I’ve come to learn that gumbo is a dish that can be many things for many people. Wikipedia bills the dish as a stew or soup which originated in south Louisiana. It consists primarily of a strong stock, meat or shellfish, a thickener, and the vegetable “holy trinity” of celery, bell peppers, and onion. They even go on to explain;
Since the 19th century, gumbo has often featured at social gatherings or other special occasions. At local fais do-do (dance parties), gumbo was available beginning at midnight. Many families “have a gumbo”, or host a casual social gathering where friends and family chat and enjoy alcoholic beverages and gumbo. In rural Acadiana, gumbo is a central feature of Mardi Gras celebrations. On Mardi Gras, local men wander from house to house and beg for gumbo ingredients in an event known as courir de Mardi Gras. Members of the local community then gather in a central location while the men cook the gumbo. When it is ready, the group eats and dances until midnight, when Lent begins.
Gumbo is the official cuisine of the state of Louisiana. Many southern Louisiana cooking competitions center around gumbo, and it is a central feature of many local festivals. The self-described “Gumbo Capital of the World”, Bridge City, Louisiana, holds an annual Gumbo Festival. The festival features gumbo cooked in a cast-iron pot which is 3 feet (0.91 m) deep and 5 feet (1.5 m) in diameter. More commonly, festival gumbo pots measure 2 feet (0.61 m) in-depth and diameter.
So, we aren’t in Louisiana, and we weren’t feeding festival goers, but we can at least try right! Really, the whole idea of cooking gumbo started during our walk thru the Strathcona Farmers’ Market, when Sarah spotted a dish including okra. This reminded me of gumbo and we soon found ourselves turning an afternoon coffee date with Stephie, into a meal. And then it snowballed. Once Sarah’s plans changed, and friends started asking about our day, we soon found ourselves with more guests coming than bowls. I needed to do some serious shopping. I needed to find chairs…
I was able to find most of my ingredients at Superstore, with a quick journey to Old Country for some sausage. While you can use cured meats in gumbo, I decided to use freshly ground meat pork. At home, I set about conquering the dish. A heavy pot is a must, as the roux is so easy to burn in a thin metal pot, so I pulled out my giant Le Creuset (which I ended up filling to the brim) and went to town. I think my right foreman had no idea what was coming. First the constant stirring for the roux, then the steady stirring of vegetables, then….then the endless stirring of okra to rid it of that slime. If you’ve ever had sliced okra that tasted off, I’m almost betting the farm it wasn’t cooked long enough. The slime (see pictures) took a solid 25 minutes of steady stirring to disappear. Thankfully after that, it was all downhill and I could let it simmer.
As our guests arrived and seats started to disappear, I tossed in the last pound of large shrimp for a quick poach before serving over rice. Served alongside some experimental barley stout tartine bread, I’m happy to say that only two servings were left at the end of the night. Just enough for a warm breakfast the next day. Now, too bad all the big shrimp were picked out.
1 cup oil
1 cup flour
3 cups finely diced red pepper
3 cups finely diced celery
4 cups diced onion
5 bay leaves
2 lbs okra (cut in rings)
1 lb hot italian sausage
1 lb chorizo sausage
2 lbs shrimp (21-25)
1 lb shrimp (15)
1/2 cup parsley
1/2 cup green onion
14-16 cups stock (chicken or seafood)
1. In a heavy pot, combine the oil and flour over medium high heat and stir until chocolate-brown. This is going to take some time and a steady eye. If you burn the roux, there is no way to cook out the bitterness, so you might as well throw it out and start again.
2. Add the trinity of vegetables and lower heat to medium. Cook until vegetables are soft 10-15 minutes.
3. Add bay leaves and okra; stirring like you’ve never stirred before. 20-30 minutes, and the slimy strings should have disappeared. You’ll see it.
4. Add the sausage and a handful of small count shrimp. Cook this for 10-15 minutes. Use the back of a heavy spoon to break the shrimp apart. These are just going in early to add some depth.
5. Throw in the parsley and green onion, stir, add the stock. A lot of it. The joy of gumbo is that you can scoop out the goods and add as little or as much liquid as you like. Make it soupy. Make it stewy. It’s up to you.
6. Bring to a boil. Cover. Lower heat to simmer for 30 minutes.
7. Add remaining shrimp and continue simmering until cooked through. Probably around 5 minutes.
8. Serve in bowls, over rice. Garnish with parsley, green onion and/or hot sauce.