Coast Cooking

Gumbo is as good as it gets

By JULIAN BRUNT

Special to the Sun Herald

Mmm! Mmm! Who doesn't love gumbo?
Mmm! Mmm! Who doesn't love gumbo?

Who doesn’t love a good gumbo? It is a magical combination of good things that can be found close-at-hand, and many hands, from many places, helped make it the internationally known dish that it is.

The central idea seems to have come from the bouillabaisse of French fame. Add to that idea local crabs, shrimp, and sometimes fish, okra that came to us from Africa, and the filé powder was a gift of Native Americans. If you were a Creole you added tomatoes, if you were a Cajun you did not. Give it all a good stir, let it simmer over a slow fire, and before you know it the magic happens.

Here are a few tips. Build your gumbo in layers, sauté the onions and bell peppers, then season with black pepper and Tony’s, add the okra, season again, and keep going. Make your stock from scratch. Add a few chicken backs, thighs, or even necks to a stock pot, add water. A quartered onion (there isn’t even any need to peel the onions), and a carrot or two, a big handful of shrimp heads, half pound of fish, and just simmer for 1 hour. Strain out the solids and you are there.

Using seafood in gumbo is all but essential, but it should not simmer in the still-cooking gumbo for more than just a few minutes.  If you want more seafood flavor, add more fish, or even a few crabs, to the stock as it cooks. Nothing is worse than a gumbo in which the seafood has been cooked to death.

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