Super Mardi Gras Gumbo

Let the Good Times Roll

The confluence of Super Bowl Sunday and Mardi Gras 2013 seems to me like a perfect time to share one of my all-time favorite recipes for a super pot of sustenance: Louisiana Créole Gumbo.

If Louisiana were still a separate country, Gumbo would be its national dish. Everyone with roots in America’s southern culinary capital eats Gumbo and there are a hundred different ways to make it. Every family has its own version, often shrouded in secrecy and passed down from generation to generation.

In common parlance, the word “gumbo” describes something that is mixed up.  Its official name comes from “gombo” – an African word for okra. This dark green, hairy, phallic looking vegetable originated in Africa and retains its original nomenclature – variously okra, ochro, okoro, gumbo or gombo. Found growing wild on the banks of the Nile River, Egyptians began to cultivate it in the 12th Century BC. It was brought to the Americas on slave ships. Okra plants are huge, often growing to more than six feet in height. The edible part can vary in color from yellow, to red, to green, however, the green type is the one that is used in Gumbo. It contains healthy proportions of vitamins A and C and is often thought of as an aphrodisiac by the people who enjoy it the most.

It is now generally accepted that Créole Gumbo began in New Orleans as an adaptation of French bouillabaisse, with the addition of Spanish, African and Native American ingredients. The ménage à trois of okra, filé powder and roux give it a unique, earthy taste and consistency, one that is unduplicated anywhere else. However, there are many different recipes – coming from all parts of the world. In general, any meat, poultry or seafood (in any combination) is acceptable in making Gumbo and vegetables can be added in any proportion.

This recipe comes from my mother. Once a year, always in winter, she would cook up a big pot of expensive ingredients and invite family and friends to share. In the process, she taught me the secrets to the magnificent aroma that wafted through our house.  Later, this recipe became a staple at Bojangles (my Paris restaurant), where it was served as live jazz wailed on the stage.

Louisiana Créole Gumbo

Louisiana Créole Gumbo

Ingredients

½ cup butter
1 cup celery (with leaves) — chopped
2 medium green bell peppers — chopped
1 medium red bell pepper — chopped
2 medium onions — chopped
4 stalks escallion (with greens) — chopped
1 whole chicken — cooked, boned & cut in small pieces
1# smoked roll sausage — sliced in rounds
8 cups fish stock
1 whole crab (large) — broken into pieces
1 cup crabmeat
4 cups shrimp (small) — cleaned & deveined
4 cups mussels (debearded)
12 medium plum tomatoes — chopped
24 fingers okra — sliced in rounds

Seasoning

1 tsp salt
2 tsp pepper (black)
2 tbs thyme
2 tbs oregano
2 tbs basil
6 whole bay leaves
2 tbs garlic (crushed)
4 tbs filé powder
chili (optional)

USE a large soup pot
HEAT butter
ADD vegetables (celery, peppers, onion & escallion) & saute lightly
ADD stock, seasonings, chicken & sausage
ADD okra, tomatoes
ADD seafood
COOK until all ingredients are done (about 20 minutes)

MAKE roux

HEAT 1 cup butter in a fry pan (until smoking but not burned)
ADD 1 cup flour & stir continuously on high heat until mixture is medium brown (VERY IMPORTANT: if mixture burns, throw away & start again)
ADD roux to gumbo pot (be very careful) & stir well
COOK for another 15 minutes or so until the broth is thickened

SERVE hot with rice & corn bread

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