One of the first dishes you think of when someone mentions New Orleans food is Gumbo. Of course, it is the official cuisine of the state of Louisiana. No one knows for sure where the name came from. Most believe it is derived from either a word from a Bantu language for okra (ki ngombo) or the Choctaw word for filé (ground sassafras leaves). Okra and filé are used as thickeners in gumbo, usually not together. Okra is most often found in seafood gumbos.
Gumbo is an economical dish, as it can be used to feed a large group of people with a small amount of meat or seafood. It is also a versatile dish. You are able to use whatever meat or seafood you have on hand. Most gumbos are either made with meat or seafood, although you can sometimes find sausage in a seafood gumbo.
Many southern Louisiana cooking competitions revolve around gumbo. The town of Bridge City, just outside the city of New Orleans, is the self-described Gumbo Capital of the World. Locally, the Hot Springs Gumbo & Catfish Festival will be held on April 22, 2017. Also in April, West Memphis host a Gumbo festival.
To make a gumbo, first you make a roux. Many Creole and Cajun dishes are started by making a roux. A roux will make or break your dish. Roux is more than just a thickener. It also adds flavor to your gumbo and other dishes. You must be very careful with the roux. If you start smelling a burnt smell, throw it out and start over. Even if you think you got all of the brunt parts out, your finished dish will still taste burnt. You also need to make sure you do not splash any roux on you. It will leave a bad burn. Let’s get Cookin’.
Equal parts Vegetable Oil or Butter and Flour
Heat oil in a pan over moderate to low heat. Add flour and stir until smooth. Cook, stirring constantly, to the desired color. Remember, the darker the color, the less the roux will thicken the dish. Roux should be glossy in appearance. White Roux should be barely colored, or chalky. Pale or Blonde Roux should be golden straw colored, with a slight nutty aroma. Brown or Black Roux should be deep brown, with a strong nutty aroma. Add your seasonings (onions, garlic, bell peppers, etc.) before you add your liquid. Make sure your liquid is room temperature or cool. This will ensure a smooth sauce.
When I think of gumbo, the seafood version is what comes to mind. This is the version that I grew up on. Most dishes are made to be eaten as soon as you have finished preparing them. I find that gumbo taste better the next day, allowing the flavors to marry.
3/4 cup Canola Oil
2 cups Onion, chopped
1 cup Green Bell Pepper, seeds removed and chopped
1 cup Celery, chopped
2 tablespoons Garlic, chopped
1 tablespoon Salt
1/2 teaspoon Black Pepper
1/2 teaspoon Cayenne Pepper
5 Bay Leaves
8 cups Seafood Stock
1 pound medium Shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 pound Crabmeat, picked thru for shells
2 dozen shucked Oysters
1/4 cup Green Onions, chopped
1/4 cup fresh Parsley, chopped
Combine the oil and flour in a large heavy-bottomed pot over medium-low heat. Stir slowly and constantly for 20 to 25 minutes, making a dark roux, the color of chocolate. Add the onions, bell pepper, celery, garlic, salt, black pepper, cayenne pepper and bay leaves. Cook, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes, or until the vegetables are very soft. Lower heat to low. Add stock and stir to blend. Simmer uncovered, stirring occasionally, for 1 1/2 hours. Add the shrimp and Crabmeat and cook for 15 minutes. Add the oyster, green onions and parsley and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, or until the edges of the oysters begin to curl. Remove from heat. Remove the bay leaves. Serve over rice and pass the Filé powder at the table.
Note: You can use whatever seafood you like. I know many people who don’t like oysters. They can be replaced with scallops, clams or more shrimp and crabmeat.
Good Cooking, Good Eating and Good Living!