Gumbo by Ric Orlando

I fell in love with gumbo way back in the early 1980s when Paul Prudhomme made his groundbreaking appearance on NBC’s Today show. Witnessing the swarthy and beefy Prudhomme, with his thick Cajun accent and funny skimmer hat, making Cajun gumbo on television, was like seeing my first punk rock show. It hit all the notes. It a dark, dirty, spicy, and had an attitude. The early ’80s were an exciting time when we cooks were “allowed” to veer from classic French and Italian cooking into new directions. This was when the American food scene was making its own identity. Cajun-Creole emerged as one of the first “New American Regional” cuisines and it opened the door for the anything-goes food revolution that is still unfolding in the US. From that point forward, I sought to make one of the best gumbos in the Northeast.

There was no internet in the 80s, so I took piles of books from the library and actually taped (yep, VHS!) Justin Wilson making his Ooo-weee! Cajun Country Gumbo on PBS. Eventually, through tweaking of my own, I hit what I was sure was the perfect gumbo with the magical balance of swampiness, earth, tartness, nuttiness, spiciness, and depth of flavor; the whole shebang. It’s a delicious Creole seafood gumbo with shrimp, crab, and crawfish, and a bit of tomato juice. I thicken it with a dark mahogany-colored roux. I also add okra for texture. Finally, just before serving, I sprinkle it with a little File Gumbo powder, just to enhance the earthy aroma. 

Over the next 30 years, I served my version of a gumbo in both of my restaurants and at scores of parties. Even friends from New Orleans told me that my gumbo was worthy, which is high praise for this Northeast chef! So then, why do I need a gumbo comeuppance? 

Fast forward 30ish years to 2018. I was hosting my first food tour of New Orleans. My group explored music, culture, and, of course, food. On our itinerary was lunch at the landmark Commander’s Palace, the restaurant where both Paul Prudomme and Emeril Lagasse worked and became two of America’s best-known chefs. It was actually my first meal there, and I was as excited as my guests were. Of course, I chose the Commander’s Famous Creole Gumbo for my first course. I was astonished and, yea, a little vindicated by how much my Northeast guy’s gumbo tasted like Commander’s; similar texture and tang and the same depth of flavor. 

Later that week, on that NOLA tour, we had a Red Beans and Rice Monday supper experience at Melissa Martin’s up-and-coming speakeasy restaurant, the Mosquito Supper Club. Of course, now her cookbook is a big hit, and the Mosquito Supper Club is one of NOLA’s most difficult reservations to obtain, but back then, it was still a local secret. After our dinner, we chatted a bit about what I did as a chef. I told her about my “New World” menu, which featured an array of some of the world’s best spicy dishes. I cockily mentioned that I made a pretty mean gumbo myself. When she asked what kind of gumbo I made, I made the fatal mistake of replying, “I make a classic Creole gumbo”. ERROR, ERROR! I didn’t realize at the time I was speaking to an expert on Louisiana regional cooking. She abruptly told me that there is no such thing as classic gumbo, filling me in that every parish had its own rendition of gumbo, and within every parish, every family made their own version of that.  She told me that I should never use the world classic when referring to gumbo. I felt like a real carpetbagger. This was when the real Gumbo homework began for me. 

In the spring of 2019, I was in Taormina, Sicily. I had finished hosting my first tour of Sicily and was staying in for another week to explore for future tours. One sultry night I was strolling the town, walking off my multicourse dinner. I sat at a small table in an outdoor cafe for a coffee. At the table next to me, there was a fiery blonde woman chattering into her cellphone with what I immediately identified as a New Orleans accent. When she hung up, I leaned over and said “Thank you.” She just looked at me with a puzzled and slightly put-off expression. I clarified my comment by explaining that I hadn’t heard American English in a week and how it was oddly soothing to my frazzled brain. I introduced myself as a chef from New York and asked if she was also in the business.  

By serendipitous chance, the woman was Amy Sins, a New Orleans celebrity chef. She was also hosting a tour of Sicily.  We eased into a polite conversation, talking about Sicilian food, Nola, and my hometown, Woodstock. Then, as it always happens when talking with someone from Louisiana, the subject came to gumbo. I told her the story of my “Classic Gumbo” comment at Mosquito Supper Club. I took a chance. I hoped I might gain a little sympathy or at least empathy, but no go. As I explained my use of roux, okra, and file powder, she pounced, schooling me on gumbo thickening rules. 

