Making gumbo without roux is like making popcorn without salt. It might look OK, but the finished product lacks the flavor that makes the dish so tasty in the first place. Simply a mixture of fat and flour in equal amounts, roux helps to thicken gumbo and provides nutty flavor and creaminess to the dish. Some cooks swear by using okra or file powder -- or ground sassafras leaves -- in gumbo, but most recipes call for gumbo to begin with roux. Making it is time-consuming but simple, and every minute pays off in the end.
Things You'll Need
Cast iron skillet or Dutch oven
Heat a cast iron skillet or Dutch oven over medium-low heat. If you make the roux in a skillet, you can transfer the finished roux to a larger pot to continue the gumbo.
Choose a fat, such as vegetable oil, butter, or animal fat such as bacon, lard or drippings. Add the fat to the skillet and heat it for about a minute.
Sprinkle flour into the pan, using an amount equal to the amount of fat. All-purpose white flour works best, while other types -- such as whole wheat -- will alter the taste and texture of the finished roux. Whisk the fat and flour together until the mixture is smooth.
Stir the mixture continually as it darkens, using a whisk or wooden spoon. If it doesn't start darkening after 10 minutes or so, turn the heat up slightly.
Let the roux cook until it has achieved your ideal level of darkness. Most gumbos are made with a medium or dark roux, and the cooking time depends on the heat of your stove and the amount of fat and flour you use. Medium roux is the color of peanut butter, while dark roux is the color of milk or dark chocolate. It may take from 20 to 60 minutes to cook the roux completely.
Add vegetables, such as celery and onion, and stock to the hot roux. Don't allow the roux to cool down or it will coagulate.
If you notice black specks in the roux or detect a bitter odor, the mixture has started to burn and can't be salvaged. Discard burned roux and start over.
Cooking expert Alton Brown advises making a roux in the oven, according to "Saveur." Whisk together fat and flour in a Dutch oven and cook the mixture in an oven heated to 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, or until you're satisfied with the color.