Gumbo. The Ultimate Comfort Food

A lifetime ago while travelling through the USA, I was amazed by the extreme diversity the country had and it was as though each state I visited was a country within a country. My naïve belly and mind travelled through South and North Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Georgia, Texas and Louisiana. The city that really took my breath away for mostly good reasons was New Orleans and it is not until recently, when learning more about Southern food, just how wonderful and diverse the city’s cuisine was, is and has become. From a stew of jambalaya, a muffuletta stuffed with Italian meats and cheeses to oysters Rockefeller or the vast array of shellfish – in particular, crawfish, New Orleans is a wonderful mixture of tradition, culture and innovation.

The first gumbo was documented in 1803 and in The Creole Cookery Book (1885), New Orleans gumbo is simply described as “made from scraps of meat or fowl, a few oysters, crabs or shrimp with a couple of spoonfuls of well-cooked rice”.

Who exactly invented Gumbo is and will forever be unknown. With the inclusion of meat such as pork there is a Spanish influence, the use of roux to encourage the brown colour of a good gumbo could be from the French, the use of okra from Africans and the inclusion of file (“fee-lay”), sassafras leaf powder is undeniably Native American.

Gumbo can be thickened with okra or file, but never both and roux can also be included. It consists of a hearty beef or chicken stock, tomatoes may or may not be added and it will most definitely always contain garlic and onions.

Through my research of history and recipes of gumbo – not one is the same and who is to say what style (Creole or Cajun) is the original or most traditional. However, what is apparent, is that this hearty stew tells a thousand tales of history and the people who came to live in Southern Louisiana. I hope you enjoy my little version of gumbo and eat it by the bowlful.

THE RECIPE

Preparation Time: 30 minutes
Cooking Time: 2.5-3 hours
Serves: 4 people

THE INGREDIENTS
70g bacon drippings OR unsalted butter
50g plain flour
80g/1 medium green capsicum
80g/2 celery sticks
100g/1 small white onion
120g okra, topped and tailed
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
200g Andouille sausage*
300g uncooked medium prawns (shelled and deveined)
2L good quality chicken stock
1 can chopped tomatoes (425g)
2tblsp Worcestershire sauce
3 old bay leaves
3tsp paprika
½ tsp smoked paprika
1-2 tsp cracked black pepper
1tsp dried thyme
1-2tsp cayenne pepper (more if you like it extra spicy)
Sea salt to taste
5-10g Flat leaf parsley leaves, roughly chopped
Spring onions, finely chopped
*you can also use Mexican chorizo, Polish kielbasa or German smoked sausages. Anything to impart a smokier flavour

THE METHOD

Roughly chop celery, onion and green capsicum.

Cut okra into 1cm rounds

Cut the sausage into 5mm rounds and fry until brown and crispy on both sides. Take out the sausage and cook the okra for about 1 minute in the same pan. Set aside.

Place flour and butter or baking drippings in a heavy crockpot on a low heat. Whisk constantly until the roux is a dark cinnamon colour (this will take about 15 minutes)

On a low heat still, add in the onion, celery and green capsicum to the roux until the vegetables have softened. Lastly add garlic.

Add in half the chicken stock slowly while constantly mixing. Throw in bay leaves, spices, Worcestershire sauce and tomatoes. Pour in the rest of the chicken stock and allow the gumbo to simmer for 1hour.

Add in the okra and cook for a further 30 minutes.

Add the cooked sausage and simmer for 40 minutes

When the stew has nicely thickened (thick honey consistency), lastly toss through the prawns until cooked. Turn off the heat and add chopped parsley.

Serve with fluffy white rice with spring onions tossed through it