I love food. I love food the way some chaw smackin' trailer shackin' men love Nascar. I had the most amazing burger this weekend... will have to write about it sometime and made some serious observations about quality fries, but in the meantime, here is something I wrote for a step-daughter this Christmas:
Recipe: Gumbo the Way God Intended
I don’t order Creole or Cajun food outside of Louisiana that much. People have such misconceptions about what it should look like, taste like, and professional chefs think creative license gives them the right to kill it. Any coon ass worth his salt knows that good gumbo is an art only for the patience of browning roux and allowing food to mellow in the pot. Certain ingredients, however, give it the right texture and consistency. Okra, celery, and oysters are essential for the recipe I prefer. Picky eaters can go straight to hell and stay there if they cannot scoot the okra quietly to the side of their plates. And if someone asks you to pass the salt and pepper, you have my sworn permission to shoot them. Tabasco and gumbo filé powder is the only suitable additive post-serving. For crying out loud!
Anyway, here is my Uncle Joe’s recipe, but I tweaked just a few things. What you should know about Joe was his capacity for love. He was my father’s paternal uncle and had served in World War II where he met my Aunt Marty, an Army nurse. Having no money, the two married in a simple ceremony in Germany during the war. Joe gave Marty a promise for a ring—a nail bent in a circle—that she wore or carried until he was able to give her a traditional band. Their daughter Beverly told us that when Marty died, Joe having passed some years prior, she assumed the duty of dividing Marty’s belongings. In the jewelry box was the original ring—the nail Joe had salvaged from some European ruin somewhere. Beverly often has said that the two had an incredibly passionate relationship forged by the bonds of war, and they were in love even through death. Joe embraced life just as fervently as his marriage and loved all of us so much that he wanted to leave us a gift to hand down for generations. He wrote us a cookbook and I still have mine through every state I have lived in. The pages are grease spattered and crinkled. I often copy the recipes and send them to friends when they want “genuine” recipes from true natives of South Louisiana. This book is one of my most treasured possessions and still bears with it the letter he wrote me when he sent it. I extend this same love to you, and the same hope for love in your own relationships.
Anyway, this is gumbo the way God intended—full of good intentions, fragrant, delicately seasoned, but sure-tasting, belly warming, and conversation engaging.
1/3 cup vegetable oil or a half stick of butter
1/3 cup flour
1 cup green onions
1 cup chopped white onion
½ cup celery
1 tbs. minced garlic
½ cups chopped bell pepper
1 can okra (do not drain can) or a half bag frozen okra (if you dig okra, add more)
2 cups peeled, deveined, and raw shrimp (you can buy it in a bag already done up this way, but I prefer to peel it myself and meditate on the long line of cooks I come from, plus I boil the shells in some water and use it for shrimp broth in this recipe. My Aunt Kay just rinses the shrimp bag and later pours that in the pot, but that is cheating. We are slow in Louisiana for a reason—you cannot rush a good thing.)
Jar fresh oysters plus broth
Small jar crab claw meat (do not use faux)
1 tspn. Worcestershire sauce
½ tspn. salt
½ tspn. pepper
1 tspn. thyme
3-4 whole bay leaves
1-2 tspn gumbo filé powder (ground sassafras leaves) which you can find in the soul food or ethnic section of the grocery—my cousin Mark says that grocers should just call it the Coon Ass Shelf and be done
Box of instant rice
1. Heat your burner to medium and pour your oil in the bottom of a good four quart pot. Let it get good and hot before you add the flour. This is called a ROUX. You are going to stand over this for around ten minutes, so be patient. Stir slowly with a wood spoon, pause, and stir again. Watch it brown. Stir. You want a nice dark brown and this takes a while to achieve but it is key. You want it almost as brown as shoe leather. No white, no beige. Your finished product will reflect this deep color, so consider that as you deliberate when to stop browning by moving on to your next step. As we would say in Louisiana, listen to your belle-mére. Trust me on this.
2. Add the chopped vegetables and cook for at least another five minutes. Let the vegetables change color and soften a bit.
3. Add the shrimp and crab. Let cook a few minutes or so. Stir frequently.
4. Add 1 quart of water (or shrimp broth) and seasonings. Let cook a few minutes. Stir, stir, stir.
5. Add the okra and the oysters. Add all the seasonings and Worcestershire. Stir. Let cook five or more minutes.
6. Add more hot water to achieve the consistency you desire. Cook on low, covered with a lid for about twenty minutes.
7. Right at the end of this, check the taste. Add Tabasco and the filé. You can go heavy on that sassafras and won’t hurt a thing.
8. Cook rice according to box directions.
9. Serve a nice bowl of gumbo with a small scoop of rice in the center of each bowl.
White wine is really, really nice with this. Get good crusty bread, too.