By Barry David
A proper gumbo has to be thick, spicy, and loaded with shrimp, sausage, a particular assortment of sautéed vegetables, and it must include okra. An article in the Wall Street Journal reviewed four of the best gumbo joints in Louisiana. I tried placing an online order at the top three listed, but their sites were either not user friendly or indicated that they were “out of stock–leave your request and we’ll call ya when we make more to ship.” This was Mardi Gras time, and gumbo was in high demand down there.
I resorted to the telephone and called the top restaurant. The WSJ food editor said they made “the best gumbo in the world.” I strategized and called after the noon rush and spoke to Charlene. She had a soft, smooth, southern voice and was unbelievably friendly.
I told her about having difficulty ordering online and said I wanted to place my order by telephone. She checked with the chef owner and told me about what they could ship. I asked about what was in their gumbo–shrimp or crawfish? Do you use butter in the roux? Do you put okra in? What kind of sausage?
“Whoa, there, northern boy.” (The Boston accent had tipped her off.) “How do you know so much about gumbo?”
“Well, Charlene, I happen to make my own gumbo, and it’s terrific,” I said. “I like to cook, sort of a hobby.”
“You make gumbo up there? Do you have a recipe?”
I couldn’t resist putting her on…“Why, yes. It’s an old secret family one, and I use lots of butter, shrimp, and okra.”
“Well, by golly, for a Yankee, you do know your gumbo.”
We completed the order, and I gave her my AmEx info. As soon as a new batch was made and put in quart containers, it would be packed and shipped overnight in a foam cold pack.
All went well.
The “imported” gumbo from Baton Rouge, Louisiana was truly wonderful and almost as delicious as my own thick and spicy version (never the same twice).
More importantly, I made a new friend, sharing recipe secrets and “breaking bread” in a real sense. I hope Charlene feels the same.
So, here’s Barry’s Gumbo—which I started from a basic recipe found on the internet and modified to perfection. Substitute items depending on your own tastes and what you have available.
Stuff to Get Ready
4 tbsp butter
¼ cup flour
2 onions, diced
2-3 peppers, red, yellow, green, etc. diced, 1/4 to 1/2 inch pieces
3 celery rib (skinned), 1/4 inch pieces
1/2 cup chopped okra (more or less) in ½ inch pieces
3-4 garlic cloves, chopped (more or less, depending on what your crowd likes)
1 pound Cajun sausage (I try to get spicy turkey) cut into ½ inch pieces
1 large 12-15 oz can diced fire roasted tomatoes
1 jar spicy chunky salsa
1 teaspoon Cajun seasoning–if you want more, add when simmering to taste
4 cups chicken broth (I make from concentrate, Knoors)
1 pound real good med-large shrimp…shelled, cleaned. Leave tails on.
Bunch of scallions…cut up 3-4 to sprinkle on top if people want
Teaspoon of red pepper flakes (test, add more while simmering to taste)
¼ cup brown rice
White jasmine or basmati rice to serve with gumbo. Have ready, or just microwave some in those small containers.
- In skillet, brown the sausage pieces. Set aside.
- In large pot, medium heat, melt butter and add flour. STIR, STIR, STIR while mixing in flour until mixture (ROUX) darkens…5-10 minutes of STIRRING
- Put all vegs in the ROUX and cook, stirring, for 5-10 minutes.
- Add in broth, tomatoes, salsa. Bring to boil then to a SIMMER…stirring in cajan spices, the red pepper flakes, brown rice(optional, help to thicken as you like) some salt if you want..go easy on salt, pepper until you check it.
- 45-60 minutes of simmering. Check to see if vegs soft. NOT MUSHY.
- then add in shrimp, sausage..stirring after about 5-10 minutes shrimp will get pink. Can also use cooked/cleaned shrimp but only leave to heat for 1-2 minutes, no need to cook.
DONE!! Serve over the white rice, sprinkle with scallion pieces and your favorite beer/wine.
Barry says that he and his wife Liz began taking courses at BOLLI “almost from the beginning while winding down my career in the computer field as GM of ADP. Love taking subjects that I’ve not had exposure to before. Being snowbirds, we’re delighted that spring semester has five-week offerings. BOLLI has been and remains an important part of our life.”