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Deals Week, Day 3: D’Artagnan and Messermeister

Deals Week, Day 3: D’Artagnan and Messermeister

[Photograph: Liz Clayman] Welcome to day three of Small(er) Business Deals Week! You’re probably an old pro at this by now, but in case you’re new here, we’ve secured exclusive discounts with some of our favorite brands this week, just for Serious Eats readers. Each […]

Deals Week Day 2: ThermoWorks and La Tienda

Deals Week Day 2: ThermoWorks and La Tienda

Welcome to day two of Small(er) Business Deals Week! We’ve secured exclusive discounts with some of our favorite brands just for Serious Eats readers. We hope you scored some great items yesterday, and we hope you’re ready for more! As a reminder, each day deals […]

Over It: The Food Trends We’d 86

Over It: The Food Trends We’d 86


Two hands displaying the two halves of a split ripe avocado

[Photograph: Vicky Wasik]

Everything becomes popular for a reason—high-waisted pants are flattering, little kids flossing on the jumbotron at sports games are cute, and who can resist a twangy country-trap track that samples Nine Inch Nails and expresses a longing to get away from it all with a couple of horses in tow?

The problem is, some trends just seem oblivious to that music playing them off, and the food world offers plenty of examples. It doesn’t help that our social media–governed lives drive many of us to post photos of everything we eat online, providing incentive for the creation of foods that look a lot better than they taste, or edible monstrosities that exist mainly for their shock value.

But a food trend doesn’t have to be grossly offensive to be bothersome; just…tired. Exhausted, in some cases. If it seems like a large portion of this list could have been written two, three, or even five years ago, that’s a testament to how stubbornly these once-hot notions have clung to relevancy. Here are the ingredients, dishes, and restaurant features we’d happily show the door.

Stella Parks, Pastry Wizard

Black truffle oil. Look, we get it—you have no idea how to make macaroni and cheese taste good. Try using better-quality cheese, okay? It’s not 2005 anymore; you can bump up your check average with cans of rosé instead. Let French fries be French fries, bro.

Sho Spaeth, Features Editor

  • Tonkotsu ramen is boring even when it’s good, and it’s often bad.
  • American “izakaya” (they’re not izakaya).
  • It’s more of an indictment of an entire nation’s tastes than a trend, but the complete list of edible fish is not “salmon, tuna.”

Maggie Lee, UX Designer

Cashless restaurants are wack. This discriminatory practice may offer some benefits to business operations, but mostly it just signals to people who rely on cash, and are already economically vulnerable, that their kind isn’t welcome. It’s lazy to use the rationalization that “the unbanked” are not typical fine-dining patrons, since many cashless establishments are fast-casual lunch joints and bare-bones cafés. And, since the majority of customers pay by card anyway, I see no extreme difficulty with taking cash for a few transactions each hour. I am glad to see that some cities have decided to ban the practice.

Grace Chen, Office Manager and Associate Podcast Producer

A head of cauliflower sitting next to a chef's knife on a wooden board

[Photograph: J. Kenji López-Alt]

Cauliflower rice. Cauliflower pizza. Cauliflower gnocchi. Cauliflower mac and cheese. Soon everything from pencils to skyscrapers will be made of cauliflower, too. Once just a mere cousin to broccoli, cauliflower has now risen to form its own powerful dynasty, and it must be stopped.

Elazar Sontag, Assistant Editor

I’m all for cooking from scratch, and I’m a huge fan of restaurants that make nearly every element of every dish themselves. But mayonnaise and ketchup should never, ever be homemade. Yeah, sure, “house-made ketchup” is a nice thing to be able to print on your menu, but it’s really never as good as the stuff that’s 50% sugar. I’d place bets that even in restaurants where chefs are making their own condiments, they pull out the Hellmann’s and Heinz for staff meal—as they should.

Sasha Marx, Senior Culinary Editor

  • Micro-green garnishes. Dishes that use them look dated, and that cutesy micro basil or cilantro usually ends up in a wilted, sad heap as it steams on the way to the table. Micros also cost a lot more than full-grown herbs, and most of the time don’t taste like much.
  • Zoodles and their spiralized siblings. Don’t try to sell me on a bowl of soggy, limp vegetables. I’m all set.
  • Hard seltzer. Any trend that Four Loko gets in on is bad news.

