One of the definitions of "mumbo jumbo" is: "complicated activity or language usually intended to obscure and confuse." Perhaps this is where gumbo gets its roots? The infallible Wikipedia gives us more utilitarian, but equally fascinating, origins: “The dish likely derived its name from either a word from a Bantu language for okra (ki ngombo) or the Choctaw word for filé (kombo).”
When speaking with a southern friend about gumbo, he said, "Gumbo is more a culinary concept than a ritualistic recipe." He said his mama just used what she had on hand.
I suppose if it's your family recipe, it is ritualistic, but when I searched in old New Orleans cookbooks for gumbo recipes, I could not find one that even resembles what everyone knows these days to be gumbo.
A comment by another southern gentleman on an online recipe (from Epicurious.com) stated: "In our family, gumbo meant cleaning out the refrigerator and throwing it all into a pot."
All this by way of preface: I have taken some liberties with my gumbo recipe that may or may not be authentic, may or may not match your family tradition.
There are a couple of consistent requirements for a gumbo - a good roux, the "holy trinity," and a good Cajun spice mixture. For those of you unfamiliar with the "holy trinity," it is akin to the carrots, onion, and celery in a mirepoix or soffrito.
The difference, however, is that carrots are not a viable crop on the New Orleans agricultural climate or soil, so they substituted green (and sometimes red) bell peppers. And this mixture of vegetables gives NOLA cuisine its unique fragrance and flavor.
While the roux is a thickener, many gumbos also have an additional thickener - either gumbo filé powder or okra. Filé powder is an herb, the dried and ground leaves of the North American sassafras tree, imparting a unique and earthy flavor. Okra, with is often-maligned viscous centers, is my preference for making a silky broth, while also adding a wonderful vegetable to the gumbo.
I am so glad it is okra season in the Arizona desert! I purchased my beautiful okra, onion, and peppers from Larry's Veggies, the beautiful beefsteak tomatoes from Markley Farms, and my pork bratwurst from Starbar Ranch - some of my favorite local vendors at our Sunday Heirloom Farmers Market.
While one can always use frozen okra for a gumbo, use fresh if you can find it; is the best!
Shrimp and Sausage Gumbo
6 tablespoons butter, divided
1 pound pork sausage, cut into 1/4-inch slices
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 large onion, chopped
1 green bell pepper, seeded and chopped
1 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
3 stalks celery chopped
2 teaspoons Cajun seasoning (my recipe HERE)
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce (my recipe HERE)
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
2 cups chicken stock
2 teaspoons seafood stock concentrate
2 cups water
2 cups chopped fresh tomatoes, seeded (canned are okay)
3 cups sliced fresh okra
1 pound raw small shrimp, peeled and deveined
freshly chopped parsley, for serving
steamed rice, for serving
Heat 2 tablespoons butter in a heavy-bottomed stock pot over medium-high heat. Cook the sausage and cook until browned on all sides, then remove. The bottom of the pan will be blackened but don't worry - this will add great flavor. Add remaining 4 tablespoons butter and allow it to melt. Sprinkle the flour over the butter and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until browned and nutty smelling, about 8-10 minutes.
Add the onion, green and red peppers, and celery; cook for 10 minutes, covered, or until vegetables are softened a bit. Add the Cajun spice blend, cayenne, salt, and pepper; stir for 1 minute. Add Worcestershire sauce and 1/2 cup chopped parsley. Cook for 1-2 minutes to blend flavors.
Add the chicken broth, seafood stock concentrate, and 2 cups of the water; combine well. Slice the sausage into disks, about 1/4-inch thick and return to the pot. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 45 minutes, stirring and scraping the bottom of the pan from time to time.
Add tomatoes and okra. Cover and simmer for another 45 minutes, again stirring and scraping the bottom of the pan from time to time. If the gumbo is too thick, add some extra water or chicken broth.
Add the shrimp and let cook until the shrimp are opaque - just a few minutes. Serve in large bowls with steamed rice and additional chopped parsley on top.