I go, you go, we all go for gumbo.
If my claim to Southern heritage is tenuous, then my claim to Cajun or Creole heritage is nonexistant. However, after last week’s happy catfish fry, I was taken the very next day to a local restaurant that serves real Soul Food, and I was inspired. They had fried catfish nuggets exactly like mine, with the Cajun seasoning in the breading. They had spaghetti as a side (and if you’re watching Feasting On Asphalt, you know that that’s authentic). They had bean pie, which I had never heard of before. They had… okra.
I had catfish (again) and I had okra, and that night I went to the grocery store and bought some gumbo fixins.
Meats: whatever you want, with anything that lives in muddy water being the most authentic, and Andoille sausage being strongly indicated. I chose chicken because I had a package of it in my fridge already, and smoked beef sausage. These individual sausages are not as good as the big links, which my local grocery store… does not sell. Sigh.
Vegetables: one can of crushed tomatoes or more, if you are feeling Creole. One bag of frozen chopped okra. The Cajun trinity of aromatics: onions, garlic, and celery. Green peppers.
Spices: underrepresented in this picture, because I can rarely recall my recipies accurately until I’m actually putting things into the pot. The complete inventory was (let me think a minute): Cajun seasoning, about a tablespoon or more; two bay leaves; about a teaspoon of thyme; about a tablespoon of salt; about a teaspoon of hot pepper or several shakes of Tabasco sauce.
Isn’t celery a wonderful vegetable? I always miss it when I don’t have it around. It is a member of the Cajun Trinity (garlic, onions, celery) as well as the French Trinity, also known as mirepoix (onions, carrots, celery). The only other Trinity I am familiar with is the one shared by Indian and Chinese cooking (onions, garlic, ginger).
Chop everything into generous bite-size chunks and chuck it (except the okra) into your stew pot along with six cups of stock, and let boil gently for 30-60 minutes. Then pour in the bag of okra, bring the pot back to the boil, and let cook until the okra is in whatever state pleases you best. My mother likes it intact and slightly toothsome; I like it completely dissolved.
True practitioners of this cookery will protest that there is no flour and no file here, and all I can say is that I’m sorry–I have absolutely no claims of authenticity in this matter. This is just a very, very good soup, flavored with sausage and thickened with okra, and that sounds like gumbo to me. As a compromise, I will call this Green River Gumbo, to indicate its most probably origin. How’s that?
This is particularly devastating when served with hot, crusty sourdough bread and butter. No, whole wheat bread is not good enough. No, you cannot skip the butter. Just try it my way once, and you’ll agree that it’s a worthwhile dietary indulgence. Mmmmmm.
Crusty bread. Even if you can only buy softish French bread, put it in the oven for 15 minutes and it will crisp up just right. Happy days.