No recipe is as controversial as gumbo,
so starting my second column in this space with a subject that is sure to rile-up a good many readers should perhaps give you some pause. What the heck does this guy think he is doing? I promise to always be honest with you (most of the time), so here is the deal: this column is not about objectivity, its not about a consensus of opinion, it’s a very subjective view based on life experiences and what knowledge I have been able to accumulate over the years. I will occasionally tell a story that isn’t exactly based on fact (see note above), but it is only for entertainment value.
So just where did gumbo get its start? My story, and I have absolutely no evidence it is true, but it is a good story, is this: one day, a very long time ago, a lonely and hungry Frenchman was wandering around the Gulf Coast, thinking about his home in Marseille. He decided to make the bouillabaisse that his fisherman father used to make on the beach, when he returned from a fishing trip. But there were none of the little fishes his father would have used, he didn’t have the carrots to add to the onions and celery in the mirepoix, there was certainly no saffron and no Pernod, tarragon, and no fennel at all. So, what was he to do? He used onions, bell pepper and celery, he added shrimp and blue crabs, his stock was from the heads of the shrimp, crab shells, and maybe a stray fish head or two, but perhaps most remarkably, he almost burned the roux. A good French cook knew all there was to know about making a good white, blond, and brown roux, but the deep dark brown roux that is absolutely essential to a good gumbo, was unknown.
I think you get the point, right? Here is a good gumbo recipe, follow the recipe as closely as you like, but stick to the basics. Do not overcook the seafood, do not burn the roux, or make it to light, do not take shortcuts, and do not be in a rush, and, finally, only make gumbo for very good friends and loved ones.