A roux for gumbo is often darker than most other types of roux, and adds flavor and color as well as thickening the gumbo. Flour is the traditional starch for making a roux, although you can use other grain and root starches. Pancake mix won't work. It contains ingredients that are suitable for baking, but won't work well in a savory dish.
A Traditional Classic
Traditionally, gumbo roux is made by whisking flour into hot oil, butter or bacon drippings, typically at a ratio of 1 part flour to 1 part fat. The roux is cooked over medium heat, stirring constantly, until it thins from a thick paste to the consistency of pancake batter. As it cooks, it turns from off-white to golden brown to dark brown or nearly black, depending on how long you cook it. It requires a careful eye to make sure it doesn't burn.
The Scoop on Pancake Mix
If pancake mix contained only flour, you could certainly use it as a substitute, but most pancake mixes also contain sugar, salt and a leavener, such as baking powder or baking soda. Some pancake mixes also contain dried eggs, dried milk or shortening. These ingredients may clump, burn or react negatively with other ingredients in the gumbo. They'll also add undesirable flavors, such as extra sweetness or vanilla.
Although pancake mix probably won't work well in a roux, flour's not the only starch for thickening gumbo. Use sweet rice flour as a gluten-free alternative, whisking it into hot butter or oil just as you would flour. Add cornstarch or potato starch at the end of cooking at a rate of 1 tablespoon for each 2 to 4 cups of liquid, depending on how thick you want the gumbo. Cornstarch and potato starch both have a neutral flavor. Cornstarch has the liabilities of breaking down if frozen and giving a slight sheen to the dish. Potato starch is the better choice, but you may need to go to a health food store to find it.
Forget pancake mix, flour and other starches. You can avoid these thickeners altogether with a few simple tricks. Scoop out some of the gumbo before you add the shrimp and other meats. Allow the reserved liquid to cool slightly before pureeing it in the blender. This mixture of pureed broth, onions, okra, tomatoes and celery helps thicken gumbo without extra starch and also adds a greater depth of flavor. Another trick is to soak a few slices of stale bread in the gumbo for a few minutes. Puree the bread with a bit of the broth and return it to the pot.
- Photo Credit Jupiterimages/Stockbyte/Getty Images