There are as many theories about the origins of gumbo as there are recipes but one thing is certain, whether its Cajun or Creole, spicy or not, vegetarian (z’herbes) or venison fish or fowl gumbo is king and the crown belongs to America for gumbo is truly an American Classic as elegant and robust as it is delicate and home spun.
The word gumbo, likely a variation on the Bantu word for okra (kingombo), would have described the natural thickening okra imparts to any dish. Okra, common in Africa, was not native in the Americas so early settlers learning from local peoples used the sassafras tree, found only in North America and Asia to thicken their stews. The powdered leaf or filé is added after cooking and gives Gumbo Filé its slightly “stringy” texture.
As successive waves of French Canadians, French, Spanish, West Indians and Africans merged along the deltas of Louisiana their rich blend of heritage cooking became synonymous with good food, good times and good people.
Shrimp and a shellfish alternative
1 Package extra firm tofu
1 Tbs Old Bay Seasoning
Drain the tofu then place on a clean paper towel in the bottom of a strainer. Place a small pan on top of the tofu filling it with water to act as a weight and let stand for 30 minutes to press excess water from the tofu. Cut the tofu into wedges.
Add Old Bay Seasoning to 2 cups of water and bring to a boil. Add the cut pieces of tofu reduce heat and simmer 30 minutes, set aside. Reserve the seasoning water.
Add 2 Tbls of butter to a heavy skillet set over a medium high flame add the tofu pieces and sauté until lightly browned. Return seasoned boiling broth to pan and cover. Continue cooking on low for 15 minutes or until broth is evaporated. Set aside.
Browned sausage, beef cubes or chicken
Using the same heavy skillet crusty pieces and all, add sliced sausage (andouille is a favored Louisiana style sausage), pieces of lean beef or chicken cut into 1 inch cubes and sauté until lightly browned...or, this is gumbo - why not add all three.
Alternatively seafood gumbo suggests an equally rich variety of shellfish, ocean and fresh water fish combinations.
(Most grocers now carry a variety of non meat alternatives to traditional beef, sausage pork and fowl for vegetarians who want to indulge their gumbo ya-ya)
I/2 cup each of onion, celery and green bell pepper chopped coarsely, set aside.
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup of vegetable oil
1/2 cup cold water
Various shades of browning determine the flavor of the roux; the longer you cook and stir the darker the roux becomes and richer. A white to nutmeg color is great for country cooking with chicken and turkey. A darker cinnamon color works well with pork and a darker roux compliments beef dishes. The darker the color the thinner the roux will be until it’s almost a broth consistency and then with a little onion and good merlot you have a great base for French Onion Soup.
Gumbo servi style Cajun
Now for the flavor and goodness - hence the name, add the “Trinity” mix to the bubbling roux, turn down the flame and continue cooking up to an hour.
Once the flavor is in add the browned meat and continue cooking on low heat covered for another thirty to forty-five minutes adding water if it becomes too dry.
Serve over rice with a little filé powder to season. Never add filé to the cooking pot, it will turn bitter over constant heat.