Yasmine Maggio, Social Media Intern

Pumpkin spice–flavored everything. I’m here for the fall enthusiasm, and I’ll allow the pumpkin spice lattes and pumpkin bread, but it has to stop there. Pumpkin spice salsa. Pumpkin spice kale chips. Pumpkin spice Spam. It’s truly gotten out of hand. Just give me plain old cinnamon, which was always meant to be the one true fall spice.

Kristina Bornholtz, Social Media Editor

A wooden tray of fresh orange uni (sea urchin roe) on a wooden surface

[Photograph: J. Kenji López-Alt]

I’m over uni. It’s not sustainable, and it doesn’t taste that good. Sorry!

Miranda Kaplan, Senior Editor

Square has made it a lot easier for small food businesses to take credit cards, and that’s dandy, but it also subtly pressures you into tipping on transactions that would formerly never be thought to entail gratuities. Tipping is a really poor system in the first place for ensuring that people get paid decently—which is not to say I don’t tip! I do, but it’s a terrible system, just like the health insurance that I regularly pay into!—and it’s awkward to be confronted with that tip-option screen every time I pay for someone to spend five seconds pouring me a cup of drip coffee, and to know that they’re going to see whether I chose to tip or not. The logical end of all this is tipping hyperinflation and massive pent-up resentment between customers and service professionals. For the love of god, let’s just start paying all food-service employees a living wage instead of forcing everyone to participate in this ludicrous charade.

Okay, and just one more thing, which is unfortunately probably less “annoying trend” by now and more “permanent feature of dining out”: I’m endlessly bitter over café-height restaurant tables, a.k.a. high-tops. So you’re saying I can have all the discomfort of sitting on a stool, with none of the conviviality of eating at the bar? Spend my whole meal deciding whether to perch on the extreme edge of the chair, thereby reaching my food easily but pinching myself in some very uncomfortable places, or lean back and just observe my meal from a distance instead of eating it? Hoping against hope that I don’t drop a credit card or pen on the floor? Sign me up! When I was pregnant, I actively avoided certain restaurants based on the likelihood that I’d be seated at a high-top; getting in and out of a regular chair is hard enough when you have a beach ball where your belly used to be.

Daniel Gritzer, Managing Culinary Director

Salad mixes. I won’t judge all the tired and overworked souls out there who just need an easy way to get some greens in their diet; we all do what we gotta do. But in “nice” restaurants? Are you f***ing kidding me? When a server delivers a plate that’s absentmindedly piled with limp and lifeless greens, a few rotten and slimy strands clinging to the undersides of some sturdy tatsoi leaves, I want to scream, Is there no love? Any chef passing that crap off as a salad should pack up their knives and find a new career.

Ariel Kanter, Director of Commerce

A slice of avocado toast topped with sliced mango, chopped mint, and chili powder

[Photograph: Vicky Wasik]

Avocados have got to go. On toast, in salads, with a scoop of cottage cheese in the pit hole, sprinkled with Maldon sea salt. I’m tired of their healthy fats and ubiquity. Every time someone tells me how much they love avocados, a little piece of my soul dies.

And it’s not the texture; it’s the taste! Does anyone else think that avocados taste a little metallic? Is my mouth broken? That’s the only reason I can think of for why everyone in my life loves avocados and I just can’t get on board. Or maybe everyone else’s mouths are broken. Either way, it’s time to retire the avocado and start worshipping some other, more deserving vegetable.

John Mattia, Video Editor

I don’t like this trend of using the word protein in a dining context to mean “meat and meat substitutes.” Just call it “meat.” Shrimp is meat. Fish is meat. Seitan is meat. Tofu is meat!

All products linked here have been independently selected by our editors. We may earn a commission on purchases, as described in our affiliate policy.



