The Gumbo Guide: 29 Cajun, Creole, and Creative Gumbo Recipes
Gumbo or jambalaya? Cajun-style or Creole-style? Confused yet? Learn all about these famous stews of the South, and then eat your Southern heart out with one of these fabulous gumbo recipes.
In the internet age, every dish has its day — and October 12th is National Gumbo Day.
There’s a world of Louisiana-style gumbo out there, which means that your gumbo recipe is not necessarily my gumbo recipe. And I consider that kind of diversity a good thing.
Like any iconic dish, with hundreds of years of regional variations under its belt, there are countless Cajun stews and Creole stews all claiming to be authentic Louisiana-style gumbo. Are they all the real deal? Let's study up on this classically Southern meal.
We've picked out 29 of the best gumbo and gumbo-esque recipes on Yummly, well worth considering for National Gumbo Day, or, you know, a Tuesday. In addition to the “traditional” Cajun and Creole varieties, there’s also gumbo z’herbes, from Louisiana's Catholic Acadiana region, and modern gumbo inventions that are vegetarian, vegan, Whole30, Keto, gluten-free — as well as ones that feature all sorts of beast and bird. (Alligator, anyone?)
But first, learn the history of gumbo and read our gumbo cooking tips in the Gumbo basics section below. Then explore the many gumbo and gumbo-inspired recipes for every kind of eater.
Whatever your taste, whatever your diet, I hope you’re hungry.
Jump ahead to:
Gumbo basics: history, definition, and cooking tips
Got questions about gumbo? We've got answers. Learn all about this Southern dish right here.
Where did gumbo originate?
A simple question, with a complex answer. In short, gumbo is from Louisiana, and the first documented mentions of the dish date back to the early 1800s — which is to say, gumbo recipes were being invented and cooked in home kitchens in New Orleans and along the Acadian Coast long before that.
Is gumbo … soup?
Yes — and no. (Of course!) In restaurants and for Sunday dinners, Louisiana-style gumbo is sometimes served as a first course, much like a soup. But plenty of people serve gumbo as a meal in and of itself, especially for smaller, more casual affairs, like lunch. Some of the distinctions rely on how thick the gumbo is — which can range from a thin broth with meat, Cajun spices, and vegetables to a hearty, gravy-like stew, built up from a dark roux and thickened with okra.
What is the difference between gumbo and jambalaya?
Louisiana-style gumbo is, traditionally, a somewhat lighter dish, with rice served on the side. Jambalaya, which is also traditional, is more of a meal-in-a-pot, with the rice cooked right in — like a Southern paella. Both have their regional differences, and can be either Cajun or Creole in spirit and seasoning. (For example, Creole jambalaya contains tomatoes; Cajun jambalaya does not).
Some allegedly unifying principles of any good gumbo recipe (which are flouted with regularity) include:
Okra. The word “gumbo” comes from an African word for okra — which suggests that okra should be a key ingredient. (But while okra may be used to thicken gumbo, it’s often omitted).
Gumbo filé powder. Made from dried and ground sassafras leaves, this seasoning is attributed to the Choctaw Indians in the area — but it’s also not on every ingredient list. (Although it’s often found on a Southern table).
Roux. Roux happens when you’re whisking together all-purpose flour and some kind of fat — be it butter, pan drippings, canola oil, or other vegetable oil — over medium-high heat until it comes together and grows darker in color. Most can agree that it’s of French influence, but few can agree how dark the roux should be, or if you should use roux at all.
One thing that gumbo and jambalaya do share? The Holy Trinity. Both Cajun and Louisiana Creole cooking are known for using a base of equal parts onion, celery, and green bell pepper — much like a French mirepoix.
What makes food Cajun?
Cajun food can be considered hearty “country” food — with raw ingredients found in and around the Louisiana swamplands. Typically, there are no tomatoes. Cajun seasoning blends lean a bit spicy — with lots of white and black pepper, cayenne pepper, as well as paprika.
A Cajun gumbo, for example, probably hails from southwestern Louisiana. These tend to be thicker and darker, and often feature duck or turkey.
What makes food Creole?
