Sunday, 25 June 2017

Gumbo - The Hunt For Sausage

Nothing holds more mystique than the food of New Orleans.

The blend of flavours, history, culture and nationalities creates a cuisine that is so much more than just substance, but is a whole lifestyle.

On my quest to understand the North American kitchen, there was no other meal that speaks more about a location than Gumbo, but it isn't without its controversies. Many have argued about it's origins or even how it should be made?

Cajun or Creole? Seafood or Meat? Filé, Roux or Both?

I spent weeks going through books, watching youtube and reading articles on the dish, and I came out of it feeling so intimidated that I left it for weeks before I attempted it (but more on that later). 

What I did learn from weeks of research was that to appreciate Gumbo, you have to know its history.

Gumbo - A brief (and probably inaccurate) History.

Who brought the Gumbo to Louisiana is an argument that has raged since the dish was first served, but it is recognised as being brought to the region over 300 years ago with West African slaves. 
Ki ngombo is a West African term for okra, which has always been one of the key thickening ingredients in many a Gumbo, which many food historians credit to giving the dish its name.

"Pardon!" The French cry, "But if this is the case, how do you explain the roux"?

The French also lay claim to having their part in the history of the Gumbo. French cooks have been using the roux (a fat and flour mixture) since the 14th Century and as the main base of a Gumbo. Some food history buffs believe that it is much closer to a french bouillabaisse than any other dish. 

"Suffering Sassafras...What about the leaf"?

Let's not forget that the Native American tribes of the area also share part of the Gumbo history with the addition of the ground Sassafras Leaf. This leaf is known in New Orleans as Filé and is credited as being introduced by Choctaws Tribe. This ground green mixture is added to give a little earthy flavour and you guested thicken. All parties involved are very concerned with the thickening element of the stew. 

Whoever brought this simmering pot of deliciousness to the area serves the highest reward, but it is the ones who spend the time keeping the traditions of the Gumbo pot alive deserve the crown. I could not write this without mentioning the high priestess of Gumbo, Leah Chase of Dookie Chase restaurant in New Orleans. Miss Leah is one of my absolute female icons and one of the first people to spike my interest in regional American food, when I saw her on TV here in the UK many years ago talking about "The Holy Trinity". This being the marriage of onions, bell peppers and celery, the base of many amazing dishes.  Miss Leah is in her 90's and still cooking in the kitchens of Dookie Chase, she has cooked for not only the rich and famous, but also is known for feeding and supporting the leaders of the Civil Rights movement. If that isn't enough, she is said to also be the inspiration for the Disney princess, Tiana