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Deals Week Day 1: Murray’s Cheese, Snuk Foods, and Lloyd Pans

Deals Week Day 1: Murray’s Cheese, Snuk Foods, and Lloyd Pans

We’re excited to introduce Small(er) Business Deals Week, where we’ve secured exclusive discounts with some of our favorite brands just for Serious Eats readers. There’s nothing wrong with shopping from the big guys, but this week is all about the start-ups, the mom-and-pops, and the […]

A Field Guide to Sweet Potato Varieties (and the Dirt on Yams)

A Field Guide to Sweet Potato Varieties (and the Dirt on Yams)

[Photograph: Vicky Wasik] There are very few foods I can’t live without. I grew up with vegetarian parents, so I can comfortably go decent stretches of time without meat. I’ve shed sugar from my diet for months, and taken long (okay, long-ish) breaks from drinking. […]

Your Friday Moment of Zen

Your Friday Moment of Zen


An illustration of a fish (lemon sole) with a flat body, golden scales, and darker spots

[Illustration: Biodiversity Heritage Library (license here)]

You did it! Another week crossed off!

We’re putting up a post very much like this one every Friday afternoon, to celebrate the fact that the week is done. Up with the days that start with S! Down with the days that don’t start with S!

We think of this series as something of a send-off for the week, giving you the option of a brief interlude for your Friday afternoon. Of course, if your work week is just starting, or if you’re still in the thick of it, think of this as a pick-me-up for your personal hump day, or as a nice way to kick off your weekend shifts.

We hope to provide a short mix of mostly silly, mostly food-related, mostly entertaining things to look at, listen to, and read, and we hope you’ll find it amusing, and maybe, sometimes, edifying and enlightening. We also see it as an opportunity to go over some of what’s new on the site, which you, dear readers, may have missed.

If you have feedback, or if you run across any interesting/oddball/totally crazy stories/podcasts/images/videos during the week that you think may be appropriate for this little collection of miscellany, email us! We can’t guarantee that we’ll use it, but we will 100% appreciate the effort.

What’s New on Serious Eats

You can, of course, browse all our content in reverse-chronological order. But for you, on this day, some highlights:

  • Daniel went into the gumbo-verse and somehow came out intact on the other side, giving us the lowdown on what qualifies as a gumbo, providing a recipe for a nicely traditional Cajun chicken and andouille gumbo, and terrifying us with visions of nutria stew.
  • Speaking of slurpable regional-American dishes that spark endless authenticity debates, contributing writer Terrence Doyle ate his way through Boston’s seafood restaurants to find the best chowdah in the Cradle of Liberty. Wicked. Nahc. “I’m nawt a cawp!”
  • Responding to popular demand, we rounded up a bunch of our cookie recipes that don’t require eggs. More (and more variety) than you’d think! Plus, it features Stella’s most recent cookie accomplishment—vegan olive oil chocolate chip cookies.
  • Stella showed us how to blend almond flour with AP flour to make an almond cake that’s sort of like a Euro almond torte crossed with an American-style layer cake. It’s equal parts fluffy and nutty, like a hyperactive pet rabbit.

Our Favorite Comments of the Week

From Stella’s recipe for glossy fudge brownies:

Made these for my wife and found to my delight they have aphrodisiac properties. I thought they could be a tad more chocolatey at 72%, so I might up that to 77% next time.

From a commenter (who we are frankly quite worried about), in response to “‘You’re All Monsters’: Our Unpopular Very Correct Food Opinions” (sorry we keep bringing this one up, but it’s still producing comment gold):

@Niki: Yesss! Mush is the best texture. Soggy is the only way to eat fries.

Sandwiches are a necessary evil at best. If you’re actually Lord Sandwich (the Earl of Sandwich? w/e) and you can’t pause your billiards for dinner, I guess go ahead and wrap some bread around your meat. I can’t stop you from two centuries in the future. For everyone else, bread makes your meat terminally bland, and adding nastiness like mayo and pickles only makes it worse. The only ok sandwich is grilled cheese, or PBJ in a true emergency when you don’t have a spoon to eat your peanut butter off of.

I might or might not be able to think of a savory food that wouldn’t be improved by ranch dressing. Pizza is really not one of those foods. Ranch might actually make it taste like something.

Anti-sandwich. Anti-pizza. Anti-pickle. Pro-mush. *head explodes*

A Brief Verse Break

Onion,

luminous flask,

your beauty formed

petal by petal,

crystal scales expanded you

and in the secrecy of the dark earth

your belly grew round with dew….

