Whether seafood or meat, okra or filé, gumbo is a natural for relaxed gatherings. Measurements and ingredients vary from one cook to the next, although most are made with a base, made of flour and butter or oil, called roux. Variations in recipes mean that one person’s perfect gumbo is another’s spicy inferno, but the dish is forgiving and you can make adjustments.
The simplest thing you can do to tame your gumbo's heat is add more broth, stock or water. Gumbos are often made with chicken broth or seafood stock, depending on the recipe, and adding more liquid dilutes the spice. Remember that you’ll be thinning out the consistency, so you might need to add more thickener.
Sugar and Spice
Sugar can tone down the spice, but it’s not always appropriate. This method works best in a gumbo with tomatoes, as it melds better with the acidity. Tomatoes are often found in gumbos with okra and seafood, rather than sausage and chicken. Start with a tablespoon, let it dissolve, and adjust as necessary.
Gumbo is basically a stew, so adding more of everything you put in it -- except the hot stuff -- can give you the same dish with less spice. Veggies will absorb the spices and spread out the heat. Onions, peppers and celery are common in gumbo, and don't take that long to cook in a bubbling pot. If it's okra gumbo, add more okra. Keep in mind you might also have to add more broth and roux.
Dairy products are excellent for counteracting spiciness, but are not always appropriate for gumbo. Seafood gumbos, rather than meat-based gumbos, are better suited for this method. Too much milk, however, can make your gumbo seem more like a seafood chowder.
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Leslie Darling has been a writer since 2003, writing regularly for "Mississippi Magazine" and "South Mississippi Living," specializing in food and wine, animals and pets, and all things Southern. She is a graduate of the University of New Orleans.