“First off, you can only use two out of three thickeners, roux, okra, or file powder. You should NEVER use all three, EVER. It ain’t gumbo if you mess that part up.”  Well, apparently, I was messing it up as I used all three thickeners in my gumbo. Then she asked me the trap door question.

 “Do ya’ll use tomatoes in your gumbo?” 

“ I do, sorta,” I said self-consciously. “I used to use tomatoes, then I switched to tomato juice, but now I use a little V-8 juice. It gives it so much pop.”

She smacked me back in an authoritative voice, “Y’all ain’t making gumbo, my friend. I bet it’s tasty, but it ain’t gumbo if there are tomatoes in it.”

Having done my research, I foolishly decided to push this beating further.

“But doesn’t Creole seafood gumbo have tomatoes in it?” I responded brashly.

“Yea, it might, but….” She proceeded to educate me on how home cooks who use meat and game in their gumbo only thicken with roux, whereas others who specialize in chicken gumbo only use okra. And some real country folk use File Gumbo powder and sassafras exclusively. 

I had to keep prying. “Sounds like the food in Sicily. Every village has its way of making things, and every home in that village has its own twist.”

She was a like a dog with a bone, “But y‘all need to understand that for Cajuns, Gumbo is almost sacred in its traditions.” 

“Like Neapolitans with Pizza?” I asked with a smirk.

“Ok, yea, but there is good pizza in a lot of places,” she said.

Yep, and there is good gumbo in a lot of places too. 

Your kitchen is a good place to start.

Here are my two gumbo recipes. One for my Creole Seafood Gumbo and one for a Cajun Chicken and Sausage Gumbo. Mardi Gras is February 21st. You have plenty of time. Cook your gumbo and enjoy every bite! And get your Gumbo Comeuppance by making it yourself!

Making Cajun Roux my way.

There are plenty of ways to make dark, chocolaty roux.

Most are a pain, but this is a pretty simple technique.

1 ½ cups flour

2 cups pork lard, duck fat, clarified butter, or vegetable oil

Preheat oven to 475 F.

*Remember that dark roux is as hot as caramel, reaching 400-500 degrees. Don’t touch it!*

Melt the fat in a heavy, oven-safe skillet (Cast iron is the way to go.)

Add the flour and whisk in until smooth.

Cook over medium-high for a few minutes to make sure all of the flour is amalgamated with the fat.

Now put the entire pan in the hot oven and set a timer for 20 minutes. When the

timer goes off, carefully whisk the mix. It should be getting golden. Repeat this

procedure, cutting back the time by 5 minutes each time until your roux resembles chocolate.

Once you’ve made the roux, you should carefully add some of it to the warm stew.

Bring the stew back to a boil. Add a little more of the roux until you have reached the desired thickness. The stew will thicken as it boils. Be patient.

You can and should reserve any leftover roux, refrigerated, for up to 3 months.

Creole Seafood Gumbo

My Creole Seafood Gumbo is a slowly cooked, dark, tangy, OMG-delish stew.  

The real deal, baby!

Makes enough for 4 to eat twice

Here is a hint. This works great for JAMBALAYA, too. Just make the base and skip the ROUX. Add uncooked rice (about two parts gumbo base to one part rice) and bake covered on a 325 oven for about an hour. WOW! and GF too!

Start your roux first. This is crucial, and it’s pretty easy once you get the hang of it. Don’t be afraid, just be careful. That shit is HOT!

Serves 4 with leftovers

Start your gumbo while your Roux is cooking.

Creole Seafood Gumbo Recipe

Vegetable oil

16-20 small shrimp, peeled and deveined

1 6 oz filet of catfish or other mild white fish, sliced into strips

8 oz crawfish tail meat 

4 oz crab meat, claw meat is fine

2 cups each: medium dice bell peppers, celery, and onion, a.k.a “The Trinity.”

