Everything I know about gumbo I learned from John Besh in his book, My New Orleans. I hesitate to call it a cookbook even though it’s packed with recipes. It reads like an autobiography with pages upon pages recounting the cultural traditions he was born and bred on and to this day gives the utmost respect to.
If you like reading cookbooks like novels the way I do than I highly recommend this book. It will transport you right smack into the middle of New Orleans culture past and present. It’s well written with stunning photography and mouth-watering recipes. I’m completely entranced and can’t say enough good things about it. Every time I pick it up I discover something new I’ve forgotten I read even though I’ve pored over it from cover to cover many times.
I love when that happens.
Gumbo is a slow-cooked, spicy, meat and okra stew. What sets it apart from other stews is the roux; a mixture of fat and flour that is cooked to a dark golden brown to make up the base of the stew. You can use any kind of fat: chicken, duck, lard or canola oil. But don’t worry – you won’t necessarily be ingesting all of that fat because as it cooks you can skim it off as it rises and settles on top.
Okra is a distinct and necessary ingredient to gumbo. My family would never eat it if I added okra right into the stew so I had to compromise. My own personal twist was to deep-fry the okra and use it for a garnish. Kind of like croutons.
The one crucial ingredient I was missing out on was the file powder. Made from sassafras leaves it helps thicken the stew and adds a unique spiciness that is hard to replicate.
The roux makes this incredibly smooth broth that is unlike anything I’ve ever tasted. It’s rich, full-bodied and feels like silk on your tongue.
Served over rice with fork-tender chicken and meaty hunks of spicy, smoky sausage and a crusty baguette for sopping up the juices, this makes one of the most hearty and satisfying meals I know of. I see many different versions of it in my future…and yours!