Gumbo is easy and you can't really screw it up unless you get the roux wrong. The roux is the soul. So you need it dark rich and put lots of love into it so it can grow into its full potential.
Begin with about a half stick of butter in a large sauce pan or a deep dutch oven. Once it melts, add a couple of tablespoons of flour. If this gets too clumpy, add a TOUCH of vegetable oil until it's more like a weak paste. Like elmer's glue.. Thick but still fluid. If it's too fluid, add a tsp of flour, too thick, tsp of oil.. You know the drill. The reason I use both butter and oil is because butter will burn, but adding just a touch of oil at the right time, which I always end up doing because I undershoot the flour, will keep that butter from burning up on you during the long cooking time required to make a good roux. Some recipes will call to use ONLY vegetable oil or even margarine, but I think starting off with butter gives a roux even more richness and depth that can't really happen with any kind of low fat alternative or by using straight veg/canola oil alone. Vegetable oil is great because it stands up to high heat and is inexpensive. I wouldn't waste a good olive oil in a dark roux but you could try peanut oil or another flavored oil you have laying around with great flavor and high heat potential.
Once you've got here you CAN NOT LEAVE YOUR STOVE. If you leave your stove, you will ruin any chance you had at making a proper roux.
You will need to keep stirring this on med-low heat for about 45 minutes. Stir slow, but keep at it. You should see it start to change color after about 25 minutes.. It takes that long to start to develop, but when it starts it will happen quicker and that's why you have to watch. Roux will go south quick.
It will be finished when it's the color of a good milk chocolate. More brown than black. Don't let it go black. Red is ok but it won't be as strong.
Now all you've got to do prep your meats. I've put chicken and sausge in here because I like chicken and sausage, but gumbo can have just about anything you want in there. Traditional items include: chicken, sausage, lump crab meat, oysters, crawfish tails, squirrel, gator, any kind of seafood almost, and shrimp. If you want to use a combination that's wonderful! It's sure to please.. But be careful with shrimp. I don't really like when shrimp sits in a gumbo, but you may feel differently. For my bowl I like to sautee shrimp just shy of pink on the side and then add them to a hot bowl of gumbo about 5 minutes before I eat so they get all the way done but not so done they're gritty and mealy.
I like my gumbo thick and robust, so my general rule is that for every 6 cups of chicken or seafood stock/broth I use I put 1 cup of my roux and at least 2 bay leaves. The bay really gives it flavor. So if you let it simmer a while and give it a taste and it it's bland.. add another bay leaf!
For a 6 cup pot of gumbo which turns into an 8-10 cup pot once you add the celery, onion and meats (which you cook before hand and add to the broth and roux), I put about a palm full of salt and pepper and a tsp cayenne for kick.
Gumbo is really about patience. It takes time to master it and it takes time to put the right amount of love to it. Go by what you taste!
Pairs Well With
This is gumbo like many of you have probably never experienced. I hope you love it as much as I do.