Shrimp

Better, Lazier Gumbo Thanks to a Hands-Off Roux

February 11, 2015

 

 

A proper gumbo—thick, rich, affirming of hunger and soul—calls for a proper roux, the mix of toasted flour and fat that gives the stew a backbone.

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But a dedication to roux, in theory, used to mean constant attention and stirring on the stovetop, and knowing to stop just when the mix landed on the prescribed shade of brick or chocolate. To look away at the wrong moment would invite a dark roux to turn ashen, and make you start all over again. This all made gumbo out to be an awfully big project, one we'd have a hard time getting right.

Alton Brown soothed all of these concerns, and got people making a lot more gumbo, when he stuck his roux in the oven. I suspected this would be a controversial move, like suggesting you cook your salmon in the dishwasher or scrambled eggs in boiling water. But digging deeper, I found all kinds of gumbo tricks: quick rouxs, microwave rouxs, dry rouxs. "There are as many gumbos as there are mamas," as they say

Brown's trick, if we're to judge by the consensus of Food Network commenters and the internet at large, may be the most beloved. Call me biased; call me a proud grandma, but I'm always surprised to see a recipe comment thread that matches the enthusiasm of those on Food52. This one is is near-frenzy:

"Wish someone had taught me this technique years ago!" - sphinxylady

"I will always make roux this way. A.Brown is a roux genius." - FlavaFULL

"Oh Alton, thank you for making a roux that is easy, my arm doesnt fall off, and I dont get burned!" - Annapolis Chef

"I could never get it the right color before and now it is a no brainer!!!!!!!!" - flowerchild1959 

  

As the roux bakes for 90 minutes, you'll whisk it a couple times, but otherwise you'll be free to pull heads off of shrimp and turn them into a deep pink stock, chop up your onion-celery-pepper trinity, crack a beer, go find some bangly beads, maybe even rustle up a king cake.  

While I recommend following the recipe as written—and it's well worth the trouble of finding head-on shrimp and filé powder for what might be the most soul-stirring gumbo you've tasted—the most important lesson to take away here is that any gumbo is more within reach when you bake your roux.

You can make it vegetarian, or add lentils, or spice, or duck, or greens. You can make your stock from just the shrimp tails and peels or crab legs or lobster remains, if you simply can't find head-on shrimp (and that should be your only excuse, because shrimp heads will otherwise become your new favorite ingredient). You might want to skip the pale, out-of-season tomato, or use canned. You can leave out the filé powder if it's proving troublesome—the gumbo will lack a little flavor and thickness, but you'll manage (consider okra or more roux). Because that roux, no longer needy and unknowable, is never going to stop you again.

Alton Brown's Shrimp Gumbo

Adapted slightly from The Food Network

Serves 6

4 fluid ounces vegetable oil
4 ounces all-purpose flour (or about 1 cup less 4 teaspoons, if measuring by volume)
1 1/2 pounds raw, whole, head-on medium-sized (31-50 count) shrimp
2 quarts water
1 cup diced onion
1/2 cup diced celery
1/2 cup diced green peppers
2 tablespoons minced garlic
1/2 cup peeled, seeded, and chopped tomato (fresh or canned)
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon fresh thyme, chopped
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 bay leaves
1/2 pound andouille sausage, cut into 1/4-inch pieces and browned in a little oil
1 tablespoon filé powder

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

Got a genius recipe to share—from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at [email protected].

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Photos by Mark Weinberg

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55 Comments

Melinda F. February 5, 2016
If I added okra to this, would it be (more) authentic? Would I need to cut down on the file powder?
 
Ruthie February 5, 2016
I'll just pass on how my Mom (Cajun born in 1939 from Kaplan, LA) made her gumbos: she made either chicken and sausage gumbo or in leaner times, egg and okra gumbo. She never put the file in the gumbo pot - she left it on the side for each of us to sprinkle on ourselves :)
 
Ruthie February 4, 2016
There are no tomatoes in gumbo.
 
Eri G. February 4, 2016
Amen, sista!<br />
 
Rose L. February 4, 2016
i have a great subtitle for this: "you will never again roux the day." (please forgive me--i'm in a silly mood today)
 
bopalo February 4, 2016
Guys... that gumbo is on a PLATE. WTF. Everyone who was involved with this photo shoot needs to put on their Yankee snow boots and GO HOME.
 
KatiePete February 4, 2016
amen to this comment
 
Lauren G. February 4, 2016
Hahahaha YES
 
Kit February 5, 2016
bopalo, a couple of things: if you look carefully, you can see the shadow that shows the curve of the bowl the gumbo is served in. The other thing..... you need to pull your confederate flag out of your south end. The war is over!
 
tastysweet February 4, 2016
i just recently read that there is a huge difference between Morton Kosher Salt and the Diamond brand. One is much saltier than the other. What brand is for this recipe?
 
Marion B. February 4, 2016
Thanks to the reviewers who mentioned making several batches at once and then freezing! Great tip. I recently made this for the first time and thought it was great. Didn't have any celery so I substituted some fennel I had on hand -- an acceptable substitute. I love the taste the file powder gives, and I also love okra. So I used both, and the gumbo was not too thick. Since my husband and I are empty nesters, this recipe made enough for several meals. I only added the amount of shrimp we would eat at one meal so that when we had it a second time the shrimp were freshly cooked.
 
