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Of all the foods that mark Louisiana's unique and delicious cuisine nothing says ‘New Orleans’ like a big bowl of Gumbo.
Emblematic of Louisianna’s rich melting pot of cultures, in authentic gumbo, you can find the influences of the different people’s who have inhabited the marshy, slow-moving bayou on the Gulf of Mexico over the centuries.
Welcome all year round, Gumbo is particularly popular when Mardi Gras rolls around. This week, in the run-up to the Ash Wednesday and the peak of Mardi Gras, it will be eaten well beyond New Orleans and Lousinanna and all over the world.
Just as the state itself has a proud mixed culture of Spanish, French, Haitian, Native American and African cultures, gumbo is a flavoursome representation of that heritage. There are about as many individual recipes for gumbo as there are families and restaurants in the state - Creole gumbo, filé gumbo, cowan gumbo, chicken gumbo, smoked sausage gumbo, hot sausage gumbo, onion gumbo Gumbo has a blurred history, its origins are not fully clear, but there are a few indications for what is a truly authentic gumbo.
The name Gumbo is derived from the West African word for okra, meaning =it was probably originally cooked with okra, while the addition of filé (dried and ground sassafras leaves) was most likely a Choctaw influence. Gumbo uses a roux, a French invention, however, the roux in a gumbo is usually much darker. The darkness of the roux, (flour browned in butter or oil) differs from chef to chef and the argument of how much to use and how dark rages on and on.
The most famous recipes you can find for gumbo are usually for chicken gumbo or sausage gumbo. The Creole Cookery Book, published in 1885 references the dish, stating that it can be made with a variety of ingredients - “can be made of scraps of cold meat or fowl, a few oysters, crabs or shrimps, and, with a couple of spoonfuls of well-cooked rice, is a very satisfying and economical dinner.”
Typically with gumbo, you get land or sea, that is chicken or seafood, but there are examples of gumbo recipes that mix poultry and seafood such as the Duck, smoked sausage, and oyster gumbo, hardboiled eggs or quail eggs are often added as well. Generally, almost any meat can go in a gumbo pot – chicken, game, beef, turkey… but there is some controversy over whether tomatoes should be added or not. One thing that almost all gumbo chefs agree on though is that it should be served with rice. There is no exact type of rice, basmati, long grain, wild or brown, again it’s really down to taste. The filé powder, if added is usually done so at the end.
How to cook gumbo
An easy, 30 minutes recipe to prepare chicken and shrimp gumbo, is cooked on medium low heat, with Cajun seasoning.
Butter 50 gr
2 chicken breasts, skinned and cut into pieces
Garlic 1 clove, chopped
Chicken stock 250 mil
Salt and pepper
1 orange or red bell pepper
Rice 200gr to serve
Onion, finely chopped
Celery 1 stalk chopped
Andouille sausage 100 gr
Tomato 2 tbsp puree (optional)
Okra 100gr, sliced
Worcestershire sauce 1tsp
Shrimps or Crayfish tails, 200 gr, raw
Coriander leaves, chopped to garnish
Add butter to the pan and cook the chicken until browned, remove and set aside. Add onions or green onions, peppers and celery and cook until soft. Add garlic and paprika and cook stirring frequently. Add sausage and cook until soft, remove from heat and set aside.
After a few minutes stirring add flour as desired, depending on how thick you want the gumbo and stir until the flour is browned, again, depending on how dark you want it.
Stir in the tomato paste and the chicken, sausage, stock and add bay leaves. Bring to the boil, reduce and add the Tabasco, chicken, remove shrimp shells and add shrimp, peppers and okra. Simmer gumbo stirring occasionally, and cook rice to taste, for 15 minutes, add file powder and serve.