I have praised everything that exists,

but to me, onion, you are

more beautiful than a bird

of dazzling feathers,

heavenly globe, platinum goblet,

unmoving dance

of the snowy anemone

and the fragrance of the earth lives

in your crystalline nature.

From “Ode to the Onion,” by Pablo Neruda.

Food Numbers, News, and Hijinks

  • $8.99: price of a set of finger guards to protect yourself against Cheeto dust, mozzarella-stick grease, and all sorts of other grubby finger foods.
  • $2,282.48: total approximate retail value of the grand-prize package awarded to Mrs. T’s Chief Pierogy Officer, a role you can soon apply for on the company’s Facebook page.
  • 12,000–35,000: number of Haitians killed in the infamous “Parsley Massacre” ordered by Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo, 82 years ago this week. So named because Trujillo’s forces identified Haitian migrants according to how they pronounced the Spanish word for parsley (perejil).
  • I bet I can erase at least half of this. With my mouth!
  • Thanks to a promotion by KFC, you can now play an online dating-simulator video game in which the goal is to win the affections of an extra-crispy, very-much-not-original-recipe anime Colonel Sanders.
  • And there must be something in the fast-food water, because Wendy’s just released a D&D-like tabletop role-playing game called “Feast of Legends”, which enjoins you to fight against the enemy of frozen beef.
  • Noted felt-food artist Lucy Sparrow has just opened a new exhibit at Rock Center, titled Lucy Sparrow’s Delicatessen on 6th and featuring an abundance of fruit, cheeses, shellfish, chocolate—all made of huggably soft cloth.

Have a wonderful weekend, everybody!

All products linked here have been independently selected by our editors. We may earn a commission on purchases, as described in our affiliate policy.





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Boston Chefs’ Guide | Serious Eats

Boston Chefs’ Guide | Serious Eats

Boston is a city often described as old-school, traditionalist—puritanical, even. But Beantown’s hospitality insiders want you to know there’s much more forward-thinking food and drink here than the city gets credit for. Whether you’re craving pristine fish in a gorgeous plate of sashimi (or in […]

Special Sauce 2.0: “Ask Kenji” and Nicholas Morgenstern on Sundaes

Special Sauce 2.0: “Ask Kenji” and Nicholas Morgenstern on Sundaes

[Nicholas Morgenstern photograph: Pete Deevakul. Sundae photograph: Vicky Wasik] For the first segment of this episode of Special Sauce 2.0, Kenji takes a question from serious eater Phil on how to make naan in a Big Green Egg. It starts with our grilled naan recipe […]

What Makes Gumbo Gumbo? A Guide to Louisiana’s Signature Stew

What Makes Gumbo Gumbo? A Guide to Louisiana’s Signature Stew


Two bowls of gumbo and rice on the table

[Photographs: Vicky Wasik]

The smell that wafts up from a pot of bubbling gumbo is unlike anything else I’ve ever cooked or eaten. No matter how much gumbo I eat, no matter how thoroughly it satisfies my cravings for comfort food, no matter how plainly delicious it is, it somehow manages to taste just beyond what’s familiar. In his 1978 book, Creole Gumbo and All That Jazz, the chef Howard Mitcham expressed a similar sentiment: “Gumbo is a mystique. Like jazz and the blues…. Oh, it’s just impossible to describe it.” I can’t think of another dish as singular and perplexing. This is the mystery at the center of the gumbo-verse.

Just as difficult to understand is why gumbo has such an elusive quality. Its basic building blocks aren’t all that unusual. There’s the roux, and the aromatic base of vegetables that are common to plenty of other Cajun and Creole dishes, like étouffée and jambalaya. There are the various meats, sausages, and seafoods that might make their way into the pot, depending on the recipe. Sure, the thickeners, okra and filé powder, aren’t so common, but those alone don’t fully explain it.

Somehow, it’s all of those elements combined. A lot of dishes get smacked with the “more than the sum of its parts” description, but with gumbo, I find it to be more literally true. Any one of gumbo’s components would add an interesting flavor to another dish, but all of them together tie a culinary knot that isn’t so easily untangled. That’s part of what makes gumbo such fun to eat and to cook—it beguiles as much as it pleases.

