Friday, March 4th, 2011 | posted by mike
"Laissez les bon temps rouler!"
It’s Mardi Gras time, the Lenten season is approaching and it’s time to get in the kitchen and make some gumbo—Louisiana’s most famous dish, and they’ve got lots of them.
The history of gumbo goes back so far that it’s impossible to credit any one group with its origin. The French Acadians came down from Nova Scotia with bouillabaisse that many think was the beginning of gumbo, but aside from their contribution of the essential fat and flour base, roux, gumbo resembles more of a West African okra-based stew than a bouillabaisse. In any case, the stew evolved over time with every group that settled in the area, including the original Native Americans who provided filé (powdered sasafrass leaves) used as a thickener. The Spanish sofrito (celery, onion and bell peppers) became an ingredient along with sausages from the Germans. The West Indians spiced things up a bit, the Africans brought the okra and an incredible cultural hodgepodge evolved. The name probably came from the African Bantu word for okra (“kingombo”) or quite possibly the Choctaw Indian word for sassafras—”kombo.”
There are probably as many different gumbo recipes as there are residents of Louisiana, everyone has their old family recipes that’s been handed down. There’s Creole Gumbo, Cajun Gumbo, gumbos with smoked pork sausage (andouille) and chicken gumbo. There are beef versions, duck, rabbit, quail, gumbo z’herbes (green gumbo made with all veggies traditionally served the Thursday before Good Friday) and our favorite—seafood gumbo. You can get creative with your recipe but here are some gumbo basics:
- the roux is the base of your gumbo, whether butter based or fat (or oil) based it gives you thickness, flavor and color;
- stock- either chicken, fish or shellfish depending on the type of gumbo;
- the holy trinity (bell pepper, onion and celery);
- filé or okra to thicken. (Our friend Peggy Lampman says, “If it ain’t got okra, it ain’t gumbo!”)
And gumbos gotta have white rice. Now all you have to do is get your skillet, head down to the bayou, shoot some ducks, catch some crabs and shrimp and whatever other available ingredients there are and, just like the early settlers, make up a batch of gumbo. You could save a lot of time and effort if you just head down to Kerrytown and visit us at Monahan’s, we’ve got the fish, shellfish and filé or check out Bob Sparrow’s fresh andouille, chicken, duck, quail or rabbit.
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