Last year I made a quick, blonde roux and the gumbo was really "veggie-heavy." I think I did a 180 this year. I was bound and determined to have the darkest, meatiest roux possible and I think I achieved just that. If you don't know how to make gumbo, I suggest you give it a shot. No journey has been harder or solidified me as a good cook as well as the road to the perfect gumbo. I don't use a recipe, so it is a little different each time, but I think that is the fun of it. There are a few things that I consider must-haves for a good gumbo ...
1. A well done roux. I don't mean well-done like steaks ... and I don't mean a dark roux each time. I just mean that it needs to be done well. It is definitely a labor of love; a roux can be burned or under cooked and can simply ruin an otherwise good attempt at gumbo. Depending on where your fat is coming from, the roux can cook and taste differently. I love that. And that is why I never tell someone how to make roux. It is definitely something you have to do on your own! [Unless you don't even know what it is ... in which case, you're probably not a gumbo fan.]
2. Bay leaves. I'm not sure why or how, but I can tell if a gumbo isn't made with a few key spices. Bay leaves and cayenne are probably the easiest for me to spot missing, so make sure you have these if nothing else. Just don't forget to fish them out before serving! I have a bad habit of leaving them in.
3. Time. If you're making this in under 2 hours ... it's not gumbo. Ideally, if you're going for a real dirty gumbo, you want it to sit on some heat for a couple of hours after it is completed, not including the prep and cook time. A lighter gumbo can be done in an hour, but still needs to sit and really cook. Part of the appeal of gumbo is the fact that its an entire meal on its own. That doesn't magically happen, it takes patience.
4. Giddin's. As far as what goes in, do whatever you want! My favorites are andouille sausage, chicken, shrimp, oysters [heaven!], crab claws and crawfish. Sausage and chicken go well together. I almost always use shrimp, even if it is the only seafood added. Some people don't like to mix. They either pick seafood or meat, but that is the beauty of gumbo. As far as the veggies ... the holy trinity must be present and I like okra [not used here], lots of garlic, spice and seasoning.
Here are a few shots of the process and the parade. I was busy x10 that day, so I didn't get a chance to take a lot of pictures, but I did get a few!
a whole lot of chicken thighs, I'd say 3 or 4lbs.