What Is Gumbo?

Spooning a big ladleful of gumbo from the pot

Perhaps I’ve oversimplified it. Gumbo isn’t a single stew (or, as some might call it, a single soup) with a distinctive flavor. Gumbo is more like many stews, at times strikingly different ones, making it hard to always spot the common threads.

There are gumbos with every meat you can imagine, and some you probably can’t, unless giant-rat gumbo is on your radar. There are gumbos with chicken and shrimp, with turkey, with crabs, with duck and beef and pork, all manner of sausage and frog and, yes, nutria (the rodent). These can be combined in freewheeling ways, or not combined.

Sautéing rounds of andouille sausage for gumbo (the chicken, already browned, is on a tray off to the side of the pot; it will all be added back to the stew later)

Andouille sausage and chicken are two common proteins in gumbo, but not the only ones by a long shot.

Then there’s gumbo z’herbes, a Lenten version made with an acre’s worth of sundry greens and not a scrap from the animal kingdom. Speaking of vegetables, some gumbos, Creole ones, have tomato; others, Cajun ones, do not. But I wouldn’t be surprised if there are Cajun gumbos that sneak in a little tomato and Creole gumbos that don’t use it. (I’m not sure I’ve seen such exceptions, but I’ve also never gone looking for them.)

What do all gumbos have in common? First, they’re thickened and flavored with a roux—a paste of flour cooked in fat—that’s grown toasted and dark. They also share an aromatic base, known in Cajun and Creole cooking as the “holy trinity,” of diced onions, green bell pepper, and celery. But an étouffée also contains a roux and the holy trinity, so those components alone aren’t enough to signal that you’re in clear gumbo territory. And, as we’ve seen, there’s hardly a meat that doesn’t have a place in some form of gumbo or other.

Stirring a large pot of gumbo

Therefore, the defining element is something else. Really, it’s two things, each of which acts as an additional thickener on top of the roux. One is okra, the vegetable famous for its slimy consistency. The other is filé powder, made from ground dried sassafras leaves. Some cooks use one, some the other, some both. (See what I mean? Even when you get down to the essence of gumbo, it slithers between your fingers, refusing to be pinned down to any single explanation.)

Gumbo is perhaps the most literal melting pot. Its influences are African (okra), French (roux), Choctaw Indian (filé powder), German (sausages), Spanish, Italian, and more. Like almost everything else about gumbo, even its name evades a clear origin story. Some think it came from the Choctaw word for filé powder, kombo. Others suspect it’s derived from a West African word for okra, ki ngombo. I think it’s cool that there could be two such equally credible etymologies, leaving nearly everything about gumbo perfectly obscured, almost as if it were fated to be this way.

Making gumbo follows the basic method for most stews:

  1. Brown the meats.
  2. Sauté the aromatics.
  3. Add liquid, like stock, and seasonings, like herbs and spices.
  4. Cook until the meats that need tenderizing are tender and the flavors have concentrated and melded; add any quick-cooking proteins, like shrimp and oysters, at the end.

Since those steps are so familiar, the questions, for me, revolved around the roux (how to make it, and when to add it) and the thickeners, okra and filé powder (what each contributes to the pot, and how a cook should decide on which to reach for). I worked for weeks on a recipe for Cajun gumbo, with chicken and andouille sausage, to learn more.

The Roux Roulette

Composite image of different roux (white, blond, peanut butter, and dark) in a cast iron skillet

A roux in various phases of darkness: white, blond, peanut butter, and dark (or chocolate).

A roux is one of the most basic of thickeners. When flour is cooked with butter very briefly and then thinned with milk, you end up with béchamel, or white sauce; add stock and pan drippings to a roux, and you have gravy. Toast the flour more (in butter or oil), and it progresses through shades of darkness until it’s the color of chocolate, just shy of black.

As I explained in my guide to roux, as the starch in the flour toasts, it becomes less and less effective as a thickener; this is because the starch molecules themselves break down into smaller pieces, reducing their thickening ability. That means the darker your roux, the more of it you’ll need to get the same level of thickening power.

