How to Make Gumbo Out of (Almost) Anything

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By Kathleen Flinn

For most people, the word “gumbo” traditionally inspires the image of the classic New Orleans version studded with spicy sausage and shrimp. But Chuck Taggart of the GumboPages notes, “There are as many variations on gumbo as there are Louisianians.”

If you master the basic formula, you can customize gumbo to your liking or to the contents of your fridge. After Thanksgiving, I make stock out of the leftover turkey carcass and use the leftover meat in the gumbo. I’ve made shrimp-less gumbo for friends with allergies, and Ive even used leftover bratwurst in place of spicy andouille and kicked up the seasonings. My niece makes a terrific vegetarian gumbo by replacing the meat and seafood with kale and black-eyed peas.  I’ve had gumbo with oysters, duck, rabbit, roast pork, crabs, clams, squash, corn, salmon, mussels, leftover meatloaf and eel. (Note: the latter two were just plain wrong.) Gumbo is a post-Thanksgiving tradition at our house; we use the turkey carcass as the base for the stock, and I’ve been known to toss in leftover carrots, green beans and a few brussel sprouts. My latest new trick: add a cup or two of your favorite Bloody Mary mix to add a flavor boost and some extra kick!


1) Make a good roux. It’s not hard, but it does take some patience. If you can learn to make a roux for gumbo, your gravy will love you.

2) Keep to the “trinity.” In Louisiana cooking, the “trinity” refers to the combination of onion, celery and green pepper as the basic aromatics. This union provides a specific flavor.

3) Simmer a bit. Add in tomatoes and any other vegetables you plan to use along with any sausage or flavoring meats and let simmer for about a half hour. (Add quick-cooking seafood at the end.)

4) Use good stock, whether it’s chicken or vegetable. If you’re going to use shrimp in the finished dish, be sure to buy shrimp with the shells intact to infuse the stock.

5) Don’t overwhelm it with too much “stuff.” Add about one pound each of up to three meats or seafood. If you’re going vegetarian – about 1 1/2 pounds of extra vegetables or beans.

6) Okra. I know, some people say they don’t like it. Give it a try. Okra is a natural thickener that lends a silky quality to the finished dish. Frozen okra is fine; it’s hard to find fresh.

7) Be generous with seasonings. If it doesn’t have a kick, it’s not gumbo. Consider making your own Cajun seasoning; it’s great on chicken and pasta. Also, add in a cup of Bloody Mary mix for extra complexity and spice.

8) A little citrus at the end can help to brighten the flavor considerably.


Master Recipe: Shrimp and Sausage Gumbo

Gumbo made with turkey stock after Thanksgiving

This is a variation on a recipe that appeared in The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry.  You can swap out the meats or seafood as desired, or add in additional vegetables, but take note of the tips above. If you can’t find fresh hot peppers, use extra cayenne, dried red chili flakes or hot sauce. When prepping hot peppers such as habanero, be sure to wear protective gloves to avoid “burning” your hands and, later, your eyes. As for Cajun seasoning, consider order ingmy favorite from World Spice or making your own.

How to Make Gumbo Out of (Almost) Anything
Recipe type: Soups & Stews
Cuisine: Cajun
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 10
I've outlined an oven method for dark roux that sounds daunting, but actually takes little hands-on time. If you're pressed for time, you can make a lighter "blond" roux as described in about 10 to 15 minutes and proceed. But if you go for the dark roux, you'll be amazed at the outcome. Roux can be made ahead and refrigerated for up to a week, but take care with its preparation; don't try to cook it over too high a heat. If it has many black specks, it’s ruined and you need to start over. Also, hot roux is known as “Cajun napalm” for the nasty burns it can cause, so be careful. If you omit spicy sausage, be sure to kick up the seasonings appropriately. For Cajun spice mix, you can use anything from Tony Chachere's to Emeril's but be careful if it includes added salt. Or, just use some thyme, oregano, cayenne, salt and black pepper. The gumbo with rice serves about 10. It pairs best with a dark beer.
  • 1 cup (250 ml) canola or light olive oil
  • 1 ½ cup (375 ml) all purpose flour
  • ¾ pound (375 grams) raw shrimp, shells reserved
  • 3 quarts (3 liters) brown chicken or turkey stock or vegetable broth
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil or butter
  • 1 large onion, chopped (about 2 cups)|
  • 4 ribs of celery, chopped (about 1½ cups)
  • 1 green bell pepper, seeds removed, chopped
  • 1 pound (750 grams) cooked Andouille or other sausage, sliced into bite-sized pieces
  • 1 (28 ounce) can peeled, seeded tomatoes (about 800 g)
  • 2 Habanero peppers, minced
  • 2 cups Bloody Mary mix (optional)
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 teaspoons Cajun spice blend
  • 2 bay leaves
  • ¾ pound (375 grams) okra, thawed if frozen, sliced in bite-sized pieces
  • 1 handful fresh parsley, chopped
  • 1 lemons juiced
  • Additional cayenne pepper or hot sauce, to taste
  • 4 cups hot cooked white rice
  1. Preheat oven to 315°F / 160°C degrees.
  2. For the roux, combine oil and flour in an ovenproof sauté pan or a small cast-iron skillet over medium heat. (By ovenproof, this means it doesn't have a wooden or plastic handle.) Stir constantly until the roux is light brown with a nutty smell and turns an almond color, about 10 minutes. You can stop at this point and continue with the recipe. For a dark roux, put into the oven and let cook undisturbed for the first hour. Then carefullystir every half hour afterward until it’s a dark, almost chocolate brown. This will take from 3 to 4 hours. You can do it while doing something riveting, such as watching TV or doing some laundry. Set aside and let cool.
  3. Meanwhile, shell and devein the shrimp. Put the shrimp in the fridge. Combine the shells with the stock and simmer while you prep the vegetables, about 20 minutes.
  4. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in an 8- to 12-quart pot. Cook the onions over medium heat until translucent, then add the celery and green pepper and cook until softened and starting to brown, about 8 to 12 minutes. Then, add the sausage, tomatoes with their juice, bloody mary mix, hot peppers, garlic, seasonings and bay leave. Strain the stock, tossing the shrimp and add the liquid to the gumbo. Let simmer for about 30 minutes. This would be a good time to start cooking your rice.
  5. Taste. If it needs salt or more seasoning, add it. Stir in one-third of the roux until it’s absorbed in the liquid. Keep adding roux a tablespoon at a time until the gumbo reaches the thickness you're after. Bring to a simmer and add the okra, parsley and shrimp. Cook until the shrimp are bright pink and the gumbo thickens. Finally, stir in the lemon juice, taste and add more salt or seasonings if needed. Serve over hot rice.

