How To Thicken Gumbo: 8 Easy Methods
Gumbo is one of my all-time favorite West African-South Louisiana dishes. This delectable, hearty stew from the Cajun-Creole cuisine always has me smacking my lips and wishing for more. After learning to make it at home, I sometimes end up with the soup being too runny, and traditional gumbo is thick, so it has become essential to learn how to thicken gumbo.
You can thicken gumbo by making a roux, a flour, or cornstarch slurry, mixing in cornmeal, adding more vegetables like okra, or reducing the liquid by cooking it down. Ingredients like instant mash, cream, or coconut milk can also thicken gumbo but will be less traditional.
Gumbo does not have to be thick if you prefer it more like a soup consistency, but if you want to stick as close as possible to the traditional dish, there are several things you can do to thicken the delicious stew.
The Best Ways To Thicken Gumbo
Traditional Louisiana gumbo is made with a roux that allows the soup to thicken. If you add too much liquid, it will still be thin instead of thick. The quickest way to prevent that is to make some extra roux and add only a little broth or water until you reach your desired thickness.
Other methods to thicken gumbo include mixing in a slurry made from flour or cornstarch, soup powder, non-traditional ingredients like cream or coconut milk, and my favorite one, additional vegetables. Below is a detailed list of the tips and techniques you can use to thicken gumbo.
Tip #1: Make More Roux
If you have ever looked into a gumbo recipe or even tried one, you know that making a roux is part of the method. The issue is that sometimes quantities get mixed up, especially if you don’t measure your ingredients, and you can still end up with gumbo that is too thin.
The number one trick I always use when making gumbo is making twice the roux the recipe calls for. You can store the excess in a zip lock baggie in the refrigerator, which I use in pasta or casserole within 2-3 days. The best part is that the roux is cooked, so you won’t get a raw flour taste whether you use it for the gumbo or another dish.
Before adding extra roux to your gumbo, whisk it with hot water to smoothen it out and remove lumps. Then stir it into your pot of gumbo and allow it to simmer for a few minutes. The liquid will thicken, and your gumbo will remain authentic.
Tip #2: Cook Down The Gumbo
If you have more time, but do not want to add or change anything with the ingredients, then the best way to thicken your gumbo would be using the reduction method. This will keep your gumbo authentic, reduce it to a stew as it should be, and significantly intensify the flavors.
The reduction method is where you cook down the gumbo slowly on low heat till the excess liquid evaporates and the sauce thickens. When you cook it down that way, it prevents the food from burning, and the flavors mingle deeper, making your gumbo dish taste better, in addition to the benefit of the thickened sauce.
Tip #3: Make A Slurry
You can make a slurry with one to two tablespoons of cornstarch and two to three teaspoons of water. Before adding it to the gumbo, mix it well to remove the lumps. Stir the gumbo as you pour the slurry in, and then let the dish simmer to incorporate the thickener. As the gumbo simmers, the sauce will thicken.
Instead of cornstarch, you could use arrowroot powder or another alternate flour base that works for your diet. Regular flour also makes a decent slurry if you don’t have premade roux; however, you will need to let the flour slurry cook into the gumbo well to prevent a raw flour or bitter taste. (Also works for thickening soups and stews in the crockpot!)
Tip #4: Add Instant Soup
Instant soup is another innovative way to thicken gumbo and works the same way as the slurry. Instead of cornstarch, you could use a couple of tablespoons of soup powder. A vegetable-flavored instant soup will be the best option to avoid changing the flavor of authentic gumbo.
If you want to avoid lumps of raw soup powder getting into your mouth when enjoying your gumbo, ensure to whisk the soup powder with water until it is smooth before pouring it into the pot. The gumbo will thicken almost immediately, but I suggest letting it simmer for a few minutes on low heat to incorporate the flavors.
Tip #5: Add More Veggies
Veggies are an excellent way to thicken any soup-based dish like gumbo. They absorb excess liquid as they cook and also provide additional nutritional benefits. Gumbo naturally has chunks of protein and veggies, so a few extra vegetables will not significantly alter the dish’s texture.
You could add more of the existing veggies that authentic gumbo requires, such as onions or peppers, or chop up a carrot or cube potato and dump it in. as the vegetables cook, the soup will reduce, giving you a thicker base and stew-like consistency.
This method is great for a variety of stew-like dishes, including tomato soup and baked beans.
Tip #6: Mix In Cornmeal
Cornmeal is a fantastic option to thicken your gumbo but remember that it might take away from the traditional gumbo consistency. I am that home cook that enjoys playing around with different ingredients and experiments beyond what the recipe calls for. I found that cornmeal works well while experimenting with giving the gumbo some texture instead of the regular smooth soup.
Depending on the quantity of your gumbo and excess liquid, you could add anything from a quarter cup to one cup of cornmeal. Mix it with water to prevent lumps, and stir it into the gumbo. It makes the gumbo stew slightly more hearty and filling. I find that you don’t have to serve it over rice or with bread. The cornmeal makes it thick enough and gives it a unique texture to enjoy the dish without any sides or additions.
Tip #7: Use Instant Mash
Instant mash might be something you want to serve your gumbo over, but did you know you can thicken your gumbo soup with a few spoons of instant mash powder? You would make it as you would a slurry. Then stir it into your gumbo, which will immediately thicken the liquid. I prefer to simmer it for a couple of minutes to intensify the flavors, but you don’t have to do that.
The great thing about using instant mash as a gumbo thickener is that you can do it right before serving if you suddenly feel like your soup is too thin. Bare in mind that sticking to the plain original flavor instant mash is best to avoid altering the taste, but if you use other flavors, it could make your gumbo even more delicious.
Tip #8: Add Cooking Cream Or Coconut Milk
Cooking cream or coconut milk/cream as a thickener will take your gumbo far from being traditional. It will modernize the gumbo slightly, but it will thicken the sauce. Cream and coconut milk will alter the taste and enrich your gumbo.
Even though this option reduces the intensity, it is an excellent option if it is all you have or if you would like to add a modern twist to the dish. The cream will thicken as the gumbo simmers and the water content reduces, giving you a delicious, hearty, unique gumbo meal.
Gumbo is a hearty meal, perfect for a variety of occasions. There are a variety of ways you can thicken up your gumbo if it seems too watery. Cooking down the gumbo is probably the best method if you have enough time. But if you’re short on time, making a slurry or using other added ingredients is great too!