I started making gumbo last night. This is a two to three day process, because, out of respect to the city of New Orleans, I do not fuck around with my gumbo. I have worked long and hard on this recipe, and have it almost perfect – and I think this time, it will be.
The secrets to great gumbo:
1. Chicken stock. I boil two chickens a couple days in advance, chill & skim the stock, and use the chickens themselves for the chicken meat in the gumbo. I just cover the chickens with spring water – NOT L.A. tap. New Orleans actually has fairly clean tap water – or had, before last year – so I have to reproduce that.
2. Fresh vegetables. This is where having a great Farmer’s Market is important. Celery, peppers, okra, onions…all fine from the store, but so much better fresh off the truck. Canned tomatoes are fine, but vegetables must be fresh.
3. Thickener. Okra is not always enough, the flour in the roux may not be enough…when making a large amount of gumbo, a bit of file powder may be needed.
4. Roux. I toast flour in a toaster oven until brown, and then mix with water and a LITTLE bit of oil, instead of cooking oil and flour in equal parts together, so as to make the gumbo lower fat.
5. Shellfish. Gumbo, by definition, has sausage, chicken and seafood in it. Crayfish (which are freshwater), if possible. Saltwater shrimp, if not. Either one will give the gumbo that hint of the bayou, that little bit of marsh. Andouille sausage, the spicier the better. I like the Whole Foods spicy chicken sausage, myself – I admit, I still won’t make this so authentic as to eat pork in it.
6. Tabasco. I buy mine at Costco. I use half a bottle in my party-size gumbo recipe. And it must be REAL Tabasco. Not Crystal, not Trader Joe’s hot sauce – TABASCO. The kind made in Avery, LA, an hour out of New Orleans. The kind that has been used with gumbo for a century. Making gumbo with anything BUT Tabasco is like making it with L.A. tap water, and is a pure disrespect to the state from which this fine food comes.
So that’s it. Simmer for hours, while drinking well chilled white wine. Serve over sticky, nutritionless white rice, with a Hurricane on the side. Accept marriage proposals that result gracefully – at my birthday, my too-thin gumbo, with its stringy chicken bits, that I considered below my usual ability, still caused two separate men to exclaim, “I will marry the girl who made this gumbo!”
Oh, and then, when you recover from overindulging in gumbo and hurricanes, visit Common Ground and donate, because that is where a friend from CODEPINK is volunteering, and they are doing a power of good. Or visit Second Harvest to give food to others. Because that is how we can honor New Orleans the most. We can celebrate the city by eating and drinking in its traditions…but more so, by helping its people to survive.