Frank June 3, 2015
I tried the rice flour and it made a gritty roux. Paul Prudhomme also had the dry roux method in one of his cookbooks. A local restaurant here used the microwave method. That was about 20 years ago. I have found that you have to take Alton's methods with a grain of salt. I always liked his show and bought one of his books, but I found things there that were just wrong. I emailed him about how much I liked his show and he answered right back. I emailed later about a mistake in one of his recipes and never got an answer.
 
cosmiccook February 27, 2015
This is a technique that Paul Prudhomme did year's ago --<br />New Orleanians do not as a rule put tomatoes (the 200 French/Spanish argument) in their gumbo! Paul Prudhomme demonstrated this technique years ago --<br />I'm with @Dneiko--these may be "authentic" recipes from the UPPER South but not what you'd find in NOLA and Cajun/Acadian lands!
 
Margaret R. February 26, 2015
I have a quantity of lobster stock in my freezer. Is this okay to sub for shrimp head stock?. Heads on shrimp are hard to find here in Dallas
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. February 26, 2015
Definitely.
 
Karen C. February 24, 2015
I'm from so far south, you'd have to jump in the Gulf if you went any farther. This recipe simply does not seem authentic.
 
LLStone February 18, 2015
My husband and I have been making gumbo for many years. We've always made our roux on the stove. I was telling my husband about this article and he scoffed! We tried it and it was delicious! The oven roux freed up so much time from stirring and babying the roux, and it honestly became darker than any roux I do on the stove. It also is great when you are the only one making gumbo - you can get your roux in the oven and then prep your trinity, broth, meat, etc. It will be the only way I make roux in the future. Thanks for the tip.
 
Dneiko1 February 18, 2015
I love Alton but this is not a new concept especially in the south. My mother does and has been doing it for years. I live about 45 minutes from Louisiana in Texas and a lot of people in the south use this method. I was watching an episode of 5 Ingredient Fix with Clair Robinson and she claimed she had an epiphany and thought up the oven roux method. Lol. Do your research and you will find that a lot of things that seem to be "New" especially in the food world are just trending at the moment. Sweet Potato Fries,New Potatoes(aka) Red Potatoes,Collard Greens,Pumpkin Squash,and of course Cup Cakes.Many of us grew up eating these foods especially cup cakes....Yum! These are foods that may be new to some areas of the country but are staples in others remember just do your research and you will find that most of these foods are not only a staple in these areas but you can also find authentic recipes for these foods. Question: Has anyone ever seen,eaten or even heard of a Watermelon that is yellow inside?I bet that it is new to 99% of you but I grew up eating these delicious watermelons inwhich were ALWAYS sweet as sugar! :)
 
Richard Z. February 17, 2015
PLEASE do not send me emails about new comments.
 
Kathleen A. February 17, 2015
I think you need to ask Food52, not me.
 
Kathleen A. February 16, 2015
I've been cooking for fifty years....but somewhere this went wrong. It was awful. Wasted beautiful shrimp and andouille and two plus hours of time. Not my first gumbo, but the last for this recipe. Thick, and nasty.
 
Dneiko1 February 18, 2015
Hi Kathleen,Ashley Wayman! My mom has been using this method for years and I use it sometimes. I don't mind making roux stove top because that just how I like to do it. Plus I've learned to do it quicker stove top so it doesn't take me as long. Our recipe is 1cup oil to 1-1/2 cup of flour. Start it on stove top then finish in the oven on 325 degrees until you achieve the color that you want. No stirring needed. Hope this helps! :)
 
Carol February 16, 2015
Thanks for the post about using millet flour for the rouxr........that sounds even better than the brown rice flour.........if you can't find the millet flour, buy millet and grind it into flour using the vitamix or a spice grinder.
 
Richard Z. February 16, 2015
I have no idea what file powder is??? Can someone explain please.
 
Mike V. February 17, 2015
https://www.google.com/search?q=file+powder
 
Dneiko1 February 18, 2015
File powder is a condiment that we use on top gumbo after it has been cooked. It is made from sasafrass leaves. Some people add it to their gumbo while cooking because it can be used as a thicker but traditionally this is not how its used. I hope this helped answer your question. :)
 
susan V. February 16, 2015
Wanting to make this with okra instead of file powder...add with the onions? It will thicken the sauce.
 
Dneiko1 February 18, 2015
Yep! Same results but with different flavor. Lol
 
PennyReeder February 16, 2015
Yesterday, I made the best seafood gumbo I've ever made, thanks to Alton's recipe (and if Alton Brown isn't a genius in the kitchen, who is???!) It was the best gumbo I've ever made. For many years, I've been making my roux in the microwave. Microwave roux is good, and it's quick, but the oven-baked dark roux that I made, using Alton's method, was *so delicious! Better than any roux I've ever made before! I added smoked oysters and crab to the shrimp and browned the Andouille before adding. Let those good times roll!
 
Dneiko1 February 18, 2015
It is a good method. It is better then standing over the roux watching it so it won't burn. My mom has been doing it that way before I was born. :)
 
Kristen S. February 16, 2015
We've been baking our roux for years. The recipe is in the classic Junior League cookbook Southern Sideboards from Jackson, Mississippi. It's my go to cookbook.
 
Beverly C. February 16, 2015
I have always made the oven toasted , dry roux as I try and moderate my oil intake. I have recently used wheat flour to make it more toasty tasting. Still takes about 45 minutes in a cast iron skillet and you have to make sure it doesn't scorch but it is just plain , toasted flour that you incorporate as you are sauteing your trinity. Make sure you lose the raw flour taste after you add it to the trinity.
 
Dneiko1 February 18, 2015
This is true. My mother makes it that way sometimes. :)