Saturday, December 25, 2010


For Friends, Chef, and Sis( I knew you wanted to know how to do this so I'm including you)

I presume you will know most of what I tell you but I will try not to leave anything out. My Mama taught me this beside a hot stove. (Mama was a world class cook raised in the South Louisiana traditions. No Shortcuts.)

"Gumbo" is the Swahili word for okra. The word and the vegetable were first brought to the West Indies by slaves from Africa and from there to Louisiana.  The soup/stew is as individual as the cooks who make it. My "Cane River Cuisine" cook book from Natchitoches (nak a tish) is the best guide with  9 different  recipes. (I pick and choose ingredients instead of following just one recipe)

In order of use: In a large cast iron skillet, (or dutch oven)

The best cooks begin with bacon drippings. !/2 cup should do.  Some, with the skill, use real butter, Cheaters use cooking oil but it has much less flavor (and flavor is our goal).

To the hot drippings add the veggies: one medium Onion, chopped fine.
One bell pepper chopped fine, 4 to 8 green onions, pealed and chopped, four ribs of celery chopped. (I use a half cup of the chopped celery leaves, others do not use the leaves at all) It doesn't matter how you chop the celery stalks, if you cook the gumbo right, in the end the celery falls apart. (the celery leaves need to be finely chopped) Cook until onions are clear. Remove veggies from fat.

Some cooks leave out the okra entirely. I fry mine separately in about 1/2 inch of vegetable oil in a cast iron skillet.  1 to 4 cups okra. Cut the fresh okra into 1/2 inch pieces (or smaller). Frozen okra is a mess and a danger when added to hot oil. Cook until the goo is gone and the okra is a greenish tan. If you do not stir it constantly  it will stick and burn. (some of the goo will stick and burn anyway-which is why I cook it separately.) Drain the okra and reserve in the bowl with the other cooked veggies. Throw this okra oil away.

I suppose chefs will call this "dark rue". (replace any bacon fat lost in cooking the Veggies) Into the bacon fat from the onion, celery, add 1 cup flour.  Stirring constantly over low heat, cook flour until it is dark dark brown ( a shade between milk chocolate and dark chocolate) it will smell awful, like it is beginning to burn. If it doesn't smell awful you haven't cooked it long enough. Slowly add a small amount of water (remember stirring constantly) then a little more in small amounts until you have a thick gravy. 

If you didn't start in a large dutch oven, pour the gravy into a large cooking pot and add 4 quarts of stock. The stock can be chicken stock bought in cans from the store, stock from boiling a big ham bone, or ham hocks, or fish stock (made by boiling fish bones and heads from when you fillet fish and the shrimp peals.)  {cheaters use just plain water} Add the cooked veggies,  a couple of cans, or fresh  chopped tomatoes with juice,  one can of tomato paste and 2-4 bay leaves.

Now is where real cooks start to get creative.

Seafood Gumbo: one-two pounds white fish cut in 1 inch chunks. One-two pounds Shrimp, pealed, devained. Do not add salt until the last thing before serving or the shrimp will turn into little curly rubber things. one pint raw oysters, and a pound or can of Crab meat. For real New Orleans style Gumbo Add 4 whole crabs. (Mama did this once. It turned out pretty good.) Fresh crabs may need special treatment to keep them from barfing sand into the gumbo. (Don't ask me, I don't know how.)

Chicken, sausage Gumbo: One or two old hens each cut into 8 -10 pieces and a couple of pounds of smoked sausage cut in 1/2 inch slices. If you use friers from the store do not add the pieces until the last half hour or so of cooking. (or you will end up with the chicken cooked to bits... old hens will not cook apart) or cooked de-boned chicken.)

Turkey from after Thanksgiving, Duck or wild duck, Squirrel, rabbit for hunters. I have never heard of cooks using fresh pork or beef.

Or, what may be the real origin of gumbo, Throw in a pile of fresh okra... maybe four pounds or so.

I cook until any raw meat is done and the gravy is moderately thick. Last I add spices to taste. Salt should be first or everything will taste funny. Add the salt a little at a time, you've got a lot of time and money in that pot now... and those "how to compensate for too much salt" ideas just make it worse. When the salt is right I toss in the other spices stir and cook a couple of minutes before tasting again.  If you have a finiky observer, they will get nervous over your tasteing and dipping with the same spoon. (Well Geez, the gumbo is boiling, The germs are all going to die with the next dip. Alternately, you can dip with one spoon and pour into a second... kind of helps cool too.)

Spices: black pepper, red pepper, garlic, thyme, tabasco, worchester  sauce, lemon juice/peal grated, paprika, basil, parsley, file' (fee lay)

...A fair amount of black pepper. Not much red. a fair amount of parsley, not much garlic, and two tablespoons of File'... I have not tried the others.

I serve it over a heaping serving spoon size portion of cooked basmati ( also called aeromatic) rice in a soup bowl. It goes better with a darker beer (for me anyway) because of the strong flavors.  Others prefer tea or coffee. Mama always made a strong tea with lots of sugar and lemon. I usually had two bowls of this and no dessert... well, maybe strawberry shortcake with cream (not whipped) and sugar.

You should try a pot first before inviting guests.

Good Luck, Rob

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