Creole food, on the other hand, is lighter “city” food, more closely aligned with European influences. A Creole roux, for instance, is more likely to be based in butter, not oil. Creole seasoning blends tend to feature more traditional herbs — like oregano, bay leaf, thyme, rosemary, and parsley.
The classic Creole gumbo hails from the southeastern New Orleans area, with its international port. It’s usually a bit lighter in color, heavier on the shellfish.
How do I thicken gumbo?
There are three ways to thicken a gumbo. And you’ll find one or more of these techniques in most gumbo recipes: okra, filé powder, and roux. As with any great traditional dish, there’s plenty of heated back and forth about the right and wrong ways to thicken your gumbo. Some people use okra and a roux, then pass filé powder at the table. Some people use okra when it’s in season, and filé powder when okra isn’t available — but never both. Some people make their roux with butter; others make their roux with oil.
Invariably, most people argue that they’re right.
What do I serve with gumbo?
Rice — on the side — is traditional. But at Prejean's restaurant in Lafayette, Louisiana, they use potato salad. And some historical records suggest a polenta-like cornmeal mash. All of which is to say, there are variations.
When serving gumbo as the main dish, you can add simple sides like French bread or cornbread and a salad, or simple, Southern vegetable sides like corn on the cob or a sauteed dark leafy green, like chard.
Cajun stews — traditional and otherwise — tend to be rich, dark, flavorful affairs, with a surprising variety of meat.
In this Saveur recipe — inspired by a dish from Café Vermilionville in Lafayette, Louisiana — smoked turkey wings and cubed smoked turkey breast provide the backbone of this gumbo.
In this Better Homes and Gardens recipe, Spanish chorizo stands in for the traditional Andouille sausage, and smoked paprika and tomatoes give the dish a more Spanish flavor profile. Aside from the chorizo and okra, common staples, like boneless chicken thighs and canned chicken stock, make this more or less a pantry meal.
To be fair, I’m drawn to this recipe for the Tabasco bowl alone! While it’s called “All Day” gumbo, the test kitchen at Food52 thinks you should plan for two — one to roast the duck and sausages, and then another for the rest of the steps, where everything simmers in chicken broth and beer. Serve with chopped green onions for garnish.
I learned something new from Lauren Keating, at Healthy. Delicious.: They call roux “Cajun napalm.” (Not related to the full tablespoon of cayenne pepper in her recipe!) Her detailed write-up for this delicious gumbo recipe includes everything you need to know about making a roux. Her preferred color is akin to milk chocolate, as opposed to dark brown.
Lamb shoulder and Italian sausage make this gumbo recipe from Chocolate and Marrow distinct — and delicious — comfort food.
6. Oxtail Gumbo
“One of the best things about gumbo is that it's a truly imaginative dish—one that can be made with whatever happens to be in your kitchen at any given time,” writes Saveur. I’m not the type that typically has oxtails on hand, but it’s worth the trip to the store.
Gumbo is meant to be an all-day affair, but with a few smart shortcuts, it can be a healthy, hearty, weeknight meal. In this recipe from Sunkissed Kitchen, rice flour makes it gluten-free, chicken breasts, sugar-free bacon, and sugar-free turkey and chicken sausages keep it healthier, and the Crock Pot makes it easy.
Like any versatile stew, gumbo benefits from slow cooking. This Serious Eats gumbo recipe leverages turkey leftovers and a slow cooker for an easy, day-after kind of meal.
Because it’s the South, y’all.
Catfish gumbo gets a little something extra with venison sausage in this recipe from Cajun Cooking Recipes.
11. Gumbo Z’herbes
Gumbo Z’herbes is basically the best name for a dish I’ve heard in a long time. It’s a classic dish from Acadiana, in Southern Louisiana, where the Catholic population often eschewed meat during Lent. This version features spinach, collard greens, fresh parsley, swiss chard, and kale, but you can use whatever greens you like best.
12. 30-Minute Gumbo
Many gumbo recipes feature some 30+ ingredients and can take a couple hours (if not a couple days!) to cook. When you don’t have time for all that, there’s this easy recipe from Louisiana Cookin’. Some pre-work is involved — pre-made roux, frozen holy trinity, frozen white rice. But for gumbo on a random Wednesday night in a total time of 30 minutes, it’s worth it.
