Roux the Day

06:00 October 09, 2015
By: Kathy Bradshaw

Bowled Over by Gumbo

Gumbo is part soup, part stew, and all delicious.  It is a meal as old as New Orleans itself.  First served in Louisiana in the 1700’s, gumbo has since become the “official cuisine” of the state.  Gumbo is judged on its thickness, color and flavor-- with okra and the sassafras-based filé powder frequently being used to thicken it, and onions, peppers, celery and spices usually used to season it.  Gumbo often starts by cooking a roux, which is a fat and flour combo browned in a pan before the other stuff is thrown in the pot.  Though gumbo is sometimes just a mish-mash of anything and everything you have on hand—a good kitchen cleanse and a way to get rid of leftovers, it is also a much more complex and complicated dish than it is given credit for.

My first gumbo experience (which was many gumbo-filled years ago), took me a bit by surprise.  I wasn’t used to dark soup, especially one that is meant to be as thick and dark as possible.  Admittedly, I am of the chicken noodle soup school of soup eaters, so most of the soups of my life have always been pale yellow and poultry-brothed.  And if I did encounter a brown soup, it inevitably came from a can and had meatballs and alphabet-shaped pasta floating in it.  So to be honest, gumbo frightened me a bit.  I feared eating it would be similar to licking the gravy ladle after Thanksgiving dinner.  Fortunately, I was pleasantly surprised. Gumbo is excellent.  It is rich and flavorful, hearty and chock full of goodness, usually in the form of either seafood, or chicken and sausage (so I can still get a little chicken in my soup after all).  I am now a gumbo convert.  No more of those wimpy, faded, albino soups.  I want something with substance. 

Chicken soup may be good for the soul, so they say.  But we mustn’t neglect the taste buds either.  Nor the stomach.  After all, it’s not my soul which is growling to be fed.  And that’s where gumbo comes in.  Serve it up with rice, and you have a meal sure to leave you satiated and content.  Besides, gumbo is a crucial part of enough festivals, cook-offs and special events, including Mardi Gras, that it’s bound to be associated with fun as well.  And that’s definitely good for the soul.  Not to mention it tastes darn good.  Anyone who says otherwise is just talking a bunch of mumbo, um… gumbo.

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