Gumbo is a heavily seasoned, spicy soup or stew typical of Louisiana and South Carolina cuisines. This hearty dish is considered by many as an emblematic dish of African American cooking style. Several varieties of the gumbo exist and no single set of ingredients or method of preparation may be used in a gumbo recipe. However, most recipes for gumbo consist of a strong broth, meat or seafood, a thickener (okra, filé, or roux), and vegetables like celery, bell peppers, and onions. Gumbo herbes is a vegetarian variation of this dish, prepared during the lent, using cooked greens and a broth thickened with roux.
History of Gumbo Recipe
Gumbo is believed to have originated in the 18th century Louisiana. However, trying to sort out the exact origin of this dish is difficult for the recipes for gumbo are in essence a combination of ingredients and cooking practices of several cuisines including French, Spanish, West African, and Choctaw food cultures. Some believe that the word gumbo is a derivative of the West African word Kigumbo, which means okra, or kombo which means filé, hence, the dish is West African in origin. However, several other aspects of the gumbo recipe seem to have derived from other cuisines, for instance, the use of dried sassafras leaves in is a contribution of the Choctaws, Roux is French, and the use of seafood may be Spanish. Hence, some culinary experts term gumbo as a dish that is the perfect example of the cultural melting pot nature of Louisiana cuisine.
The gumbo recipe was first described in 1802 by Dr. John Sibley. Later several cook books described the numerous variations in the recipes for gumbo. However, until 1970’s, it was popular only on the Gulf Coast of the US. It was Senator Allen Ellender, a native of Terrebonne Parish, who took gumbo recipe to the White house and made it popular among his colleagues, so much so that after his death Louisiana Creole Gumbo was included in the US senate cafeteria menu, in remembrance of the great senator. Recipes for gumbo gained more widespread popularity and acceptance in 1980s, when Chef Paul Prudhomme spurred a nationwide interest in Creole and Cajun cooking styles.
Ingredients used in Recipes for Gumbo
Gumbo, one of the most famous dishes from Louisiana’s mixed culture cooking, may be prepared using various recipes to give numerous variations in the flavors and texture of the dish. However, as varied as the recipes for gumbo are, there are few ingredients that give the dish its characteristic identity. Apart from the most essential ingredient – a homemade stock, other regulars in a gumbo recipe include the “holy trinity” i.e., a combination of onions, celery, and green bell peppers – which is used in several Cajun and Creole recipes, a type of meat or seafood, and a pot thickener.
The thickener used to prepare Gumbo gives the character to the dish. Two distinctive ingredients are used thicken and flavor the dish – roux with okra or filé powder. Roux, depending upon the way it is made will give color and a deep flavor to the Gumbo broth. Cajun gumbo recipe types use very dark and deeply flavored roux, while Creole style recipes for gumbo use a light, delicately flavored roux.
The second thickener for making gumbo can either be okra or filé powder. If okra is used then the broth is cooked long enough to dissolve the okra and remove its sliminess from the dish; however, if filé is used, the end of the cooking or just before serving to prevent stringiness in the broth. Okra and filé are never used together in gumbo preparations, for it can make the broth too thick and at times flavorless.
Methods of Preparing Gumbo Recipe
Gumbo is a type of broth based dish that can be classified either as soup or stew based upon the thickness of the broth. Most recipes for gumbo call for a homemade stock which is simmered for several hours until it reaches the desired consistency. To prepare the gumbo, okra and/or roux are first cooked and meat may be added for browning. Okra is usually removed from the pot once the gumbo broth thickens. Other ingredients used in the gumbo recipe, including the vegetables, meat, seasonings, spices, and condiments are added at this stage and heated till the meat gets cooked. If okra has not been used in the gumbo recipe, file is added last or just before serving.
Tips for serving Gumbos
Gumbo is almost always served directly from the pot on the stove onto small broth bowls. While serving the dish, hot rice is first placed in the bowl and hot broth is poured over it. However, in some parts of Gulf of Mexico, corn meal mush may be used instead of rice. Recipes for gumbo are so filling that the broth along with some bread, usually form the sole courses in a meal, however it is not uncommon to see potato salad being served along with gumbo and bread.
Varieties of Gumbo Recipes
Gumbo can be classified as either Cajun or Creole. The gumbo recipe from Creole tends to be more refined and fancy with subtle flavorings being used; whereas Cajun recipes for gumbo are heartier and have a deep color and rich flavors.
Other classifications of the dish also exist, for instance, Gumbo may be categorized as okra based or filé based depending upon the thickener used; and meat based or seafood based upon the type of meat used in gumbo preparations.
World Championship Gumbo Cook-off that is held each October in New Iberia.