Okra gumbo. Sounds redundant, eh? Doesn’t all gumbo need okra?
Well, no, actually. Gumbo needs at least one of the three standard thickeners: a roux; filé, which is powdered sassafras leaves; and/or yes, okra. This Creole gumbo is a fascinating, wonderful example of a lighter gumbo with no roux.
No roux, huh? I’ve made lots of gumbo in my life, and I eat it whenever I’m in Louisiana, which isn’t often enough unfortunately. Here on Hunter Angler Gardener Cook I have recipes for seafood gumbo, turkey gumbo, and even a venison gumbo. All have a roux as their base.
This Creole gumbo does not. I knew such a thing existed, and I’d even eaten it once at a friend’s home in New Orleans. So when I bought a copy of Toni Tipton’s amazing cookbook Jubilee: Recipes from Two Centuries of African American Cooking, I knew I had to play with her version of okra gumbo.
If you are unfamiliar with the difference between Creole and Cajun cooking, the shorthand is this: Creole is largely black, uses tomatoes and lots of okra. Cajun is largely white, skimps on tomatoes, and uses okra more sparingly. Keep in mind these are only general rules, not absolutes.
Tipton’s okra gumbo hinges on beef short ribs that are roasted in the oven before they go into the pot, a silky, lovely idea. I rarely cook with beef, however, so I went with a pair of deer shanks from a whitetail I’d shot in Oklahoma. Whatever you use, you want it to be full of connective tissue: Shanks, neck, shoulder.
This is an overlooked way of thickening gumbo. All that connective tissue helps thicken the broth, as does a generous use of okra, plus a dash or three of filé right at the end. No roux needed.
As a Creole gumbo, you might expect to see tomatoes here, and you’d be right. I use a just a touch of tomato in my Cajun gumbo, and people give me all kinds of grief about it. To hell with them, I say. But here, profligate use of tomato is encouraged.
Keep in mind that as with any gumbo, this one needs several hours on the stove, and is better the next day, or even the day after that. Make it on a weekend, and then your okra gumbo will keep a week in the fridge easily.