Growing up in Virginia, I was not exposed to Cajun cuisine. I never had Cajun cuisine in any manner until I met a very special Cajun named Zulma Parks Boudreaux. Zulma’s husband worked with my husband, Carl, and we were introduced by them. Zulma and I hit it off instantly and became fast friends. Zulma was born and raised in Louisiana and was the first Cajun I had ever met. She had moved to Virginia for her husband’s job.
Zulma is the person who introduced me to gumbo, jambalaya, crawfish and numerous other creole dishes. I remember standing in Zulma’s kitchen watching her make her roux. She would be laughing, cutting up and drinking her beer. She knew her roux would be ready after she had finished her third beer. Zulma speaks with a heavy Cajun accent and I love hearing her talk. One day she said “look under the zink and you might find it there”. I said look under the what? She says to me “the zink”. Finally, I figured out she meant the sink. I still laugh about that until this day. Zulma taught me to make gumbo and I still continue to make it 25 years later. I am so blessed to have Zulma in my life and her introduction of all things Cajun and creole.
Zulma moved back to Louisiana about 8 years after we met her and I missed her so much. My husband and I went to visit her in Louisiana and we went into New Orleans. I will never forget the smells of all the different foods, the sound of jazz coming from all around, the energy in the streets, all of the drinks being consumed and the feel of love from everyone we met. We also went into the swamp where we experienced Cajun food at its finest. We had crabs, shrimp and crawfish in 50 pound bags. One thing I learned from Zulma and her family is Cajuns can cook (and drink) like no other. The smell of the fragrant spices surrounding the bayou and the gumbo and others dishes that is served is mind blowing and keeps people coming back for more and more.
Of all the dishes in the repertoire of Louisiana cooking, gumbo is undoubtedly the most famous. Because gumbo has been a staple in Louisiana kitchens long before written records of the dish existed, there are many myths surrounding its origins. No one is even certain whether the dish is Cajun or Creole in origin – the oldest mention to date is when French explorer C.C. Robin ate it at a soiree on the Acadian coast in 1803. Yet there are records of New Orleans creoles enjoying it during roughly the same time period.
Gumbo is often cited as an example of the melting-pot nature of Louisiana cooking, but trying to sort out the origins and evolution of the dish is highly speculative. The name derives from a West African word for okra, suggesting that gumbo was originally made with okra. The use of filé (dried and ground sassafras leaves) was a contribution of the Choctaws and, possibly, other local tribes. Roux has its origin in French cuisine, although the roux used in gumbos is much darker than its Gallic cousins.
Making a big pot of gumbo is a little labor intensive, but it lasts for days and only gets better with time. A good Gumbo recipe takes time and preparation, so it’s more of a weekend cooking project. Yet the vibrant goodness is absolutely well worth the time and effort.
One thing I learned over the years is that there are so many different ways and varieties of making gumbo. Gumbo differs in every region of Louisiana. No two cooks will agree on the same ingredients for the true and proper gumbo. But most every gumbo recipe includes the “holy trinity” – onions, celery and green peppers and also garlic.
The variations to gumbo are simply endless. Some of the more popular combinations include shrimp, crab, oyster, duck, sausage, chicken or turkey. To me there is no wrong way to make gumbo The preparation of gumbo always begins with a roux. From there you can let your imagination fly and add almost any ingredient you want.
I used shrimp, crab meat, sausage, okra and gumbo file’ in my recipe. Gumbo file‘ is ground sassafras. It thickens and darkens your gumbo and is usually added to the end of the cooking process. I purchased mine at Penzy’s Spice Store but you can also purchase it on Amazon on this link: Gumbo File. I also used Ragin Cajun Seasoning which I picked up at Harris Teeter grocery store but you can also order this on Amazon.
I love to serve my gumbo with a big bowl of long grain rice and of course, a glass of sweet tea.
Louisianans are fun, loving and caring individuals. Family and friends are so very important to their culture and one thing that was very important to my friend, Zulma. There is a saying in Louisiana – “LAISSEZ LES BON TEMPS ROULER” (lay-ZEH leh BAWN taw ROO-leh) and it means “let the good times roll.” So my recommendation is make a big pot of gumbo and LAISSEZ LES BON TEMPS ROULER.
Cajun Seafood, Sausage and Okra GumboCourse: MainCuisine: CajunDifficulty: Medium
This Cajun Seafood Gumbo is a true melting pot of tender shrimp, andouille sausage, okra and crabmeat swimming in a flavorful broth of goodness!
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup butter
2 cups finely chopped sweet onion
1 cup finely chopped green bell pepper
1 cup finely chopped celery
2 tablespoons minced garlic
1 pound andouille sausage, sliced
4 cups chicken stock
4 cups seafood stock
2 teaspoons of cajun seasoning
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
2 teaspoons dried thyme
2 bay leaves
2 teaspoons of kosher salt
1 teaspoon of ground black pepper
One 12-ounce bottle amber beer
2 cups sliced fresh okra
1 pound lump crabmeat
2 pounds of large raw shrimp, peeled and deveined
2 teaspoons gumbo file powder
Cooked long grain rice for serving
- Make the Roux: In a large Dutch oven or heavy soup pot, heat the oil and butter over medium high heat until hot, almost smoking. Gradually whisk in the flour, being careful not to splash the mixture so you don’t get burned. Reduce the heat to low and cook and stir the roux continuously until medium brown and smooth (like the color of milk chocolate) about 20 to 30 minutes.
- Increase heat to medium high. Add the onion, bell pepper, celery and stir until the vegetables are soft but not browned, about 7 minutes. Add garlic and cook for 1 minute.
- Slowly add beer, stock, bay leaves, thyme, Cajun seasoning, Worcestershire, salt, pepper, and sausage. Bring mixture to a boil; reduce heat to medium low, and simmer for about 1 hour.
- Add sausage, okra and file. Cook for 30 minutes. Add shrimp and cook for additional 5 minutes. Remove from heat and add crabmeat. Cover the gumbo pot and let gumbo rest for 30 minutes so all the flavors have longer to mingle, without overcooking the seafood.
- To serve: rewarm the gumbo, if needed, for 2-3 minutes. Then serve in large bowls with a heaping scoop of rice.
- Depending on where you live, it might be hard to find certain types of seafood. You can absolutely swap what seafood is available in your area.