, it’s time to lay it over rice and devour it.
You might know this food as a southern staple, and you would be correct. It’s currently known as a very popular dish associated with New Orleans. However, did you know that gumbo originally came from West Africa?
Think about it; the word “gumbo” comes from the West African word, “ki ngombo,” meaning “okra.” West Africans used okra as a thickener in their version, and the original West African gumbo also contained fish and shellfish.
When West Africans were brought to the Americans during the transatlantic slave period, they carried pods from the okra plant, which was not native to the Americans. Okra seeds were planted in the American soil and introduced their traditional African dish to the Americas.
South Louisiana gumbo has been described as a blend of three cultures; West African, Native American, and European. These cultures contributed to what New Orleans now calls their signature dish.
Gumbo is great to eat all year, especially during the colder months. It is also often traditionally eaten during Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday, because it is a fatty and rich food.
If you’re looking to try and make your own gumbo, it’s worth a shot! But if it ends up a little loose, don’t get discouraged. You can thicken gumbo the traditional way with okra, or a few other ways, so you’ll always end up with your preferred consistency.
Keep reading to learn how to thicken gumbo for a delicious meal every time!
Is Gumbo Supposed to be Thick?
The usual texture of a gumbo recipe is supposed to be much denser than a soup. This is because the broth has a thick, almost viscous consistency.
This is not to be confused with jambalaya, which is also supposed to be thick, but with a less soupy consistency. It’s also more of a rice dish.
How Long Does it Take to Thicken Gumbo?
Cooking gumbo does take a lot of patience, as it takes a long time to cook it to perfection. With that being said, the long cooking time perfectly melts all the flavors together as it thickens. So really, waiting is a good thing to do during the cooking process.
If you want to get a thick consistency with a reddish sauce, it will take about 3 hours of simmering. However, if you want your sauce to be lighter, you can shorten the cooking time.
If your impatience gets the best of you and you stopped cooking the gumbo before it’s time, don’t worry, there are ways to fix it.
Why is my Gumbo Not Thickening?
If your gumbo isn’t thickening as much as you’d like it to, odds are it’s because of your roux. Your roux is supposed to be a thickening agent made with fat (like vegetable oil) and flour and cooked until dark brown in color, giving gumbo that classic look.
The roux is stirred together for about 30-45 minutes and has the consistency of dough or paste.
If you do not use enough flour, the roux will be watery.
How to Thicken Up Gumbo
Like I keep saying, there’s no need to panic!
Gumbos can be thickened, and it’s probably easier to add thickener than to make it looser. So if anything you will just be making your dish even more perfect.
If you’re well into the gumbo-making process and you realize it’s not thickening like how you wanted to, cornstarch is a good additive.
With about an hour left in the process, create a slurry. For every quart of gumbo, mix together a tablespoon of cornstarch to 2 tablespoons of cool liquid, such as water or broth.
Mix it well in a bowl with a whisk, and then proceed to add it to the gumbo. You’ll then mix the slurry and gumbo with a wooden spoon.
After 15 minutes, if it’s still not thick enough, you can add another small amount of slurry and cook it for another hour.
If you’re looking to keep the gumbo really traditional and take the recipe back to its roots, try okra.
You can typically find okra at your local grocery store. You’ll start by removing the top and tips of the okra and proceeding to rinse 1 pound of it under cool running water in a colander.
When done, cut the okra crossways into ½-inch pieces. For every 5 quarts of gumbo, you will add one pound of okra. Mix the okra well into the gumbo and cook for an hour.
The reason this vegetable can help thicken the gumbo is that it contains mucilage, which has slimy characteristics. Heating increases the viscosity of mucilage of the plant, and the result is very gooey.
Vegetable Soup Base
A vegetable soup base is really thick, and it will also add a great extra flavor to the gumbo.
Start by adding 1 pack of vegetable soup base into the pot, then add about 1 cup of water and stir until the base is dissolved. Slowly add in more water until you’ve reached your ideal thickness.
Let it Simmer
This one requires more patience. If you have enough time, then go for it! It requires no extra ingredients, just extra time. Simmering will take about 10 minutes longer, but the results will be marvelous.
Cream of Chicken Soup
The consistency of this soup is already thick, so there’s no doubt it would help with the gumbo. Add 1 can of cream of chicken soup into the pot until it dissolves in the broth.
Just make sure it is cooked enough before serving.
This is a very popular method for thickening gumbo.
Add 1 cup of cornmeal, then add water and mix together until the cornmeal is smooth with no lumps. Pour the mixture into the pot, but make sure to stir in one direction smoothly as you go so no clumps are formed. You can go ahead and add as much water as needed to get the consistency you desire.
This may seem a little strange, but it’s so easy!
Take a couple slices of bread whole (meaning don’t cut them or tear them apart) and throw it into the mix. They will fall apart themselves.
The bread will get soaked up into the gumbo broth so when it goes down your throat, you won’t have a piece of unsoaked bread, making it seem thicker.
How to Thicken Gumbo Roux
If you realize it’s the roux that’s giving you the problems, you can go ahead and face the problem at its source.
All you have to do is add more flour into the fat and flour mix.
You’ll whisk it throughout until you have a smooth, thick sauce. If it’s too thick to whisk, just add a little more fat. You will find a nice balance. We call that, “whisky business.”