Gumbo is New Orleans history in a bowl: the origin of its name, Kin-gombo, is an African word meaning “okra”; file, fine powdered sassafras leaves, were used as a thickener and flavor in the Choctaw (and possibly other tribes’) gumbos, and is now used as a final garnish; roux is the base of many French mother sauces, though the chocolate-colored, rich gumbo roux is much darker than its Gallic cousin; and the simple, one pot aspect of this dish can find its roots with Acadian settlers – French Canadians who were booted south to Louisiana in the18th century – who enjoyed typical peasant’s fare, centering around the cauldron and deep skillet, and thus, soups and stews.
The gumbo of several centuries ago hasn’t changed much from the gumbo we gorge ourselves on today. Always made with whatever meat was hand, flexible to the tastes and preferences of whoever’s making, always served with rice, and always a social event. Dr. Carl A. Brasseaux, of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, who has written numerous books on the history of the Cajuns, cites the first historical reference to gumbo as 1803, where it was served at a gubernatorial reception in New Orleans as an end of the evening repast to resuscitate guests who wore themselves out on the dance floor.
I don’t know if you plan on dancing to the wee hours leading up to Fat Tuesday, but I do recommend making some time to sit down over a bowl of gumbo with friends. My recipe for gumbo is classic and simple, and completely open to interpretation. Add your own seasonings, your favorite meat, whatever you like to make it your own. Enjoy!
1/2 cup bacon drippings (or lard or peanut oil), about 12 slices of bacon’s worth
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 large green bell pepper, finely chopped
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 cup finely chopped celery
1/2 pound roughly chopped fresh okra (or the same amount, frozen)
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons cajun seasoning blend
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
2 bay leaves
1 1/2 quart shellfish or chicken stock
1 tablespoon worcestershire sauce
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
12 ounces smoked andouille sausage, sliced
2 pounds uncooked medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
3-5 green onions, white and green parts, chopped
2 teaspoons gumbo file powder
To make the roux, heat the bacon drippings in a large Dutch oven (or heavy bottomed pot), on medium heat, for a minute or two. Whisk in the flour, and cook, stirring constantly, to make sure the flour cooks but doesn’t burn. Continue cooking the roux until is is a deep golden brown, then turn the heat to low and continue cooking until the roux is the color of a dirty penny. This whole process took me about 15 minutes.
Mix in the “holy trinity” of green pepper, onion and celery, plus the okra and garlic, and increase the heat to medium. Cook, stirring often, for 5 minutes. Stir in the Cajun seasoning, thyme leaves, and bay leaves.
In a separate pot, heat the stock and water until simmering. Slowly add the hot stock to the roux mixture, stirring constantly while you do so. Careful not to add cold stock, since it can make your roux break, which creates an oily mess. If this happens, add a little bit of hot water and stir vigorously, this usually helps. Bring the gumbo to a simmer and add the Worcestershire sauce and salt and pepper to taste. Simmer gently for an hour.
Stir in the andouille sausage and cook for 5 minutes. Add the shrimp and cook another 5 minutes, until the shrimp has just cooked through and are pink. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Serve with dirty rice (or white rice), garnish with green onions. Sprinkle with gumbo file powder and hot sauce to serve.
INGREDIENTS (DIRTY RICE)
2 cups long-grain rice (Carolina, basmati, jasmine, etc)
2 cups chicken broth
1/2 pound raw chicken livers or giblets
3 slices of bacon, chopped
1/2 pound ground pork
1/2 pound ground beef
1/2 cup finely chopped celery
1 medium green pepper, chopped
1 jalapeño pepper, stemmed, seeded, and finely chopped
2 1/2 cups onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon of cajun seasoning or to taste
1/4 cup chopped green onions
1/4 cup chopped parsley
3 dashes worcestershire sauce
Place the rice and 3 cups of water, plus 1 cup of the chicken broth in a medium pot over medium high heat. Bring to a boil, cover, and turn down to a simmer. Cook for about 15 minutes, or until the rice is tender and has fully absorbed the liquid. Remove the pot from heat, remove the lid, fluff the rice with a fork, cover with the lid again, and set aside.
While the rice is cooking, place the chicken livers in a food processor and pulse several times to finely chop. Set the livers aside. In a large pan (I used a dutch oven) over medium low heat, cook the bacon until just crispy. Add the ground pork and beef and increase the heat to high. Brown the meat for a few minutes before you start stirring, so it gets nice and crisp. Add the celery, green pepper, jalapeños, onions, garlic, chili powder, dried oregano, and cajun seasoning. Continue cooking for another 5 minutes, or until the vegetables start to get tender and brown. Add the minced liver and cook for a few minutes more, stirring to combine.
Add the remaining cup of chicken broth and deglaze the pan by scraping the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon to get any brown bits stuck to the bottom. Turn the heat up to high and cook until the liquid has reduced, about 3 minutes.
Turn off the heat and add the green onions and parsley. Add the rice to the pan, stirring to combine. Enjoy!