1 cup scallions

1/2 cup parsley

3 tablespoons Ric’s BEST CAGE seasoning*

1 tablespoon dry thyme

24 oz bottled clam juice 

2 cups tomato juice or V8 juice  (trust me)

2 cups boxed chicken stock or vegetable stock

salt and pepper


Worcestershire sauce

File Gumbo Powder (optional)

2 cups long-grain white rice

The entire recipe takes about 1 hour, so make time! Put on some music and enjoy yourself.

To make the gumbo, use a heavy pot or Dutch oven

Add enough oil to coat the entire pan’s bottom.

Add the trinity and cook at medium heat until it is softened but not brown.

And the scallions, thyme, and Cajun seasoning and stir to coat.

Cook a few minutes, and then add okra, tomato juice, clam broth, and chicken or vegetable stock.

Bring to a boil.

After 20 minutes of cooking at a moderate boil, add the fish and crab and cook another 20 minutes.

Pick up the palate by adding dashes of Worcestershire and Tabasco to taste.

Now whisk in 1 cup of roux. 

Add the shrimp and crawfish tails and cook gently for another 10 minutes to thicken.

Simple Rice

2 cups long-grain white rice

2 tbsp oil

2 teaspoons salt.

3 ½ cup water

Rinse the rice with cold water over a strainer very well until the water runs clear. 

In a heavy pot with a tight-fitting lid, add a drizzle of vegetable oil. Add the rice and salt.

Heat over high heat until you begin to hear a sizzle. 

Stir to coat the rice with the oil.

Add 3 ½ cups of water.

Stir once more. Bring to a boil. Cover snugly—no more stirring.

Reduce heat to very low and allow to steam for 15-20 minutes.

Turn off the heat and let rest, covered, for 10 minutes. Done!

Put some rice in a bowl and ladle on the gumbo. Garnish with parsley, and serve more hot sauce on the side. If you have the File Gumbo powder, sprinkle a little on top and stir it in before eating.

Cajun Chicken and Andouille Gumbo 

This is more of a country-style stew that will stick to your ribs! It can be served as a thick soup or over rice as a meal.

Serves 4 with leftovers 

6-8 bone-in chicken thighs

2 tbsp salt

10 cups water

3 cloves garlic, smashed

2 links andouille sausage (about 8 oz), cut in half lengthwise, then cut into ¼ inch thick slices.

2 cups each: medium dice bell peppers, celery, and onion

1 cup scallions

1/2 cup parsley

2 tablespoons Ric’s BEST CAGE seasoning (or another brand)

1 tablespoon dry thyme

6 cups chicken broth (recipe below)

2 cups okra, sliced (frozen works)

salt and pepper to taste 


Worcestershire sauce

2 cups long-grain white rice

The broth/stock.

You can use your own chicken or turkey, stock, or do the following:

Chicken Broth

Use a pot big enough to braise your chicken thighs. 

Fill with 10 cups quarts warm water, leaving room for the chicken thighs. 

Add about 2 tablespoons of salt and give it a stir to dissolve.

Now drop in the garlic and chicken and bring it to a boil.

Once it boils, skim any scum that may accumulate, and reduce heat to a simmer.

Simmer for 30-45  minutes or until the chicken is cooked. 

Strain, Reserving both the broth and the thighs.

Once the chicken is cool, pull all the meat from the chicken and roughly chop.  Set aside.

Build the gumbo.

In a heavy casserole pan, add enough oil to coat the pan.

Add the sausage and lightly brown over medium heat.

Add the veggies and wilt until soft but not brown.

And the thyme and Cajun seasoning and stir to coat.

Cook a few minutes, and then add okra and reserved chicken broth.

After 20 minutes of cooking at a moderate boil, add the chicken meat and cook for another 20 minutes.

Now stir in 1 cup of roux. Cook gently for another 15-20 minutes to thicken.

Pick up the palate by adding dashes of Worcestershire and Tabasco to taste.

Serve in bowls. Try dropping a poached egg on top for brunch!

* Ric’s Best CAGE Cajun seasoning is available at

What Wine?

Both of these gumbos are perfect with ice-cold pilsner or a low-hop ale, but let’s talk wine.