This photo of roux samples demonstrates how the thickening power of flour decreases as its toasting level increases

The darker a roux gets, the less effective it is as a thickener.

Since the roux in a gumbo is often cooked quite dark, you need to be fairly generous with it if you want it to contribute much thickening power at all. This heavy dose of dark roux gives gumbo one of its signature and, for most of us, unfamiliar qualities—there’s nothing quite like the smell of that deep, dark roux. The closest thing I can think of is the crust on a well-baked loaf of bread, but even that’s not quite the same.

How you cook the roux and when to add it as part of the basic stew-making framework are fundamental questions, with significant implications for the overall cooking time, taste, and texture of the gumbo. Let’s start with how to make the roux.

The Best Way to Make a Roux for Gumbo

Cooking a roux to the chocolate brown stage for gumbo

Traditionally, a roux is stirred over moderate to low heat as it gradually transitions from white to dark; exactly how dark is a matter of taste, though most gumbos lean toward a darker roux. The low heat is an insurance policy—you can raise it and cook your roux faster, but your margin of error shrinks accordingly. The higher the heat, the higher your chances of scorching the flour and ruining your gumbo. It’s a tightrope walk between just-dark-enough and acrid, and going low and slow makes it a lot easier to get it right.

The cost of this approach is the tedium of standing over the pot, stirring frequently to make sure the layer of flour on the bottom of the vessel hasn’t burned. This can take a rather boring hour of your limited lifespan to do.

You can make the most of that time by using it to dice your trinity of aromatic vegetables, bouncing back and forth between stirring and chopping. But, once again, multitasking adds to the risk: Get too caught up in the bell pepper you’re cutting up, and you may accidentally burn your roux.

Another approach is to cook the roux in the oven. At 350°F (180°C), an oven roux will take several hours to reach the chocolate stage. If you’re trying to cook a pot of gumbo to eat the same day, that’s likely too much time devoted to the roux. If you have lots of time near the kitchen, as I did one day when testing this recipe while working from home, it can be a great approach. It’s largely hands-off, since the roux won’t scorch nearly as quickly as it can over a direct heat source like the stovetop, and it’s so slow that it makes it almost impossible to overcook the roux. (Go ahead, prove me wrong; I know someone has it in them.)

A third option, popularized by Cook’s Illustrated, is to cook a dry roux by toasting the flour without the oil. I liked this idea in theory, but I didn’t warm to it in practice. Without the oil to help distribute heat more evenly, I found that my flour cooked irregularly, making it easier to burn some particles while I waited for others to catch up. Even more frustrating, I had a much harder time judging doneness visually without the presence of the oil, since toasted flour grows a few notches darker once it’s wet with oil.

Ultimately, I’d encourage you to use whichever method you have time for. If you’re under the gun, do it on the stovetop, and, if you want, take a risk with higher heat and more stirring. If you don’t feel comfortable with that level of roux risk (rousk?), do it on the stovetop at a lower heat. And if you have plenty of time, use the oven, since it’ll free you up to do other things while the roux cooks.

When to Add the Roux to Gumbo

Adding a roux to the pot of gumbo (the roux can go in at different stages of the process; here it's going in after the stew has cooked for a while)

Should roux be in the pot from the beginning, or can you add it near the end of cooking?

One of the things most experienced cooks think about is how to nest their tasks: If you can start a lengthier task first, and then take care of quicker ones while it chugs along, you’ll save time overall. But this assumes the nesting doesn’t create problems for the recipe. As someone who already spends more than enough time in the kitchen, any minutes I could shave off my gumbo recipe without compromising it would be a win. The only question was if it would work.

Two methods of cooking the holy trinity (aromatic vegetables) of gumbo: in the roux at left, and in oil (with the roux added later) at right

In the pot on the left, the roux is there when the aromatic vegetables are added; at right, the aromatic vegetables cook without the roux, which gets added near the end of cooking instead.

Think of it this way. You can make the gumbo step by step, all in the same pot—browning the meats, then cooking the roux, then adding the aromatics, and finally simmering it all together. This takes forever.

