Can I get roux taste and thickening without flour?
November 11, 2009 10:54 AM   Subscribe

Has anyone ever made Gumbo without a roux?

So I've moved to Southern California and I've discovered that "desire to live in a dry coastal climate" and "propensity for food allegies" seem to be very correlated. If there are genes involved here, they must be right next to one another on the same chromosome or something. Anyways, we're making Gumbo for a meal during the Thanksgiving holiday and one of the people thinks they are gluten-intolerant (they've not been diagnosed or anything). My initial reaction is "let them either eat something else", but I know how much they enjoy Gumbo and I thought I would throw the question out. I don't like the consistency of cornstarch, but there may be something that thickens similarly to a roux, and perhaps I could get the toasted flour flavor from roasting rice or something, but that's all theoretical. Anyone ever done something like this?
posted by Mr. Gunn to Food & Drink (22 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Arrowroot can be used in a pinch.

In Alabama, "gumbo" was traditionally made with sassafras powder.
posted by jefficator at 10:57 AM on November 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

Bob's Red Mill makes all kinds of gluten-free flours, including an "all-purpose flour" made from garbanzo flour, potato starch, tapioca flour, sorghum flour, and fava flour. You can buy these at some supermarkets.

I'd experiment with these flours ... they can actually be quite good, but the amounts/proportions will likely vary, and you may need some xanthan gum to use as a thickener.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 11:01 AM on November 11, 2009

Gluten-free flour worked for me to thicken soup. Also, this recipe has tips about making gluten-free roux with rice flour (including which type to use).
posted by Kimberly at 11:04 AM on November 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Oops. Durr. Here's the recipie.
posted by Kimberly at 11:10 AM on November 11, 2009

Best answer: If you use a lot of okra in the gumbo, it will end up quite thick, with that slimy-in-a-good-way texture I love in gumbo.
posted by Ignatius J. Reilly at 11:15 AM on November 11, 2009 [2 favorites]

Here's a link to the sassafrass powder, also known as "file" (pronounced fee-LAY) as in "file gumbo":
posted by jeff-o-matic at 11:18 AM on November 11, 2009

Like jefficator says, filé is a powder made from dried sassafras used to thicken gumbo in lieu of okra or other thickeners. You can buy it online from a number of sources, including Amazon, oddly enough.
posted by ten pounds of inedita at 11:21 AM on November 11, 2009

In your recipe - the roux is brown, yes? It takes about 20 to 40 min or so to develop?

I love arrowroot - I think it is superior in most applications. I'm not sure I would darken it into a yummy brown roux. Arrowroot (in my experience) works best as a thickener when added in a slurry.

Go ahead and experiment with the gluten-free flours before christmas - and report back, please!

In this case, the roux acts slightly as a thickener, but more for flavor. Conversely, a blonde roux has more thickening power, but adds less flavor to the finished dish.

(Stop me if you know this next part!!)

Filé powder does add flavor and thickening power to Gumbo. As does okra. There are variations in the recipes, folks argue about which thickener/flavoring agent is correct - think of this as a Yankees vs. Red Sox type thing:)

I'm guessing your best bet is to brown a gluten-free roux, and supplement with some Filé(sassafras) powder.

Please, let us know how this turns out.

Good luck!
posted by jbenben at 11:24 AM on November 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Filé is a condiment to be added after cooking, not a replacement for okra or roux. Trying it as a substitution in this way will create an unappetizing--and possibly expensive--greenish, brackish goo that you will have to throw away.

You don't mention what kind of gumbo you're making. Shrimp gumbo made with quality shrimp and smoked sausage should have rich flavors that will help you forget the lack of browned flour in the roux/thickener, for example.

Nicely browned onions ought to be part of your process at some point, they'll also add color and flavor.

Whatever you do, you should do at least one small test run before having guests over, of course.
posted by gimonca at 11:51 AM on November 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

Roux is roux. There isn't anything that isn't roux that looks and tastes like roux. You'll get close, but ultimately you'll just be using something different. With that said... lets discuss what a roux is and what are some alternatives...

As a base, a roux is a thickener. Fat+Flour means the glutens stretch and grow, and have something to help suspend and disperse them so they don't stick to eachother (and make paste). It gives it a thicker mouthfeel, and gives you some nape.

Arrowroot, Gelatin, Cornstarch, MSG, could also be used. You could also do a padana out of a ricebread. You could also puree some veggies in it and incorporate those back in (ocra and potato would both rock here - they've got awesome starch contents). If its sweet, do a gastrique on your base and just try to get close to a carmel before you add things in... You could also forego any roux and wind up with more of a seafood vegetable stew, or maybe use a reduced fumet with an effort to use the gelatin from the bone to keep it thick (aka - reduce it more, add veggies and seafood later).

