Gumbo isn’t so much a recipe as it is a state of mind, complete with secret language and poetic license.
“Gumbo” connotes one-too-many hurricanes. One, a cloud-funneled storm, the other, a rum-based drink experienced in a feverish pitch of shiny beads and parades.
“Gumbo Ya-Ya” recalls chattering women cooking in the French Quarter. The “Experience New Orleans” website suggests “Gumbo Ya Ya” to be a noisy party.
“Gris-gris Gumbo Ya-Ya” is singer/songwriter, Dr. John, casting voo-doo magic into his listener’s ear: ” I got my medicine, to cure all y’alls ills… got remedies of every description…Gris-Gris, Gumbo Ya Ya”.
To my husband, Richard, gumbo only means the tasty chicken and andouille sausage recipe I make every year celebrating Mardi Gras. This year I’m making a double batch and inviting the family over to applaud the New Orlean’s Saint’s Super Bowl win.
To that end, gumbo means compromise. If I fry the chicken for the gumbo, and make my roux from the chicken fat, my “heart-smart” husband will voice concern. If I add a lot of hot pepper and okra, the children will protest.
My mom followed a gumbo recipe in her Baton Rouge “River Road” Cookbook. She said that if a recipe didn’t include okra, you couldn’t call it gumbo.
I’ve eaten gumbo at K- Paul’s as well as Mr. B’s in New Orleans and neither of these venerable restaurants put okra in their gumbo. Maybe they don’t want to upset the tourists. I love okra in this gumbo but omitted it; if you like okra, I’d encourage you to return it to the pot.
There are some iron-clad commonalities to all gumbos. It surely wouldn’t be gumbo without the “holy trinity” of chopped celery, onion and bell peppers. Creole and Cajun gumbos traditionally include a “roux” to thicken the gumbo with a stock added to make the “stew”. There are an endless combination of roux colors and flavors; I prefer using a dark red-brown roux in this recipe.
A dark roux is essential to gumbo, delivering its inimitable, deep nutty flavor. To make dark roux, Paul Prudhomme (Louisiana’s father of Cajun cuisine) recommends adding the flour to the oil when it is at its smoking point, and rapidly whisking as you add the flour.
Granted, this method delivers a wonderful dark roux in minutes. But it involves extremely high heat and furious whisking; if the roux splatters onto your skin (Prudomme refers to this as “Cajun Napalm”), you could be on the receiving end of a very bad burn.
I err on the side of caution cooking my roux over medium heat, while slowly adding flour, vegetables and stock. This recipe technique takes longer to make, but the end result is just as delicious. The technique is in-line with the on-line version of Mr. B’s chicken gumbo recipe.
Like any childhood food you may have been raised on, gumbo’s left a footprint on my soul, recalling a chain of kin-folk stirring up a palette of earthen browns in cast-iron skillets.
Making gumbo is conjecture. It’s leaving the recipe behind, and opening your palate to flavor you may never knew existed.
This be some mighty fine gumbo. Serve with white rice, Tabasco and a Zydeco two-step.