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I like the idea of Gumbo, but I have had limited success in making it. . It seems to be a very varied dish and two recipes which call themselves gumbo can seem to have little in common.

So I am wondering what is Gumbo and what is the secret to making it good?

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2 Answers 2

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Gumbo is a creolized (blending of different cultures) dish that was really a way of making use of many whatever might be on hand. The word "Gumbo" itself comes from the African Bantu tribal language which uses the word "Ngambo" for okra. In the plantation culture of the south "ngambo" became "gumbo" and eventually came to be the word for a soup containing okra. In the deep south of South Carolina and southern Georgia it typically has Okra in it to provide thickening from the mucilaginous substance secreted from the okra.

As people moved westward toward the Louisiana region they adopted the Choctaw Indian method of using ground sassafras leaves (gumbe file) as the preferred thickening method in that area. Sidenote: Gumbo file is considered to be the only indigenous north American spice.

Without knowing what it is that you've been disappointed with, it's difficult to make suggestions. As with so many regional dishes there are certain consistencies but more often than not...more variations. This is one of those items where there isn't necessarily ONE primary method.

Some gumbos use a roux for added depth of flavor, color, and thickening while others are more broth based.

The main consistency is that it is typically served ladled over rice.

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Great mention of gumbo filé. I'd add that it should be sprinkled on before serving, and not as part of the actual cooking. Also of note is that some filé powders contain other spices, so be aware of the taste impact before using those (I prefer a plain version). –  zanlok Apr 6 '11 at 20:16

Gumbo is a dish originating in Louisiana. It is a recipe that evolved from a blending of cultures but mainly is a dish using many types of animal protein to make a flavorful food. The primary reason for it's inception was to make large quantities of food to feed lots of people from small amounts of animal protein.

Two secrets to making a flavorful gumbo is to make a dark roux, and the use of a stock instead of plain water.

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@justkt - if the link is removed, can we nix your/my comments? –  zanlok Apr 6 '11 at 20:18

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