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The Greatness Of Gumbo
by Kirsten Hawkins
Perhaps nothing is better known as a staple of Cajun cuisine
than gumbo, a spicy, hearty stew or soup whose name literally
means “okra”. Called one of the greatest contributions of
Louisiana Cajun kitchens to American cuisine, it came to that
state with the first French settlers, who loved bouillabaisse,
a highly seasoned French stew. Unable to find their usual
ingredients to make bouillabaisse, they substituted local
ingredients such as shrimp, fish, and okra. After a century
mixing with Spanish, African, and native cuisine in the region,
the step was no longer recognizable as its French precursor and
was instead something completely new – gumbo.
Still extremely common in Louisiana, gumbo is also found all
along the Gulf of Mexico, and is often eaten in the cooler
months, when the extended cooking required to make the usually
large batches of the dish will not heat up the room to
Gumbo consists of two main components – rice and broth. The two
are mixed together only for serving, and while new rice must be
prepared daily, broth can be frozen and saved for future
Rice for gumbo is usually white or parboiled rice steamed or
boiled with salt or a touch of white vinegar for flavor. There
is some dispute over the proper ratio of rice to gumbo – “damp
rice,” for those who like a lot of rice with their broth, and,
on the opposite extreme, only a modicum of rice. In some areas,
it is also common to add potato salad to the gumbo, either with
or without rice.
The broth comes in several varieties. One of the most common is
seafood, containing crab, oysters and/or shrimp. Equally common
is chicken gumbo with the Cajun sausage called audouille. There
is also duck and oyster gumbo, as well as a variety of gumbos
made with other fowl, such as quail or turkey. Rabbit can be
used for gumbo, as can the Cajun smoked pork known as tasso.
Gumbo z’herbes (from the French gumbo aux herbes), gumbo of
smothered greens thickened with roux, also exists, and was
commonly eaten during Lent, when meat was traditionally
forbidden by the Church.
Gumbo was originally made with okra, and some, especially in
Southeast Louisiana would argue that anything made without okra
can not rightly be called gumbo. Okra gumbos usually feature
lighter meats, such as chicken or shrimp, and the okra is cut
into pieces and simmered in the pot along with the meat and the
three spices that form the so-called “Holy Trinity” of Cajun
cooking – onion, celery, and bell pepper. Other spices, and
rarely processed meats such as sausage, are then added to the
mix. Contrary to popular belief, it is frowned upon for a chef
to make Cajun cooking overly hot or peppery – these are left to
the diners themselves if they wish to add more spices later.
Gumbo can also be made with a roux base, which has a much
stronger taste and takes any sort of meat. Roux by itself is
often very dark, though it can be combined with okra to make a
lighter stock. Filé, a powder made of dried and ground
sassafras, can also be used as a base for gumbo, though it is
never, under any circumstances, combined with okra. Originally,
it was used as a substitute when okra was not in season. In
modern times, it is commonly added as a powder to a roux based
Regardless of its base and history, gumbo remains a tasty
staple of Cajun cooking.
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About The Author:
Kirsten Hawkins is a food and nutrition
expert specializing the Mexican, Chinese, and Italian food.
on cooking delicious and healthy meals.