So this is definitely a part of a long running campaign to get a recipe of mine put into the next edition of my family’s blue recipe book. The competition is fierce and I am not sure that the recipe that follows is actually legal in Louisiana.
Let me explain.
Firstly, to understand the dire straights I am in food wise, I mentioned to some other Americans I was with for Easter that I really had a craving for Boudin because I saw several people from home including Boudin in their Easter feasts. Ok these people couldn’t even pronounce Boudin. So yes, I do forget that Louisiana is not America. Then there is the sausage situation. There is sausage sold in some stores, but it isn’t smoked and is not spiced at all. And I have never seen a stalk of celery here.
That being said, food abounds here. Green vegetables, tomatoes, okra, avocados the size of a baby, bananas, potatoes, I could go on. I cook a lot, and cooking here is a real treat both for my stomach and for my understanding of the foodways of my home. My Tanzanian friends are continually surprised that I already knew how to cook greens when I got here, and okra, and beans. Yes, Louisiana is greatly influenced by African culture, but I am also reminded that “African” culture, is not unified- also Africa is a continent not a country (just incase anyone needed to remember that). I live in East Africa, in a country with a lot of Indian and Arabic influence due to it’s costal location. Also a country with high levels of poverty. An area of the country where everyone knows how to cook but cooking is about filling your stomach, it is not fun, just necessary. Therefore food is quite bland€¦ for a South Louisianan.
Nevertheless, I press on, trying to create meals that remind me of home and that allow me to cook the way I learned from my mother. So yes, I have a gumbo recipe. I am very much aware that everyone has their own recipe and no other gumbo can ever compare. Fine. I get that some people are disgusted by tomatoes in their gumbo. I get that potato salad is quite a divisive issue. And I get that claims of dark chocolate roux are sometimes akin to “catching the biggest fish.” Yes, I understand that Gumbo is in Cajun and Creole cuisine and that sometimes arguing too hard about what goes in the right kind of Gumbo is perhaps stepping into the territory of race and power, less about the cuisine. I understand that I am a young white woman who has not spent that long in East Africa, and that my perspective is quite flawed and informed by my own expectations and understandings (misunderstandings?) of my experiences.
So here is my gumbo recipe.
Chicken and Sausage Gumbo
•Boar’s sausage, or other available sausage. I would stay away from the Chicken sausage just personal experience.
•One Whole chicken- take note that you may have to remove the innards yourself.
•Green Bell Peppers
•Purple Onions- also known as just onions
•Optional- Tomatoes and fresh Okra.
•Seasonings of your choice
Boil chicken whole and pull meat off bones. Also slice your sausage and chop your vegetables (peppers, onions, ginger, garlic). In the pot that you boiled the chicken, return the chicken carcass and as you pre-chop your vegetables, put the stems and other unusable parts in the pot as well. You can also add carrot if you have any lying around. Fill the rest of the space with water, add salt and set the pot to boil on a back burner and forget about it. This will be stock to add later.
If you want to do okra, now is the time. Chop your fresh okra and tomatoes and sauté in a pot for a few minutes adding red pepper and salt, then add just enough water to cover the okra and tomatoes. Cover and let it stew for a while, adding water as needed.
As you wait for your stock and okra to stew, take a break and have a cup of coffee, have a bathroom break, and then get ready for the tough bit!
Now make a dark roux. Equal parts flour and oil in the thickest pot you can find (which may not be very impressive). Don’t stop stirring and don’t forget to scrape the edges of the pot. From experience I find that it is good to have an encourager for this part. That means someone to reassure you that it can still be darker. In hand cramp emergencies they can also take over the stirring for you. When you are happy with the shade of your roux, add in the Boar’s sausage. If your sausage is anything like mine, it will immediately crumble out of the casing and resemble something more like ground meat. Don’t panic, it will still taste good. The roux should continue to darken with the browning sausage. There should also be a distinctly barbecue smell. I don’t know why. Add your chopped vegetables and continue to stir. After several minutes (it’s your call really), add the stewed okra and tomatoes if you like. If you added the okra, then let it sit while you drink another cup of coffee. If you didn’t then add a few cupfuls of your stock. Add your chicken too.
After coffee, add spices to taste and add more stock depending on how much room is left in the pot. Keep adding spices till its right. But don’t forget that they get stronger the longer they sit and boil.
Keep the gumbo on the stove for a while longer. If you are eating it the same day you make it don’t forget to make rice- which means cleaning it. It’s like just a whole thing, I’ll cover how to clean rice in another installment of Cooking With Bernadette. Potato salad is fine too, or just boil potatoes if you don’t have the ingredients for potato salad… surely that isn’t too much of a sin?
While I don’t know the File’ situation here, yes there is Tabasco sauce.
Enjoy and try not to gag when your non-Louisiana American associates refer to it as a “good soup,” bless their hearts they mean well. Also, because they are not Louisianan, there is no need to justify using ginger or tomatoes, and they also probably don’t know that the sausage is not usually the consistency of ground meat- they just don’t understand these nuances, so why complicate their gumbo experience?
One more thing:
So the outcome is still delicious if not quite a typical Louisiana gumbo. I do however think the sentiment behind this gumbo is very true to its origins. It is about transforming basic foods into something unrecognizably delicious. It is about using the cheapest options and still succeeding. It is about using things that are fresh and local. It is an extravagant brag in the face of need and hardship. It is the luxury of taking precious time for a meal even though a quicker one would be easier. It is the explosive blending of cultures that do not always get along, that strive still to gain power in spite of or over the others. So yes, this is my Gumbo, chicken innards and all.
Dedicated to my sweet Brother. Happy Birthday Bud. I hope there is celery in Savannah.