Yield: 6 to 8 servings
While I think this gumbo really is “the best,” “THE BEST” in the recipe title is a reference to the way “Cook’s Country” host and creator, Christopher Kimball, always pronounces their recipes “the best,” as in, “So, there you have it: the best _____________” (fill in the blank).
I am a longtime devotee of Cook’s Illustrated Magazine. I once purchased a $30 subscription so I could access 1 cookie recipe…and it was worth it! So, I was delighted to recently stumble upon their public television program “Cook’s Country.” It was there that I discovered a recipe for gumbo with an oven-baked roux–brilliant! So I subscribed to their website at the “free” level in order to access it. And I’m so glad I did!
First, you have to understand that I come from a family of Texans and Mississippians (as you know, these states flank Louisiana) who take their roux VERY seriously. The perfect color (“old copper penny”) and how best to achieve it is a topic of great debate, along with the elusive pursuit of the perfect “gumbo,” a melange that has gained mythological status in at least 10 households across four states. But, after making and tasting the roux last night (yes, it’s just toasted flour and oil, but I wanted to commit the flavor to memory and see if I could detect it), I now understand how critical the perfect roux is to the finished product. The deep, rich, toasty notes were not only detectable, but utterly delectable and absolutely essential to achieving “gumbo” rather than “soup”!
Until last night, I had never actually made gumbo. Shocking, I know. As a pescetarian, many years ago, I was served gumbo that I loved. But, more recently, I have been served vegan versions that were highly disappointing, so I have been a little hesitant to try my hand. Plus, the idea of stirring a roux for upwards of an hour didn’t fit my schedule. Cook’s Country’s inspired oven method for making the roux was what first caught my attention because THAT I could manage.
Though I say I haven’t made gumbo, I have, in fact, been a lowly sous chef in my uncle and aunt, Wally and Jo White’s, Houston kitchen, dutifully slicing and dicing, all for an end product that I couldn’t eat, though the ritual was fun. Wally’s recipe, a long time in development, is considered the gold standard in our family.
And for that family, gumbo = seafood gumbo. My relatives scoff at anything made with chicken and sausage that dares call itself gumbo. But, because tasty vegan chicken and sausage options are readily available–whereas vegan seafood ones are nearly nonexistent where we live–when I saw this recipe on Cook’s Country, I felt I had a prayer of translating it into a vegan gumbo version that would do my family legacy proud.
The recipe on CooksCountry.com called for chicken, sausage, AND shrimp, but I could swear that when they made it on their program, there was no seafood. So that’s how I proceeded.
To deepen their seafood flavor, they added Asian fish sauce to the broth. I debated about this because, though I LOVE vegan fish sauce, I wasn’t making a mock seafood gumbo and, since vegan fish sauce contains no fish anyway, I wasn’t looking for an Asian flavor. But I took a whiff of the fish sauce while standing over my gumbo and thought that the combination of aromas was divine. And, as it turns out, so is the flavor. Therefore, DO NOT OMIT this ingredient! It is widely available in Asian markets.
For the most part, I stayed very close to the original recipe, only I found that my oven roux only took 20 minutes instead of their 45. I’m quite sure that it would have been burned beyond recognition after 25 more minutes. I made mine in a cast iron skillet, as I haven’t yet splurged for a Le Creuset Dutch oven, so perhaps my pan’s lack of an enamel coating made the difference.
Other than that, I:
- Substituted a red bell pepper for a green one because my husband and I both prefer red; and red definitely prefers him;
- Added 1/2 teaspoon of file (ground sassafras leaves)–gumbo is not gumbo where I come from unless it contains file;
- Substituted 8 ounces of vegan Meal Starters Chik-n Strips for the 2 pounds of bone-in chicken thighs;
- Substituted 14 ounces of vegan Tofurky Italian Sausage with Sun-Dried Tomatoes and Basil for the 8 ounces of andouille sausage; and
- Omitted the 2 pounds of extra-large shrimp.
And, ta-dah…here is my recipe for THE BEST Vegan Gumbo!
- 3/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour (I use white whole wheat)
- 1/2 cup canola oil
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 small-medium finely diced yellow onion
- 1 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
- 1 celery rib, chopped fine
- 5 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme (or 1/4 teaspoon dry)
- 1 teaspoon file (dried sassafras leaves)
- 1-14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes, drained
- 3 3/4 cups vegan “chicken”-flavored broth (or vegetable broth)
- 1/4 cup vegan fish sauce
- 8 ounces Morning Star Farms Meal Starters Chik-n Strips, thawed
- 14 ounces Tofurky Italian Sausage with Sun-Dried Tomatoes and Basil, halved lengthwise, grilled in a grill pan (or heated however you prefer) and sliced thin
- 2 cups frozen cut okra, thawed
- MAKE ROUX Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large cast iron skillet or heavy Dutch oven over medium heat, toast ¾ cup flour, stirring constantly, until just beginning to brown, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and whisk in oil until smooth. Cover (use foil if you have no lid that fits your pan), transfer skillet or pot to oven, and cook until mixture is deep brown and fragrant, about 20 minutes, checking after 10. It will look almost chocolatey or the color of an old copper penny. (If not making gumbo right away, store roux in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week. To use, heat the roux in a cast iron skillet or heavy Dutch oven over medium-high heat, whisking constantly, until just smoking, and continue with step 2.)
- COOK AROMATICS Transfer skillet or Dutch oven to stovetop and whisk cooked roux to combine. Add onion, bell pepper, celery, and salt, and cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until softened, about 10 minutes. It wills seem quite dry. Stir in garlic, thyme, and file, and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add tomatoes and cook about 1 minute. Slowly whisk in the broth and vegan fish sauce until smooth, increase heat to medium-high, and bring to a simmer.
- FINISH GUMBO Stir in Chik-n Strips, Tofurky sausage, and okra, and simmer for about 20 minutes while rice cooks; reduce heat to medium if cooking too fast. Season with salt and pepper. Serve with a scoop of white rice and, possibly, biscuits or garlic bread.
Enjoy more vegan entrees ideas below: