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Crock-Pot® gumbo is any sort of gumbo — traditionally a thick seafood and sausage stew — that is prepared in a Crock-Pot® slow cooker. Strictly speaking, the dish must be prepared in a Crock-Pot®-branded slow cooker in order to truly be considered Crock-Pot® gumbo. In many places, however, the term “Crock-Pot®” has become something of a generic indicator for any type of slow cooker device, no matter the manufacturer. Most of the time, when people speak of Crock-Pot® gumbo, they mean simply gumbo prepared in any such appliance.
Gumbo is a type of stew that originated in the American South, particularly Louisiana, but is popular throughout the United States. There are many different recipes and variations on the dish, even in its most traditional form. Louisiana Cajun cooks can usually identify up to four different versions of “true” gumbo, though alterations, substitutions, and innovations are common and frequently celebrated. One thing that characterizes all variations is the long cook time. The ingredients must simmer for many hours, which makes the dish rather labor intensive.
Using a slow cooker is one way to make gumbo more approachable for the time-pressed cook. Crock-Pots® and their kin are electrical appliances that cook raw food over low temperatures for hours and hours, monitoring the contents internally and producing at the end a finished meal that requires very little oversight. Slow cooker dinners are easy for working professionals to assemble in the morning, set to cook during the day, then come home to, finished, in the evening.
Crock-Pot® gumbo is still somewhat complex as far as preparation is concerned. Like many Crock-Pot® dishes, it is rarely as straightforward as simply tossing ingredients into the cooking chamber. Chefs must start out by chopping vegetables and meats. In most cases, they must also pre-make the roux, or stew base, from scratch.
Not all gumbo dishes contain a roux, but a great many do. Roux is a Cajun word for a soup base that is basically equal parts fat and flour. Butter and oil are the most common fats. Cooks must combine the two ingredients in a saucepan, then stir constantly until the roux begins to brown. Too long and the roux will burn, ruining it, but too short and the base will be little more than thick paste.
Cooks must add the roux to the Crock-Pot®, along with the vegetables and meats. One of the most common slow cooker techniques involves browning meat before adding it to the cook chamber. Cooks using chicken or other white meat usually will brown the meat, to prevent bacterial growth over the hours of slow cooking ahead. Sausage, a more traditional gumbo meat, does not usually pose the same risk, and usually can be added raw.
Seafood is something of an exception. Shrimp, crab, and other shellfish are rather delicate, and will break down with hours of simmering. These common gumbo ingredients are usually set aside and added only in the last throes of cooking.
Most of the time, gumbo is served with rice. There is some difference of opinion among Cajun chefs with respect to whether the rice should be cooked in the broth, such that the stew is truly all-inclusive, or cooked separately for the finished gumbo to be served over. Crock-Pot® gumbo can be made either way. Cooks choosing to add rice to the stew as it cooks should be sure that there is extra space at the top of the chamber, however, as the rice will dramatically expand during cooking.
Crock-Pot® cooking makes it possible for cooks to take a much more hands-off approach to traditionally labor intensive dishes like gumbo. Just the same, it is never wise to leave electronics running for many hours without at least some casual supervision. For cooks who must be gone during cooking, Crock-Pots® with auto shut-off features or timed cook settings are usually best.