Preparation / Directions:
Gumbo can be many things. I learned to make it using Paul Prudhomme's first book. Other Louisiana and southern cookbooks should have it, as should Joy of Cooking and one of Jeff Smith's (The Frugal Gourmet) books. However, as a simple (and rough) starter:
Gumbo is a rich Cajun soup, thickened either with a) okra, b) a roux, or c) file' powder (ground sassafras leaves). Of course, these can be combined.
I have made all types, but the easy one to make is the roux based. Pay attention and read through before attempting, you'll need to rearrange the steps to make it efficient.
Start with oil and flour (approx. 2 Tbs. each). Heat the oil in the bottom of your soup pot, then add the flour. Stir the flour briskly and brown the roux. It's faster to do over high heat BUT it's easier to mess it up. Prudhomme has a section on making roux that discusses this. Be careful to not get any on you or you'll find out why it's called "Cajun napalm". Take it off the heat if it gets too hot until it cools down.
As soon as the roux is medium to dark brown (don't scorch the flour or you'll need to start all over), throw in your diced onion, green pepper, and celery (the sacred trinity in Cajun cooking). These should stop the roux from cooking. How much? About an onion, a green pepper, and two or three stalks of celery. About two cups diced, combined. Stir around. The roux should have been smelling wonderful and once these vegetables hit the roux the smell becomes almost unbearably good. Garlic, two cloves or so, minced, can go in now, too.
Let cook till the vegetables get soft, a couple of minutes. The heat can go to medium now (you did the roux over high heat, being adventurous, didn't you?). You prepared a seasoning mix of thyme, oregano, basil, red (cayenne) pepper, black pepper, and white pepper that can be thrown in when the vegetables get soft. About 2 tsp. to a 1 tbs. each of the herbs, 1/4 to 1/2 tsp. each of the peppers.
I sometimes add sage, omit the oregano and basil, or otherwise play with the ingredients. This is also the time to add some fresh chopped parsley (all too often neglected) and some chopped green onion. Both are optional, both are good. When this hits the roux/vegetable mixture your nose will go into complete ecstasy. You should also add 1 tbs. of Worcestershire sauce and Tabasco to taste. Thyme, Worcestershire sauce and Tabasco are the other sacred trinity of Cajun cooking. Now it's time to get to the meat of the matter (pun intended).
Break: Gumbo can be based on any number of things. Seafood is classic, with shrimp, oysters, crab, or fish in any combination. Chicken can also serve as a base. Sausage is almost mandatory, if you can't get Andouille (I can't) then a good smoked sausage will do. For health reasons I've been using turkey sausage lately. (Turkey) Ham can go in. I've even made a seven-steak gumbo (from Prudhomme, again). If you're gonna add chicken, you should have browned the diced chicken in the oil, then removed it before you made the roux. The diced chicken, sausage, and/or ham should go in now. The seafood goes in after the stock.
Back to the gumbo, now that you've added any meat you want, you should let it get warm and lightly browned in the roux mixture, then it's time to add the stock. If this is a seafood gumbo, you should use a seafood stock. If you've crab, shrimp, or fish to add, the shells and/or bones should have been used to make a rich stock earlier. I'm talking a redolent, aromatic blend of celery tops, onion parts, bay leaf, etc simmered in water and the fish parts for at least an hour, then strained.
Oyster liquor is added if available. You'll want like four cups or so. If you're using sausage, ham, and/or chicken, the bones of the chicken that you diced should have been subjected to the same procedure to make a stock. The richer, the better. You can always use some beer or wine to add more flavor. Avoid, if at all possible, the store bought stock.
Anyways, add the four cups of stock. Or, if you want, make the roux/vegetable mixture in a skillet and add to the already heated stock in the soup pot. Now, if you've got them, add shrimp, crab, fish, oysters, clams, whatever. Simmer for an hour or so. Serve some rice in a bowl, ladle gumbo over it. Voila'. You can sprinkle file' powder over