The chicken gumbo’s nutty character plays well with a little oak and muted tannins. I love The Chocolate Block from Boekenhoutskloof. It is a terrific example of South Africa’s rhone-style of wines. It is a blend of 75% Syrah and 10% Grenache with small amounts of Cinsault, Cabernet, and Viognier. It has plenty of spice notes and sweet dark fruit that meld with the cooked “trinity.” Speaking of Rhone style, any young Rhone will do the trick as well. Montirius Vacqueyras Le Clos is a fave of mine. I suggest you serve it at a cool cellar temperature. 

The seafood gumbo can also handle red wine as well. With the nutty roux, tangy tomato, and spice, you can’t go wrong with a sunny Gamay, a fresh Julienas is perfect. Also, if you happen to be in New York, try to find Whitecliff Vineyards Gamay Noir. It is one of the Hudson Valley’s most sophisticated and food-friendly red wines. It has just what you need here; tart fruit, soft tannins, and a lingering finish.

Please find out more about me, my sauces and spices, my Sicily tours, and pop-up dinners at

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27 comments on “My Gumbo Comeuppance

  1. rose marie colon

    loved the article and the education on gumbo…although you may have had some suggestions…your recipe sure looks delish….might try it…

  2. Kathy Oliver

    I never thought of the nuances of Gumbo by Parish but it only makes sense. We always think of our own geographically identifiable food of having regional nuances but somehow seem to forget the same of others. Thank you, Chef Orlando, for the recipe and shining a light on Gumbo with your great story!

  3. Allie Bee

    Can’t get too many gumbo recipes, since each one is different, and another step toward perfecting MY perfect recipe. Thanks Ric!

  4. Katherine Varadi

    Arriving at Ric’s Mardi Gras class in an extravagantly crazy NOLA bird mask, I was embraced, enfolded in strong chef arms, his warm laughter, his amazing sexy food sharing, teaching, techniques, leading, savoring, touching, flavors exciting us, teaching us to touch it all, taste and season joyfully, freely, to travel and to laugh with friends old & new to cook to eat to share how to live. I treasure each recipe from Ric’s classes, papers now happily stained with a few drips & splashes, memories of good times shared with friends. Thanks Ric Orlando!

  5. Thomasine Helsmoortel

    I loved this article! I wanted to keep reading and now I need to try this gumbo.
    Can’t wait for the next dish.

  6. Joseph Carr

    Nailing it. Tomatoes in gumbo? You could’vewound up in the swamp. Love your take

  7. Fran Callahan

    That gumbo looks mouthwateringly delicious. The perfect comfort food for cold weather dining.

  8. Eugenia Marie

    Great, well explained and executed. I’m from NOLA but have lived in Colorado for the last 12 years. So I appreciate your attention to the heritage.

  9. Jeff Trombetta

    Ric, You write well. Nice gumbo story and your evolution. Great recipes. Loved that early 80’s era when nouvelle was battling American regional. Roux as dark as Chocolate? Ok, I’ll try it. Best Wishes!

  10. Maggie

    Wow! Thanks so much for this article, looks and sounds delicious, I cant wait to try my hand at some creole!

  11. Quill Brogan

    This article is as good as it gets. Covers all.

  12. Thanks!

  13. Suzy MacGray

    Great story/article from one of my fav chefs. As a chef myself, I always love to learn from others in our industry. Looking forward to making the seafood gumbo! Thanks, Ric, for all you bring to our profession!

  14. Michael Corsentino

    Excellent article! Definitely making that Cajun Chicken and Andouille Gumbo, sounds delicious.

  15. Bill Trompeter

    Thanks for the fun and compelling article and recipes. Glad to see the addition of V-8 juice remains. After all, as the “experts” informed you, beyond the basic framework, gumbo is a varied, personal expression.

  16. Candace Sleeman

    Great insights and a new recipe to try!

  17. Candace Sleeman

    Great dish for a snowy day. Went the jambalaya route with butter and flour stovetop roux to slightly thicken. Vegetable oil not viable for oven roux at high temperatures. Seafood that was on hand included Sea to Table Wild Gulf Shrimp and Pacific Black Cod, along with canned clams in clam juice and Trader Joe’s frozen langostino tails. It was delish.

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