Last week, for Mardi Gras, I made our favorite gumbo. It's taken me a week to share this. Don't wait till next Mardi Gras to make it. It's that good, I promise.
So, did you know that there are two distinct style of gumbo? Cajun versus Creole! Let's, first, look at who the groups are. Cajuns were French Acadians expelled from what is now Nova Scotia in the 1700s for their Catholic beliefs. Many settled in Acadiana. Isolated by swamps, bayous and prairies, the Cajuns lived off the land and their cuisine is rustic and hearty.
On the other hand, Creoles were originally from Europe and settled in New Orleans. Primarily from wealthy French and Spanish families, Creoles brought their own chefs from Madrid, Paris, and other European capitals. These chefs adapted classic cooking techniques to incorporate unfamiliar ingredients such as crawfish and snapper. Then you add in the culinary influence of the enslaved Africans who also served in these households, the influence of the surrounding Choctaw Indians, and even more European immigrants from Ireland and Germany; and a diverse gumbo emerges.
One chef and native New Orleanian Mark Falgoust reported, “Cajun folks used one chicken to feed three families, Creoles used three chickens to feed one family.” Gumbo is derived from the word 'gombo' which translates to 'okra' in many West African languages. The earliest recorded recipes for the dish include okra as a main ingredient.
I have made both, but when I gave the Cajun Gumbo a try, two of the four around my table found it too strong. So, I usually stick with a Creole recipe...
2 quarts water
2 pounds medium to large shrimp, peeled and deveined (shells and heads reserved to make seafood stock)
1 pound smoked sausage, cut into thick coins
1 pound spicy Creole sausage, cut into thick coins
1 pound okra cut into 1" length
1 large onion, peeled and chopped
3 to 4 large cloves garlic, peeled and pressed
3 stalks celery, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
1 bell pepper, cored and chopped
2 cups diced tomatoes
1 Tablespoons Creole seasoning, such as Tony Chachere’s Original Creole Seasoning
2 bay leaves
2 Tablespoons filé powder
freshly ground salt, as needed
freshly ground pepper, as needed
Also needed: steamed rice for serving
Add the shrimp heads and shells and 2 quarts water to a large pot and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 30 minutes. Remove from the heat.
Cook sausages in a large stockpot until the pieces are nicely browned and much of the fat has been rendered. Remove the sausages and set aside on a paper towel-lined plate to drain. In the same pot, add 1 Tablespoon oil. Add in the onions, garlic, celery, carrots, and bell peppers. Stir together and cook until the vegetables are softened.
Strain the shrimp stock into the large stockpot. Add in the browned sausages, bay leaves, and diced tomatoes. Bring everything to a boil over medium heat. Then reduce the heat to a simmer and stir the okra into the mixture. Continue cooking the gumbo for 60 minutes. Fold in the shrimp. Cook for 15 minutes longer.
Remove the gumbo from the heat and stir in the Creole seasoning and filé powder. Let the gumbo rest for 15 to 20 minutes. As it cools, oil should form on the top. Skim the oil off with a ladle and discard.
Taste the gumbo and adjust seasoning with more salt and pepper as needed. Serve the gumbo ladled over steamed rice.
Laissez le bon temps rouler!