Gumbo is said to be one of the greatest additions to American cooking by Louisiana. It is a stew or soup and its origin is said to be from the French when they began with the bouillabaisse in the 18th century. Later the Filé powder of the Choctaw along with seafood was a welcome addition. African Americans then added okra; its Bantu African name ‘ki ngombo’ is said to have given its name to gumbo. Some, however, say that the Choctaw word for Filé is “kombo” and that is how gumbo got its name. After African Americans, Spanish colonists also put in their two bits into the gumbo with the introduction of the trinity of onions, celery and bell peppers. The Creoles of New Orleans also added tomatoes and a variety of cooking techniques to it that added variety to this dish.

IMG: Gumbo. Rebecca Peplinski. Flickr. Creative Commons.

At the start, this was a simple soup with vegetables and meat in it. Okra got added to it and it brought not only a different flavor to it but also a texture that thickened the soup. Later somebody came up with the idea of flour as a thickening agent and still later, pig lard browned in flour gave an altogether new coloring, texture, and taste to the gumbo. This concoction of flour and pig lard was called roux and as they say, the rest is history. The roux became the favorite thickening agent along with the traditional okra. Another thickening agent that got added was by the Choctaw Indians and was called Filé or ground leaves of the sassafras tree which brought with it its own individual flavour and texture.

From this complete evolution of the ubiquitous gumbo we can draw only one conclusion that there were too many hands that made this stew or broth and did not spoil it rather they added their own individuality to it. That is why the saying goes that no two gumbo dishes will ever taste the same even if the same recipe is used.

IMG: Gumbo. Thomas Hawk. Flickr.

Recipe

The recipe below is the Californian version of the chicken and ham gumbo with a slight twist to it.

Preparation Time: It takes fifteen minutes to prepare.

Cooking Time: It takes roughly one hour fifteen minutes to cook the stew or soup.

Total Time: Total time taken is one and a half hour give or take a few minutes.

Nutritional Value: The total Caloric count for gumbo is 130 of which carbohydrates are 18 grams or 6%, total fat content is 4 grams or 6%, proteins are six grams and cholesterol is 15 milligrams or 5%.

Main Ingredients

• Four tablespoons butter • One-fourth cup diced smoked ham • Half a cup of diced celery • One green pepper, chopped • One large onion, chopped • One-fourth cup raw rice • One tablespoon flour • Two quarts strong chicken broth • One cup sliced okra (fresh or canned) • One cup chopped fresh or solid-pack canned tomatoes • Two tablespoons chopped pimiento • Half a cup coarsely diced cooked or canned chicken

Preparation or Method

1. Fry the ham, celery, green pepper, and onion in the butter until soft. 2. Add rice to this and cook, stirring for five minutes. 3. Add flour, blend, and then stir in broth and heat. 4. Add remaining ingredients. 5. Season to taste with salt and pepper. 6. Cover and let it simmer for 40 minutes till everything gets cooked.

Any Possible Variations: Gumbo is a soup or stew which is open to variations. Culinary history is proof that in the making of gumbo there have been so many variables and each set of people have added something to it. You can make the gumbo a Louisiana style by adding shrimps and other seafood to it because the people of this state were farmers and fisherfolks and this state has some of the most extensive networks of bayous and rivers where catfish, crawfish and other game fish were harvested. Nearer to the Gulf of Mexico, oysters, shrimps, crabs and other forms of seafood are readily available. The hunting season in fall saw game such as ducks, rabbits, and other wild game were brought in by the Cajun hunters. So whatever meat and seafood was available along with the seasonal vegetables would go into the soup/stew pot and would go to feed many families and friends.

How to Garnish and Serve: Many would not know but the hot and spicy garnish in the gumbo has been added to it only in the last thirty years. Before that gumbo was served only with some droplets of Tabasco or Louisiana hot sauce not to make it hot but give the flavor of pepper sauce and vinegar. The smoked lean meats and the okra and roux would give the zing and zip to the soup. The stew or soup can be garnished with chopped cilantro or a slice of sour lime.

How to Store: To store gumbo you would have to be very careful because many kinds of gumbos have seafood in it and this tends to spoil quickly. But then gumbo is generally not eaten at one go and is relished for many days after its preparation. When stored and refrigerated correctly it will give you pleasure for many days.

The best way to store gumbo is to do it immediately after it has been cooked. If you want to eat it in the next few days then put it in an airtight container and store it in the bottom shelf of the refrigerator where it is the coolest. If there is seafood in it do not let it stay in the refrigerator for more than three or four days. Ensure that the setting of your refrigerator is below 40°F.

If you are planning to eat the gumbo after some days then you can deep freeze it in a sealed plastic bag in the freezer after squeezing out as much air as possible from it. See that your freezer is at least 0°F. To defrost it bring it down from the freezer into the refrigerated area. Or else you can defrost the sealed bag in cold water making frequent changes of the water. Once it has defrosted heat it and eat it immediately. If you are planning to eat small portions of the gumbo then store it smaller sealed bags and take out only those you plan to eat leaving the rest in the freezer.

IMG: Roux Step 1. melissa jonas Flickr. Creative Commons.

Related Information: Roux is said to be one of the basic thickening and tasteful agents in the dish of gumbo. Here is the basic version of how to make a roux. To make the roux generally most recipes call for an equal amount of any one of these cooking mediums such as shortening, butter, lard, oil and in some cases bacon drippings and an equal amount of flour. What cooking medium is being used gives the flavor and texture to the roux.

One can use half a cup of any of the cooking mediums mentioned above to half a cup of flour, though there are many recipes that call for two-third cups of the cooking medium to half a cup of flour. Put the cooking medium into a skillet and melt it on a low flame till it becomes liquid and when it is warm slowly sprinkle the flour on it and keep on stirring so that lumps are not formed or kept to the minimum. Ensure that the flour does not burn even slightly and become black; otherwise, you will have to dispose of the whole thing. Stir the flour in it continuously till it becomes brown. As soon as that happens remove it from the heat and add it to the recipe that requires it, in this case, the gumbo.

# Hints: To avoid the viscosity and stringiness of the okra when you cook it excessively, add it just twenty minutes prior to serving and cook it till it just gets tender. If you are using file to your gumbo dish then do not add it to the whole pot as it breaks down when cooked excessively. Instead, put a quarter or half spoon in the individual bowl depending on the size of the bowl and the individual’s taste. If you have added it to the whole pot then make sure that you do not boil it again.

Enjoy!

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