Land Cajun and sea Cajun join in the big black gumbo pot. If you’re cooking Cajun, you emphasize the dark, smoky taste of a black roux, heightened by the peppery smoked ham they call tasso, and thickened by gluey okra. If you’re cooking Creole, you keep the roux blond and thicken it with the powdered sassafras called “filé.” What you put in the pot is what you have in your hand. The Picayune is rather conservative in listing among its gumbos Turkey Gumbo, Squirrel or Rabbit Gumbo, Okra Gumbo, Crab Gumbo, Oyster Gumbo, Shrimp Gumbo, Cabbage Gumbo, and Herb Gumbo. Howard Mitcham is more typical in his Seafood-Sausage-Chicken Gumbo Filé. Paul Prudhomme gussies up the pot with Egg and Dried Shrimp Gumbo and Guinea Hen and Andouille Gumbo.
The recipe below is merely one gumbo scenario, which you can thin with fish broth or thicken with a tablespoon or two of filé powder. One warning about filé is to not let it cook or it will turn your liquid gummy. Just add the powder to the hot liquid, remove from the heat, cover the pot, and let it sit five minutes.
A fish stock for your gumbo is quick to make. When you buy the shellfish, buy also three or four fishheads or whole cheap fish like porgies, remove their gills, cover the fish with water and white wine, and add celery tops, parsley, thyme, bay leaf, peppercorns, and salt. Then simmer twenty minutes and strain.
Mix the vegetables with the seasonings.
To make the roux, heat lard or oil in a heavy cast-iron pot like a Dutch oven, add flour, and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until flour turns the color of dark chocolate, about 30 minutes. Immediately add the seasoned vegetables and cook 2 to 3 minutes, stirring them so they don’t scorch. Add sausage, then add stock gradually, stirring all the while, bring to the boil, and simmer gently until gumbo is somewhat thickened and vegetables are soft, about an hour.
Add shrimp, oysters, crab meat, and green onions, return barely to the simmer, and remove from heat. Cover tightly and let sit 10 minutes to cook the shellfish. Taste for seasoning and add Tabasco if wanted.
Place a scoop of rice in each soup bowl and add a cup or more of gumbo; or serve with the rice in a small bowl on the side.
© 1986 Betty Fussell. All rights reserved.