If your gumbo has seafood in it, chances are it’s one of these Creole stews.
Follow along with this step-by-step video Yummly Pro recipe as Andrew Zimmern makes his decadent Creole-style gumbo, featuring schmaltz, clam juice, oysters, and crab meat in addition to the usual suspects.
Chorizo guest-stars in this 9kitchen recipe — alongside prawns, instead of chicken.
This authentic Deep South Dish recipe features a whole fryer chicken, a pound of Andouille sausage, a pint of fresh oysters — and filé powder for the table.
I’d never heard of Tony Chachere until my college years when I moved in with a girl from Louisiana — and then his famous Creole seasoning became a pantry staple. Not surprisingly, this Tony Chachere gumbo recipe uses his brand-name instant roux, Creole seasoning, and gumbo filé.
The favorite recipe for gumbo on Yummly (with over 15,000 Yums) is this tasty version from Immaculate Bites. It must be the crab legs.
Not your typical Louisiana-style gumbo
What happens when a Louisiana-style gumbo goes international? Or gets a healthy, modern makeover? The beauty of gumbo, as a concept, is that you can make it with whatever is on hand — and you can reinvent it to be more Asian, Indian, low-carb, or gluten-free — or whatever you crave most.
There’s a lot going on in this gumbo recipe from Marwin Brown at Food Fidelity — cumin and cardamom evoke Morocco, curry from South Africa, coconut milk, served with pearl couscous instead of the traditional rice. Is it authentic? Nah. Is it delicious? Absolutely.
19. Winter Gumbo
Diversivore embraces some uncommon ingredients — like Jerusalem artichokes, golden beets, butternut squash, and sage — for its gumbo recipe. “Call it Pacific Northwest Gumbo if you want to,” writes blogger Sean Bromilow.
This is what happens when a Cajun stew goes Chinese. If you can’t find fresh okra, frozen okra will do.
21. Gochujang Gumbo
Or even Korean! In this Real Simple recipe, Korean gochujang is treated like tomato paste.
The Pig & Quill’s creative riff on gumbo is easily gluten-free, with the use of gluten-free flour from Trader Joe’s, instead of all-purpose flour. She uses Penzey’s Vindaloo curry powder, but your favorite curry will do fine.
Bone broth and ghee, the absence of roux, and the addition of cauliflower rice make this a delicious Whole30 one-pot meal, made impossibly easy with the Instant Pot.
The Instant Pot can also transform a cup of lentils and diced tomatoes into something deliciously Southern, and gumbo-esque, in this recipe from the aptly-named blog Love Pulses. The prep-time is minimal and if you don’t have an Instant Pot, there are alternate cooking directions for the stovetop using a large Dutch oven.
Jeanette, of Jeanette’s Healthy Living, makes a few smart choices that keep her gumbo recipe both lower-calorie and gluten-free. Among them: rice flour and Rocco Dispirito’s onion-garlic puree — made with 1 Vidalia onion and 9 cloves garlic — in place of all-purpose flour in the roux.
Vegan gumbo recipes
No meat. No seafood. No butter. These vegan gumbo recipes are still delicious.
Post Punk Kitchen’s vegan gumbo recipe uses kidney and garbanzo beans in place of Andouille sausage or shellfish. After poring over recipes, Isa Chandra Moskowitz couldn’t really find a single unifying principle, other than this: “Gumbo is a thickened stew with Creole herbs and spices and lots of chunky stuff in it.” Works for me!
When is a gumbo recipe not a gumbo recipe? Makos at The Hungry Bites admits that this Mediterranean-inspired tomato, chickpea, and okra stew is not called gumbo in Greece, but the elements are all there. It's served over gnocchi, not rice, to differentiate it even more.
The red bean meatballs — or beanballs, if you will — make this vegan gumbo recipe from Connoisseurus Veg feel extra hearty.
Wild rice and sweet potatoes give this vegan gumbo recipe some texture and heft.
Want more Louisiana-style inspiration?
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