Roux the day: The light and dark sides of gumbo

Colin Mallet at Sassafras American Kitchen.
Colin Mallet at Sassafras American Kitchen.
Mark Manger

A rose is a rose is a rose, right? Not so for gumbo, which happens to be Colin Mallet's favorite dish from his home state of Louisiana.

While there are probably as many versions of this soup/stew as there are families who make it, Mallet, executive chef of Sassafras American Eatery, can makes a distinction between two kinds -- what he calls "Creole-style," with light brown roux, okra and seafood, and the much darker Cajun-style, and it was the latter that his family always made when he was groiwng up. Now that he lives in Colorado, he makes a Cajun version with an extremely dark roux "because I miss my mom's cooking," he says. See also: - Colin Mallet brings Southern cooking to northwest Denver - Sassafras American Eatery: A closer look (slide show) - What's the difference between Southern and soul food? Ask Adrian Miller

For a taste of his gumbo, head to Sassafras, which I review this week, and where the gumbo is just one of many authentic Southern dishes on the menu.

For a lighter-roux version, Emeril Lagasse has a recipe for shrimp, crab and okra gumbo on

Shrimp, Crab and Okra Gumbo

Ingredients: 1/2 cup vegetable oil 1/2 cup all-purpose flour 2 medium-size onions, chopped 1 medium-size red bell pepper, chopped 2 garlic cloves, chopped 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley 2 chopped Creole tomatoes (or an firm, ripe tomatoes) 1 pound andouille sausage (or any smoked sausage), cut crosswise into 1/4-inch slices 2 pounds shrimp, peeled and deveined 1 pound gumbo crabs (gumbo crabs are hard-shell crabs with the top half removed, the claws and legs attached. They are sold frozen in some seafood markets.) 2 pounds fresh okra, cut crosswise into 1/4-inch slices 3 bay leaves 1 teaspoon ground thyme 10 whole allspices 10 whole cloves Salt, black pepper, cayenne to taste (begin with 3 teaspoons salt, 1 teaspoon black pepper, one-half teaspoon cayenne)

Instructions: As the saying goes, first you make a roux. In a large, heavy cast-iron pot combine the oil and flour over medium-low heat. Stirring slowly and constantly, make a roux the color of a pecan. (This will take about half an hour.) When the roux is ready, add the onions, bell peppers, garlic and parsley. (The vegetables will prevent the roux from browning any more.) Stir and cook until the vegetables are very soft, about 10 minutes. Add the tomatoes, half the sausage, and the gumbo crabs. Stir for a few minutes, then add about 2 1/2 quarts of water. Add the seasonings, bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for half an hour. Add half the shrimp and the okra and simmer for an additional hour. Adjust seasonings. (At this point the soup can wait for you.) When ready to serve, return the mixture to a boil, add the remaining sausage and shrimp, and cook for about 12 minutes. Adjust seasonings again. Serve over rice in deep bowls.

Makes 6 to 8 servings

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