I’m Cajun – Gumbo Edition

I was born in Lake Charles LA and raised there until about 10 years old. It’s still a big part of who I am. I still have fond memories and today I’m going to talk about gumbo. Yes, I know how to make gumbo and while I know how to make roux (pronounced roo), I don’t make my own – you can buy it on Amazon. Roux is a dark brown base that makes the gumbo thick and gives it that unique flavor. There are other types of roux, including a blond roux which is often used in etouffee (a story for another time). While living in Michigan as a teenager, my mother made her own roux (because you can’t get it up there). She left the brown clump of roux sitting on the kitchen corner and, as I walked into the kitchen, my boyfriend had an awful expression and making a gross noise. He said he thought it was fudge (which my mom is known to make from time to time). So, as a joke I told him it was rat poisoning. He freaked out and was scraping the roux off his tongue with a spoon and yelling at me to stop laughing and call 911. He wasn’t too amused by this lol Never take a bite of roux, because it’s disgusting by itself!

If you haven’t heard of the holy trinity, it’s onions, bell pepper, and celery… but you don’t have to use it. I don’t typically use celery in mine and I love adding green onions (or scallions as we called it). You can have any combination of shrimp, sausage (try andouille), chicken, and okra in your gumbo. There’s also this green colored fine powdered stuff called gumbo filet. It’s dried and ground sassafras leaves. You can get it online and sprinkle just a little bit on top to taste. It’s different but it adds a unique flavor and it tastes so good!

Some people don’t like the slimy texture that okra creates but I love it! I, also, have a little tip to combat the slime. Cook your gumbo as normal, but wait to add the okra until it’s almost done. That way it doesn’t cook for as long and doesn’t get as slimy. I have a fond and rare memory of sitting with Granny (on my dad’s side) outside trimming the tops off the fresh okra for an hour or more. I remember the first time that my mom made gumbo in Michigan. We went to Meijer (a grocery store like Walmart) and asked for okra. They showed us this tiny little carton of okra and mom asked where the rest was… that was it. When she bought the whole thing they were truly surprised. Mom educated the young man that we would buy a big ass bushel of okra for a pot of gumbo, which would be more than x5 times what they had! More often than not, gumbo is made in a giant pot. Why do we make so much? Because the ingredients are cheap and, most of all, you invite the whole family over for dinner! I remember gumbo nights with mom, my brother and sister, their kids, my aunts and there kids and their kids kids, and memaw. For those who don’t know, memaw means grandma and paw paw mean grandpa.

In my home, all the kids rushed to the pot and fought over the ladle, but not for the first bowl of gumbo. Me and my siblings would be huddled together digging in the pot in search of a treasure. What were we looking for, you ask? The few and precious boiled eggs. There’s only a few, which is why we rushed to be the first at the pot! A gumbo soaked egg tastes soooo good! It’s a different kind of egg hunt and it’s a fond memory. I still put a boiled egg in my gumbo today.

When the gumbo was too hot, my mom used to put an ice cube in my gumbo. The gumbo made with water and it won’t water it down too much. If I scooped up gumbo beside the ice cube, it was just cool enough to eat. When that cube melted away, my mom got me another cube. After a two or three cubes, the whole bowl has cooled off to just the right temperature. My mom used this trick with chicken and gravy (another southern stew for another story).

The pot sits on the stove through the night (with the heat OFF) and, as my step father learned, you never forget to put the lid back on the pot when you sneak a bowl in the middle of the night. The next morning, there’s my Aunt with an angry wooden spoon in her hand pointing it all the suspects. “Who snuck got a bowl last and didn’t put the lid back on?! You spoilt the gumbo!” she waived that spoon. If it had been one of us kids she might have swatted at us with that spoon. The gumbo will keep over night, but only if you keep the lid on it. By that next morning someone would have packaged up the left overs and sent it home with family – which then goes into the fridge.

Spoiled gumbo smells dreadful and you don’t want to put it into the trash. It’ll stink up the house and the liquid will leek from the trash bag. Don’t pour it down the drain or it’ll get clogged. So what do you do? You put the pot outside for a few hours or overnight and let all the swamp critters eat it. Even now, in Oklahoma, I poor bad gumbo in the bushes outside and let the strays and raccoon eat it. A lot of those animals can digest the rotten foods that we throw out and they’ll be just fine. Opossums love this stuff!

You might ask me what my recipe is, but that’s the best part. There isn’t one. We do it memaws way handed down from mother to daughter. You cut up sausage, throw in the chicken legs, throw in the shrimp, and add your cut up or frozen okra. Throw in your diced up trinity and add a few eggs to hard boil. You fill the pot with water and then add your roux. How much roux? It depends on how big the pot is! There’s no measurements, we just know how much to add. If the gumbo is too thick, add more water. If it’s too thin, add more roux. Some of us add beef stock to the gumbo to give it that extra flavor and substance. Salt and pepper to taste and throw on some Tony Chachere’s to spice it up. If you want it more spicy, wait til it’s down and add some Louisiana Hot Sauce to your bowl! I probably don’t need to tell you this, but it goes over white rice.

If you want a recipe, google it!

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