8.13.2016

Mumbo Gumbo

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!

~ David

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.

Serves 8.


32 comments:

  1. Gumbo!!!! I'm glad to see your recipe here! Can't wait to try it. It definitely looks right up my alley and I'm curious to see how it tastes different from mine. I love that multicolored okra.

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    1. I will be really curious, too, Caroline! Yours looks so different than mine, yet so many of the ingredients are the same! Yes - isn't that okra beautiful!

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    1. Thanks, Liz - my first shots at night using a light box. I was pretty pleased!

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  3. David, I can almost taste and smell this bowl of goodness. If we weren't going away I'd be gathering ingredients for this today to make for dinner.

    I had gumbo in NOLA when we were there a couple of years ago and fell head over heels with it. So good!

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    1. But just think of all the amazing food you are going to have on your trip! Collect lots of authentic recipes - I look forward to them all!

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  4. What a beautiful bowl of fabulous flavor you have presented us with David. I have yet to visit New Orleans but it's on the list. The okra is beautiful.

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    1. Oh, Cheri - you must go! I love it - and wish I had gone sooner!

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  5. You're right the roux is the key. I like it good and dark. GREG

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    1. Me, too, Greg. The darker and nuttier the roux, the more flavor your gumbo (or étouffée) has!

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  6. David - Yummy! We haven't made gumbo in years. Need to revisit it. Thank you for sharing!

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    1. Yes, indeed, Nicole! This with a nice Sazerac, French 75, or Sidecar on the side would be perfect.

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  7. I am looking for okra in the stores and if I find it I will make your gumbo. I confess, I have never cooked with okra. Do you have a reccomendation on how to buy it if I can't find fresh ones. Thanks!

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    1. Hi, Gerlinde - I hope you do get to make it! I am making it again this weekend! As for okra, you can usually find frozen sliced okra in many grocery stores - it is a good alternative to fresh!

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  8. A really interesting recipe. The photos look great. I can not wait to find the ingredients needed to prepare it. Thanks for sharing!

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    1. Thanks, Cindy - depending on where you are form, this is definitely a new and unusual recipe. But I assure you that it is very tasty! Feel free to contact me if you need ingredient substitutions!

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  9. Your gumbo looks so good, David! We recently stopped in NOLA, as you know, but it was almost a drive-by instead of visit. I'd like to go back soon just to eat all day :) Glad to have your recipe to tide us over for now.

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    1. We ate our way through NOLA twice, Marcelle - I don't know how you had the willpower to drive through! Enjoy the gumbo in the meantime!

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  10. WoW! that looks amazing, I don't know how to cook but i'm saving this recipe for my wife!

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  11. David, your recipe looks and sounds really good. And that is from someone who doesn't like most versions of gumbo! That's the prettiest picture of humble okra I've ever seen.

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    1. Thanks, Jean! Maybe my gumbo is just different enough that you would like it! :)

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  12. David, are you not on Twitter? Anyway, I'm tweeting this gorgeous post!

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    1. You are so sweet to tweet the post out. No, I am not on Twitter. Perhaps I should look into it...

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  13. Oh I have to try this--looks so rich and delicious. Laughed at the use whatever is around comments--that's how I do curry! I used to make a gumbo that used a soffrito made in advance, but I have lost track of that and not made it in years. My sister grew okra (on a whim) this year--maybe I an get some off of her!

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    1. Lucky you to have your sister close by with okra in the garden! If you can't find your recipe, give this one a try!

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  14. I saw your email in my inbox and saw "Gumbo", it's been so long since I made some! You recipe looks great! I will probably have to change a few things, like chicken or beef sausage bout the rest is great. I was inspired to buy okra at my farmstand the other day. Now, I'm a bit reluctant on the whole slimey okra thing...
    Kids and Trace love okra so I'm outnumbered. Of course, he wants it fried because of the Southern boy he is...we'll see. I love gumbo though.

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    1. This would be easy to change for your kitchen, Nazneen! You could even use chicken thighs! I am making my fourth batch today while okra is plentiful! It really doesn't seem slimy in the gumbo!

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  15. Your explanation of gumbo recipes reminds me of what I've heard about Italian cuisine. Some cuisines will not only list the spices, herbs, and proteins to use, but also the exact cut for each, the order to be added to the pot, the type of utensil to use, etc, etc. Italian cooking is the cooking of the Nonne across the peninsula. A recipe can vary from district to district, town to town, house to house.
    I've avoided preparing gumbo because of the okra issue and you cannot make gumbo without okra, or so I've been told. Your didn't lead me wrong with the Khorma, David. Maybe I should give your gumbo a try. I'll just make sure I've got a Plan B on-hand. ;)

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    1. That is the perfect way to describe these two cuisines, John! Yes, there are some basic rules, but whatever Nonna has on hand is what Nonna uses!

      You would never know there was "slimy okra" in this unless you knew it ahead. However, if you really can't stomach it, you can thicken with gumbo filé! I hope you try it, John - the okra gives such a velvety texture to the broth!

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  16. What did Markipedia have to say on the subject of Gumbo?! Yours looks yummy!

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Thank you for taking the time to leave me a note - I really appreciate hearing from you and welcome any ideas you may have for future posts, too. Happy Cooking!

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