A Tale of Two Gumbos

A gumbo with no roux — that’s crazy talk, right? Who ever heard of such a thing? A gumbo with no roux…

I’m pretty set in my ways about a few things, and gumbo is one of them, as I have written before (you can read that post here). But if 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that we have to be flexible and open to doing things differently than we may be used to. We have to zig when we’re used to zagging.

So when I was reading my new copy of The Mosquito Supper Club: Tales from a Disappearing Bayou and stumbled upon author and chef Melissa Martin’s recipes for rouxless gumbos, rather than turning my gumbo-snob nose up, my curiosity was piqued. Plus, she’s the daughter of a shrimper and was raised in the Louisiana bayou — Terrebonne Parish to be exact — so she oughtta know. And her mama made these gumbos. And I was tired of eating my own recipes and looking for ways to branch out. 

That’s what 170 days in captivity will do to you — have you abandoning everything you held to be true like gumbo ain’t gumbo without a roux. Who knows what will be next. Probably some insanity like lipstick isn’t necessary for life or gin is the Devil’s juniper juice. 

But I digress…

I’ve made two of Martin’s rouxless gumbos so far — Chicken and Okra Gumbo and Lost Shrimp Gumbo — and I’m here to tell you, they are good! You won’t miss the roux. The only thing you’ll wish for is that you weren’t too full for seconds! 

In both recipes I was struck by just how few spices and seasonings are used. Martin basically uses salt, pepper, bay leaves, and Louisiana hot sauce. This is simple ingredient, easy-to-make home cooking. You don’t have to jump through a million hoops or go to specialty markets for obscure ingredients or learn new cooking techniques. 

This is food like your mama and your granny would make. And it is food Martin’s mama and granny made. Often. At least as near as she could get to it because like most southern cooks, they didn’t go by written recipes, just rote memory. 

As basic as these recipes are, I did wind up modifying them some to use the ingredients I had on hand so I wouldn’t have to go to the store. I’m not trying to catch the COVID just because I want to make a new recipe. Again, we’re adapting to life in 2020. Also, I generally halved the recipes because I’m only cooking for two and there’s only so much gumbo we can eat or freeze. 

But these two gumbos turned out so well, I thought I’d share with you my adaptations of Melissa Martin’s recipes. And if you want to try the originals, well…you’ll just have to get the book

Honestly, I went into this experiment a nonbeliever. But Melissa Martin took me to the Church of Rouxless Gumbo, and, brothers and sisters, she made a believer out of me! We were in gumbo heaven. And once you try these recipes, you’ll be a convert too!

Chicken and Okra Gumbo as adapted from The Mosquito Supper Club cookbook

  • 1½ tablespoons olive oil
  • 1½ pounds yellow and red onions, finely diced (You are supposed to use all yellow onions but I had just enough of both.)
  • 2 4-ounce boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 1¼ tablespoons salt, plus more if needed
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper, plus more if needed
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper, plus more if needed
  • 1 tablespoon Louisiana hot sauce
  • 1 pound or so fresh okra, chopped into rounds
  • 1 bay leaf
  • ½ – ¾ cup diced banana pepper (You are supposed to use bell peppers, but I had a surplus of banana peppers and zero bell peppers, so I made do.)
  • ½ – ¾ cup celery
  • 6 cups chicken stock
  • 1 scant tablespoon filé (Filé was not included in the original recipe, but I just love it. And I can’t give up everything I know to be true like there MUST BE FILÉ IN GUMBO. It’s not the end times yet.)
  • Cooked rice for serving

Heat the oil in your gumbo pot or dutch oven on medium. Add in the onions and cook, stirring often, until they are golden brown, which takes about 45 minutes.

While the onions are cooking, put the chicken in a bowl and season it with the salt, black pepper, cayenne pepper, and hot sauce. Let it marinate at room temperature until you’re ready for it.

Once the onions are right, put the okra and the bay leaf in there with them and stir it all around. Slap the lid on, reduce the heat to low, and let that go for about 20 minutes.

