Today is National Gumbo Day, which means you should absolutely go find or make some gumbo because, well, it's GUMBO and it's DELICIOUS!
The National Day Calendar describes one of my favorite dishes:
Originating in southern Louisiana during the 18th century, Gumbo typically consists of strongly-flavored stock with meat or shellfish, a thickener, and seasoned vegetables. The seasoned vegetables may include celery, bell peppers, and onions. In Cajun cuisine, the trio is known as the "holy trinity." Most people serve Gumbo over rice. Gumbo also falls into different categories based on the following types of thickener used:
And New Orleans native and writer, journalist, documentary filmmaker, and cookbook author Lolis Eric Elie describes his mother's gumbo which, of course is always the best gumbo (in my case, my grandmother's gumbo was the best gumbo, sorry mom!):
My mother's gumbo is made with okra, shrimp, crabs and several kinds of sausage (the onions, garlic, bell pepper, celery, parsley, green onions and bay leaf go without saying). My mother's gumbo is a pleasing brown shade, roughly the color of my skin. It is slightly thickened with a roux, that mixture of flour and fat (be it vegetable, animal or dairy) that is French in origin and emblematic of Louisiana cooking. When served over rice, my mother's gumbo is roughly the consistency of chicken and rice soup.
My mother's was not the only gumbo I ate when I was growing up. But my description of her gumbo could easily be applied to most of the gumbo made by our friends and relatives. Or, to put it another way, I was aware of a spectrum, a continuum along which gumbo existed. A proper gumbo might contain more of this or less of that, but it never ventured too far from that core. With one notable exception. My elders acknowledged the existence of two types of gumbo: okra and filé. Filé, the ground sassafras leaves that the Choctaw contributed to the state's cuisine, thickened and flavored gumbo. By the time I came along, okra could be bought frozen year-round. So if you really wanted to make an okra gumbo in the dead of winter, you could. But in my parents' day, filé gumbo was wintertime gumbo, made when okra was out of season. Since filé powder wasn't seasonal, it was often added to okra gumbo at the table for additional flavor. Wieners, chicken meat and giblets—these things appeared in some people's gumbos and perhaps they liked them there. But I aways viewed them as additives, inexpensive meats used to stretch the pot.
Gumbo for me and my sister meant hours peeling shrimp or chopping seasoning a day or two before a major holiday. It meant the first course of Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner. It meant an appetizer as filling, rich and complicated as the many courses that followed it. Gumbo meant that God was in His heaven and all was right with the universe.
However you make it—as long as it's not TOO far off the traditional path (check this link for recipes NOT to make)—it's bound to be delicious. Enjoy!
Another version of gumbo: turducken gumbo with roasted turkey, stewed chicken, smoked duck, smoked turducken sausage, and a duck fat roux. "It's two whole days of work but worth it." Photo and gumbo by Greg Gaspard
Another delicious gumbo. Photo by Sonni Mun.
Cooking up some gumbo! Photo by Mark Johnson.