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Filé Gumbo

Okra?  Or no okra?  Gumbo is a derivative of the west African word kigombo.  Africans brought to this country as slaves introduced kigombo, or okra first to the west Indies where it was traditionally used as a thickener for their soups and stews.   Eventually it was brought to southern Louisiana where is became a staple in Cajun and Creole cooking.  While many popular gumbo recipes no longer call for okra instead relying on file powder or a roux for thickening, the name itself implies it should be in there somewhere.

This recipe, based on the gumbos in Paul Prudhomme’s Louisiana Kitchen is one of my oldest and has remained unchanged for years. It uses both okra and filé powder (ground sassafras) for thickening and flavor, avoiding the hassle of making a roux.

Seasoning Mix:  
½ teaspoons cayenne
1 tablespoon sweet paprika
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon white pepper
½ teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 whole bay leaf
5 cups chicken or vegetable broth
¼ cup (½ stick) unsalted butter
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 cups chopped onion
2 cups chopped celery
1 cup chopped bell pepper
2-10 ounce packages frozen okra (or equivalent fresh)
3 tablespoons File powder
3 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 cup canned tomato sauce
1 pound small shrimp, peeled and de-veined
1 pound boneless chicken, cubed

Melt the butter, over medium heat, in a pot large enough to hold all the ingredients.  Add the onion, peppers, celery, and okra. Turn heat to high and stir in the filé powder, garlic and seasoning mix. Cook for 6 minutes, stirring constantly. Reduce heat to medium and stir in the tomato sauce; continue cooking for 6 minutes stirring constantly.

During this period the mixture may begin sticking to the bottom of the pan. As it does so continually scrape pan bottom well. The scrapings not only add to the flavor but also decreases the ability of the filé powder to thicken.

Add the stock and bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, for one hour, stirring occasionally.

While the veggies are simmering, heat the oil, in a skillet, over medium-high heat.  Add the chicken and brown well, about 2 minutes per batch (see notes), set aside.  When the veggies having finished simmering, turn off the heat and add the chicken and shrimp, allow to poach for about 15 minutes.

Serve in a soup bowl over white rice.


  1. The chicken may need to be browned in batches to avoid cooling the skillet.  If the skillet is cooled excessively the chicken will release its moisture, resulting in boiled chicken, not browned.
  2. To adjust the spiciness of the gumbo simply adjust the amount of cayenne, white and black peppers.  However, try to maintain the proper ratio

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