There are so many different things you could try here. Anything you do though - it won't be your gumbo as you know it... the nice thing is - you may find something new that you like more. ...Or, you'll vow to never make it without a roux again...
posted by Nanukthedog at 12:28 PM on November 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

I make my roux with garbonzo flour. As long as it's browner well, it tastes awesome.
posted by Cat Pie Hurts at 12:29 PM on November 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

Many Indian dishes reach the same "deep dark" taste and slight thickening capacity of dark roux by frying thinly sliced onions until they're just about burnt and then blending them into a stew (curry). You could try the same thing, using okra and file for the rest of the thickening.
posted by rxrfrx at 12:52 PM on November 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

I can't speak to the gluten free aspect, but I have a friend who prepares his gumbo with turkey gravy instead of roux as a base and it ends up very tasty. I mention this since you're looking to make this around thanksgiving and that might be another direction to approach the problem from.

Would definitely recommend using filé when serving the gumbo for added thickness and flavor, but okra's not such a hot idea unless you know everyone eating it likes the flavor and/or sliminess of it.
posted by CheshireCat at 1:01 PM on November 11, 2009

Mod note: comment removed - if you can't talk about roux without calling people idiots you need to come back to AskMe when you can be decent to people.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 1:02 PM on November 11, 2009 [3 favorites]

Brown rice flour, added after most of the cooking process is over, it works for gravies, is largely unnoticeable and inoffensive. Also it doesn't add a slick feel like cornstarch or arrowroot.

Also okra and file do help, but to thicken merely with file may give a taste that is off putting to some.
posted by Max Power at 1:47 PM on November 11, 2009

but I have a friend who prepares his gumbo with turkey gravy instead of roux as a base

Gravy is thickened with a roux, nine times out of ten.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 3:16 PM on November 11, 2009

OOPS! I can see how that read the wrong way....

Never add the filé powder into the roux. Geez. I meant for OP to look at other recipes using either filé or okra and copy the technique of that particular recipe.

Here is a little thread concerning Filé vs. Okra that might help clarify some of the back story on the debate and provide proper cooking techniques for both ingredients.


PS. gimonca's hint for browning the onions to further deepen the complexity is spot-on:)
posted by jbenben at 7:06 PM on November 11, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks for all the suggestions, they're pretty much along the lines I was thinking, but the specific examples of things that y'all have tried are interesting. I didn't know gthere was even such a thing as gluten free flour, but I guess potato flour or bean flour would technically fit the bill.

I'm thinking this sounds like a great experiment for the person in question to try ahead of time (brown some garbanzo flour and make a roux and see how that works) then let us know how it works before we ruin a whole pot of Mom's great gumbo.

Thanks again for the great suggestions. I'll be sending them a link to this thread.
posted by Mr. Gunn at 7:37 PM on November 11, 2009

Filé is a condiment to be added after cooking, not a replacement for okra or roux. Trying it as a substitution in this way will create an unappetizing--and possibly expensive--greenish, brackish goo that you will have to throw away.

Unless, like me, you quite like it that way. And there are two schools of thought about filé -- whether it's added early or late. Gimonca is labeling personal taste as absolute truth, when it is not. (Best answer? Not.)
posted by ten pounds of inedita at 9:00 PM on November 11, 2009 [2 favorites]

I regularly thicken sauces with gluten-free flour and it works fine and tastes exactly the same - starches usually work best because they are kind of naturally sticky, so tapioca, potato or corn starch would all work (though make sure they are gluten-free first!). As a caveat though, make sure to never mix xanthan gum directly with a liquid if you choose to use it - it has to be mixed with a flour of some sort first, then mixed into the liquid from there.

Also, on behalf of the gluten intolerant everywhere, I'd like to thank you for making the effort; it really sucks to go to a food-related event and have nothing to eat (other than what that gluten-intolerant person makes themselves) - it can be majorly awkward and distancing from the social situation and makes everything much more stressful. So, good on you.
posted by urbanlenny at 7:42 AM on November 12, 2009

Since my experience with file comes from my grandmother and great-grandmother gathering sassafras leaves in the wild, drying and powdering them at home, and giving them to the rest of the family in hand-labelled jars and cellophane bags, I'm not too concerned about my expertise on this subject. You're certainly free to do whatever you like.
posted by gimonca at 11:29 AM on November 16, 2009

Wasn't speaking to your self-identified expertise or lack thereof. Was speaking to your "this is the only way" attitude, which is incorrect.
posted by ten pounds of inedita at 2:37 PM on November 16, 2009

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