About katflinn

Kathleen Flinn is the author of "The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry," "The Kitchen Counter Cooking School" and "Burnt Toast Makes You Sing Good." All are published by Viking/Penguin.


  1. OMG! I was just THINKING about trying to find a good gumbo recipe for a Mardi Gras brunch on Sunday. I’m so going to try this. I like how your recipes are rather fluid, and let you know what you can change and what you shouldn’t. Very useful.

    • Thanks! I last made this around Thanksgiving with turkey, brats leftover from a football game, the last of scallops and shrimp I had frozen in the freezer and tossed in the last of the green beans from the big dinner. It was arguably one of the best gumbos ever, even though it wasn’t “authentic.”

      • OK, so I made the roux on Saturday morning while I was cleaning the house and doing laundry. I like that it is so “hands off.” I was surprised how thick it got. My husband was really impressed! I used Andouille chicken sausage, chopped ham and shrimp. I took it to the Mardi Gras brunch and people LOVED IT. I was so PROUD! It made a lot but there was absolutely none left! Everyone just raved and raved about the deep flavor, which definitely came from the roux.

        In a million years I never would have thought of even tackling a recipe like this. Thank you for the confidence!

  2. We do a big Mardi Gras party every fat Tuesday, had 40 last year, not sure house can hold more. Of course, gumbo’s on the menu. loved the oven roux trick, will pass on to my husband, the gumbo and King Cake expert. i focus on Jambalaya, shrimp creole and, of course, massive qtys of rice and fresh bread

    • This will be my first year not doing a Mardi Gras party, which has made me painfully sad. I took a bad fall and ripped all the ligaments in my right foot in January, and then a week ago came down with a just shocking case of the flu (that I am still suffering from despite being on meds). So, we decided to cancel. Send me photos of yours!

  3. Exactly how long did it take u to publish “Cook Fearless – How to Make Gumbo Out of
    (Almost) Anything”? It also has a bunch of really good knowledge.
    With thanks -Moshe

    • Hi,
      I first wrote about gumbo back in 1995. I’ve been a huge of New Orleans and it’s food since I first visited the city in 1989. A version of this recipe appeared in my 2007 book, The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry. But I’ve been tweaking this recipe for years. So thanks! To get it on the site took a couple of days.

      I had planned to offer a video with it, but I have had a terrible case of the flu for more than a week and my voice sounds terrible, so I opted for a slide show. I hope you think it works!

  4. Am going to try this for a Mardi Gras dinner on Tuesday. About two hours in on the roux now. That’s an amazing technique using the oven!

  5. Kristin Sanders says:

    Made this today and it came out great! The only thing I changed was I had to use 3 jalapeños and 3 Serrano peppers because I could not find habenero. I will never buy store bought roux after trying this recipe. Thanks for sharing!

  6. It’s gumbo time and a real treat is to add authentic andouille sausage to the dish. We order ours from the champion Lousiana sausage-maker Bailey’s in St John’s Parish. Ordering online is easy.

  7. I appreciate having this recipe as a basic formula! It just makes more sense to cook seasonally and use what ever type of protein suits you and your guests. Great posting!

  8. thank you for the recipe. We have a restaurant that makes excellent gumbo. But the cost of going out to eat any more is so extravagant in today’s world. So I told my husband that I would be looking for a recipe and giving it a try at home. I am a fairly accomplished cook, but needed a recipe for a starting point. So thank you and I will be making this as well as purchasing your book.

  9. I grew up in the South but have lived in California since my early teens. One thing I could never get enough of was gumbo as a kid and an adult. I am so happy to have found this recipe and method. I love that you don’t burn yourself making the roux, like almost every other recipe out there. I always add the holy trinity, but sometimes use red bell pepper instead of green. I always use Andouille sausage and okra but vary my stock from turkey to lamb for more flavor. I love to use up what I have on hand. Thank you so much for sharing this recipe!

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