Then add the chopped peppers and celery, stir it all together, and let that go for another 20 minutes.

(Let me say here that I have added no liquid up to this point, and that worried me. I became doubtful. I questioned whether this recipe would work. But fear not, dear readers, and just keep the faith. And have a glass of wine to calm the nerves or just because…)

Now push the veggies aside and put your chicken in the middle of the pot. Cover it up with the veggies, put the lid back on, and let that go for another 30 minutes. 

Add in the stock and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Reduce the heat, maintaining a simmer, and let it cook about another hour and a half. 

(You’ll note that this is not speed cooking as we’re already about three and a half hours in but we’re in the middle of a pandemic so what else do you have to do?)

Take the chicken breasts out and place them on a cutting board. Shred them using two forks — one to hold it in place with and one to shred with — and put the chicken back in the gumbo. Stir in the filé and service over rice!

Lost Shrimp Gumbo as adapted from The Mosquito Supper Club cookbook

  • 1½ tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 pounds yellow and red onions, finely diced (Again, you are supposed to use all yellow onions but I had just enough of both.)
  • ½ – ¾ cup celery
  • ½ – ¾ cup diced banana pepper (Also again, you are supposed to use bell peppers, but I had a surplus of banana peppers and zero bell peppers, so I made due.)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 large tomato cored and diced (I got confused and forgot to use only half the tomato. Also, in my state of confusion, I used the full amount of shrimp, but can you ever have too many shrimp really?)
  • 3 pounds shrimp, peeled and deveined (You are supposed to use small shrimp, but I only buy Alabama wild-caught shrimp which I could only get in large so that’s what I got. Support your local fishermen and shrimpers any time you can!)
  • 1tablespoons salt, plus more if needed
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper, plus more if needed
  •  ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper, plus more if needed
  • 1 tablespoon Louisiana hot sauce
  • 6 cups water
  • 1 scant tablespoon filé 
  • 6 hard boiled eggs, peeled (I was skeptical, but trust me, you’ll like it!)
  • Cooked rice for serving, potato salad is also a traditional accompaniment

Heat the oil in your gumbo pot or dutch oven on medium. Add in the onions and cook, stirring often, until they are dark, dark brown, which takes about an hour and a half. Just like when you make a roux, you can’t run off and leave these onions while they cook. You’ve got to stir and stir and cook and cook and watch them like a hawk. You’re supposed to get them to a dark chocolate color, just like a roux. 

I think I chickened out and didn’t let the onions cook quite long enough, but I was afraid they were burning. Hang in there as long as you can. But remember, also like roux, if the onions burn, you have to throw it out and start all over again.

Then you add the celery, peppers, and the bay leaf and stir all that together. Turn the heat to low, slap on the lid, and let that cook until the veggies are all soft, about 30 minutes.

Add in the chopped tomato, stir it in, and cover and cook for another 30 minutes. 

Meanwhile, put the shrimp in a bowl and season with the salt, black pepper, cayenne pepper, and hot sauce. When the tomato has all cooked down, add the shrimp and all the marinade to the vegetables, stir it all together, cover, and cook for another 10 minutes.

(Again, I about lost the faith over not adding any liquid. Hang in there!) 

NOW add the water and a tablespoon of salt, and stir it all together. Raise the heat to medium and bring the whole thing to a simmer, then reduce the heat back down and let it keep barely simmering for another 20 minutes. 

Cut the heat off, add the filé and the boiled eggs, and let it all get good for about another 20 minutes or so. Then serve over rice and prepare to be wowed!

[Just so you know, if you make any purchases through the links above, I’ll receive a small affiliate commission.]

4 Comments Add yours

  1. Dang, girl, you made my mouth water! Those roux-less gumbo stories had me walking to the kitchen and pulling out spoons before I remembered I CAN’T COOK! Great writing, kiddo.

    1. Thanks!! You can cook these recipes…super easy. Just a little time consuming.

  2. Sheila Zito says:

    Thanks for the recipes. I won’t have the rice and this is low-carb! Frank can have the rice. YEA!

    1. Let me know how it turns out!

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