What is gumbo? Gumbo is considered a soup or stew. It is one of the most famous, as well as the most popular dishes in the realm of Louisiana cooking. History has it that it originated in South Louisiana during the 18th century. Gumbo is often used as a metaphor for the mix of cultures existing in southern Louisiana (French, Spanish, native tribes, African slaves, Italians and Germans). During cold winters, Acadians cooked soups, using whatever ingredients were readily available. When the Acadians moved to Louisiana and were unable to find their traditional ingredients, they substituted with local ingredients. They used shrimp instead of seafood. Later on the dish was modified and included ingredients common to other cultures.
It primarily consists of a strongly flavored stock with meat (usually chicken with sausage or seafood), a thickener, celery, onions, bell peppers and seasonings. Some people add okra as a thickener. Others choose a roux (a French base made of flour and fat) or a file’ (dried and ground sassafras) as a thickener. Many people choose to use duck or turkey. What’s fun about this wonderful dish is that you can add any ingredient you wish. I can tell you from experience that a bowl of steaming gumbo is one of life’s pleasures.
Gumbo is an example of Louisiana’s melting pot. Various different parts of Louisiana cook their gumbo using one of the three ingredients. In New Orleans, they make a Creole gumbo which usually contains shellfish, tomatoes, and a thickener. CAJUN gumbo varies greatly but often has a dark roux with either shellfish or fowl and sausage. The Creoles of Cane River make a sausage with file’. Sausage or ham are often added to gumbos of either variety. There is also a lesser known variety (meatless gumbo z’herbes which is a gumbo of slow cooked greens many times thickened with roux and served with rice on the side).
The dish combines ingredients and culinary practices of various cultures (French, Spanish, German, West Africa and Choctaw. Some believe gumbo may have come from a traditional West African or native dish. Some feel it may be a derivation of the French dish bouillabaisse. Gumbo was first described in 1802. In 1803 it was served at a gubernatorial reception in New Orleans. In 1804 it was served at a Cajun gathering on the Acadian Coast. The dish gained widespread popularity in the 1970’s when it was added to the United States Senate cafeteria menu in honor of Allen Ellender (a Louisiana Senator).Paul Prudhomme’s popularity made it even more popular. Gumbo is the official cuisine of Louisiana.
Gumbo is a heavily seasoned soup or stew that combines several varieties of meat or seafood. Meat based gumbo might have chicken, duck, squirrel, or rabbit. Some add oysters. Seafood gumbo usually has shrimp, crabmeat and sometimes oysters. Andouille sausage is often added to either to add extra flavor. The Cajun gumbo combinations are common in the southwestern part of Louisiana (populated primarily by the Cajuns (descendants of the French speaking settlers expelled from Acadia in the mid 18th century. The other is traditionally New Orleans and southeastern Louisiana which is commonly known as Creole after the Louisiana Creole people (descendants of the Spanish and French settlers.
Gumbo has been described as an economical dish useful for feeding a large number of people with a small amount of meat or seafood. It is always a good choice to feed a crowd. It is an effective way to use up leftover meat and seafood. It is served over rice. It is served at social gatherings in Louisiana. Many families have a gumbo party or host a social gathering where friends and family come together for food and fellowship. Many southern Louisiana cooking competitions are centered around gumbo. Many festivals also are centered around gumbo.
Preparation and serving
-Gumbo often simmers all day. Meat (not seafood) is browned and removed from the heat (browning is important to the development of the gumbo as well as the flavors of the foods).
-Cook the okra and roux before other vegetables and seafood. Remove okra fromheat when it reaches its’ desired consistency. The roux remains in the pot.
-Add seasoned vegetables to the sauce. When these have turned to mush, add the meat and okra to the pot along with water and/or the stock.
-Boil uncovered until the desired tenderness of the meat is reached.
-Seasonings, including red, black and white pepper, bay leaves, thyme, hot sauce and salt are added to taste.
-Seafood cooks quickly and should not be added to the pot until the end of the process.
-Put over hot rice.
-Can also green onion and parsley when fully cooked.