catfish gumbo

From Gumbo

While The Wire will probably always be one of my favorite shows, I have really enjoyed watching Treme, which is created by the same guys who did the Wire and is set in post-Katrina New Orleans. Basically, David Simon sat down and decided to make a show JUST FOR ME. For example:

  • Wendell Pierce (The Bunk from the Wire) plays a trombonist who ends up teaching beginning band and (spoiler alert) loves it.
  • Lots of the actors are musicians who play in the show: Kermit Ruffins, Trombone Shorty, the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, and many other artists make regular appearances playing themselves.
  • Kim Dickens (Cassidy Phillips, Sawyer’s sometimes con-partner from LOST) plays a chef who (spoiler alert) ends up cooking for David Chang at Momofuku in New York [all of the food storylines were written by Anthony Bourdain, which is totes neat].
  • John Goodman plays a college professor turned Internet celebrity who records profanity-laced tirades on Youtube.
And lots of other stuff.
Anyway,watching it has made me and Sarah really want to visit New Orleans (hey, mid-Winter break usually lines up with Mardi Gras!). I decided to temporarily deal with this intense longing to visit by making some gumbo.
Gumbo is traditionally made with shrimp and/or chicken, but catfish gumbo is not unheard of. I like catfish: it’s inexpensive, sturdy, tasty, and US farmed-raised catfish is very sustainable. I can always find really fresh catfish at the Vietnamese groceries on 12th and Jackson in the Central District (Viet Wah is my favorite), but it’s also readily available in most supermarkets. Since it is a substantial fish, it freezes well, and I often see frozen fillets at Trader Joes for good prices.

Gumbo relies on either okra or file powder (but never both!) for thickening. I use okra here. It has a reputation for being gummy, but that’s sort of the point. I think that cooked okra in gumbo has a nice texture, sort of like soft cooked zucchini. You can find gumbo at most grocery stores and lots of Asian markets. It looks sort of like a long cap-shaped serrano chile.

Finally, this recipe calls for andouille sausage, which is a highly spiced Cajun sausage. I used some chicken Andouille that we liked a lot, but you can also use regular pork Andouille. If you can’t find that, linguica or kielbasa would work.

One last note: gumbo-making involves a long, dark roux. This takes while, and you have to stir constantly, but it isn’t rocket science. I’ve included some pictures in the recipe below so you can get a sense of what to look for, but basically you’re cooking flour and oil for about 20 minutes, or until it’s the color of dark chocolate. This gives the gumbo a deep, nutty flavor and color, and cannot be rushed (as it is, 20 minutes is a real shortcut — normally the process takes upwards of an hour).

From Gumbo

Catfish Gumbo

serves 4
adapted from Cook’s Illustrated and Alton Brown


  • 2 quarts chicken or fish stock
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 1 stalk celery, diced
  • 1 green bell pepper, seeded and diced
  • 2 cups okra, caps trimmed and pods sliced into 3/4 inch chunks
  • 6 cloves of garlic, minced or pressed
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/2 of a 14-ounce can of diced tomatoes (including juices)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 6-8 ounces Andouille sausage, cut into 1/4 inch slices
  • 12 ounces catfish, cut into 1-inch chunks
  • minced scallions, for garnish (optional)
  • cooked white rice, for serving


Heat the stock in a saucepan until warm and set aside. In a medium bowl, combine the vegetables, spices, and salt and set aside.

Place a heavy Dutch oven over medium high heat for about 2 minutes, or until smoking. Add the vegetable oil and flour and reduce the heat to medium. Using a flat wooden spatula, stir constantly for about 20 minutes.

Here are some photos for reference:

after about a minute

From Gumbo

after 7 minutes

From Gumbo

after 10 minutes

From Gumbo

after 15 minutes

From Gumbo

after about 20 minutes. This is what you’re looking for.

From Gumbo

Once the gumbo has reached the color of dark chocolate, add the vegetables, spices, and salt and cook for about 10-15 minutes, or until everything is very soft. Add the tomatoes, bay leaf, chicken stock, and sausage. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, partially covered, for 30 minutes.

Add the catfish and simmer for about 10 minutes. To serve, place a scoop of white rice in each bowl, ladle the gumbo over it, and sprinkle scallions all over.


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