Or, you could try to nest the tasks, making the roux in one pot while you brown the meats, sauté the aromatics, and simmer everything together except the roux, then adding the roux when it’s done. By overlapping the roux-cooking step with the stew-simmering step, you stand to save a lot of time, but it’s only worth it if the results are more or less the same.

Strangely, the results aren’t the same. Everyone at Serious Eats who tried separate batches representing each approach preferred the flavor of the gumbo cooked in consecutive stages. I agreed; it was deeper, richer, and sweeter, though it was also thinner and had a pool of grease on top. The gumbo that cooked alongside its roux, and had the roux added toward the end, was less complex and deeply flavorful, though it was also better emulsified and thicker, with a glossier sheen.

I have a thought about why: A roux acts as an emulsifier, holding the oil molecules evenly dispersed throughout the water and not allowing them to separate. (Think of gravy, which shouldn’t have grease pooling on top despite the presence of liquid fat.) When the roux is in the pot from the beginning and simmers throughout the entire cooking time, the emulsion is more likely to break, allowing fats to pool on the surface and leaving a thinner liquid base behind. Those pooled fats can then be skimmed off completely, leaving a cleaner-tasting and clearer broth behind.

When the roux is added later on and simmered for a shorter period of time, it has a better chance of holding a more stable emulsion. Any fats in the pot that didn’t get skimmed off before the roux was added remain suspended in the gumbo. It makes for a nicer-looking gumbo, all glossy and perfectly emulsified, but one with a duller flavor.

Is that a reason not to ever overlap the roux and stewing steps to save time? No, especially if you’re in a rush. But if you do have time, my tests seem to indicate you’ll get a tastier gumbo if you let it all cook together from the beginning.

Okra or Filé?: Getting Into the Thick of It

Adding okra to the pot of gumbo

The roux gets you only so far. Yes, you could increase the quantity of roux even more to thicken the gumbo further, but the toasted flavor and fat can really start to weigh the gumbo down if you get too roux-heavy. So you still need a way to push the liquid in the gumbo to a more spoon-coating texture. Enter okra and filé powder.

Okra is a seed pod. When stewed, it becomes mucilaginous, an unappealing word if ever there was one—meaning that it turns slimy. Many people despise okra for its sliminess, but in gumbo, that slimy quality can help to thicken the cooking liquids.

Okra also has its own green, vegetal flavor, which adds another layer of complexity to the gumbo if you use it. There’s not too much more to say about it than that. You likely already know how you feel about okra. If you hate it, you’re going to want to get some filé powder instead. If you love it, as I do, go to town. The more, the slimier!

Either way, filé is worth trying. Made from sassafras leaves, filé powder (also sometimes called gumbo filé) is finely ground, with a green-brown color that makes it look like Japanese matcha tea that’s been sitting on a shelf for a few too many years. Its similarity to tea doesn’t end there—it also tastes distinctly tea-like, with a clean, green, herbal vibe. Despite coming from the same plant whose roots are used to give root beer its taste, filé powder itself has no obvious root-beer character.

A photo of filé powder in the container, with some sprinkled to show what it looks like: it's a fine powder the a green-brown color

If you want to use filé as a thickener, add it to your gumbo once it’s finished cooking, since it loses its thickening effect the longer it’s simmered. Go easy; even a half teaspoon can be enough to gloss up the liquids and give the gumbo an herbal edge. You can also sprinkle filé on each serving tableside as a seasoning, either in addition to using it as a thickener or in place of it.

Remember, the okra and filé are not mutually exclusive—you can use both. As with most things in the gumbo-verse, you have options. Lots of them.

A spoonful of gumbo, with andouille sausage and okra, from a serving bowl of gumbo and rice

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Cajun Gumbo With Chicken and Andouille Sausage Recipe

Cajun Gumbo With Chicken and Andouille Sausage Recipe

[Photographs: Vicky Wasik] With a dark roux, the “holy trinity” of aromatic vegetables—onion, green pepper, and celery—tender chicken, spicy andouille sausage, and your choice of thickener (okra, filé powder, or both), this Cajun-style gumbo has it all. It’s generously seasoned with cayenne pepper, black pepper, […]