So, what is all the fuss anyway about Gumbo?
Of all the dishes in the realm of Louisiana cooking, gumbo is the most famous and, very likely, the most popular. Gumbo crosses all class barriers, appearing on the tables of the poor as well as the wealthy. Although ingredients might vary greatly from one cook to the next, and from one part of the state to another, a steaming bowl of fragrant gumbo is one of life’s cherished pleasures, as emblematic of Louisiana as chili is of Texas.
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 The name derives from a West African word for okra, suggesting that gumbo was originally made with okra.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.
Today, the gumbos people are most familiar with are seafood gumbo and chicken and sausage gumbo. There are also raging controversies over what constitutes a proper gumbo roux. Roux, of course, is flour that has been browned in oil or some other fat. Both cooks and eaters have their own opinions on how dark the roux should be and how much should be used in a gumbo. There is no agreement on these matters, as anyone who has tasted gumbos from different cooks can attest.
Contemporary gumbos are made with all manner of ingredients in a variety of combinations. Seafood and non-seafood gumbos are two primary types, and they may be made with or without okra. But some gumbos include ingredients from both the land and the sea. Duck, smoked sausage, and oyster gumbo is one delicious example. Some cooks add hard-boiled eggs to chicken and sausage gumbos, and quail eggs find their way into other versions.
I’m convinced that part of gumbo’s virtue, aside from its deliciousness, is that the dish is very forgiving of the cook. Measurements do not have to be exact, ingredients may be changed to use what is on hand, and unless the diners are so set in their ways that they can’t appreciate change, the result will be quite good.
With all that being said, how can you resist joining us at Flagler Tavern during the New Smyrna Beach Gumbo Festival Saturday, March 2nd from Noon to 6pm on Flagler Avenue for the great Gumbo Cook-Off. Each year we compete for Best on the Beach Gumbo and this year we have a real winner! Come by and try some.
The festival features over 15 gumbos from local restaurants, which participants can enjoy and then vote on their favorite. Gumbo Tasting Passports are $15 each and proceeds go directly to the 2019 Fat Tuesday on Flagler Mardi Gras Parade. Get your presales tickets at https://gumbochallenge.eventbrite.com
This event is part of the Mardi Gras Weekend series of events in New Smyrna Beach culminating in the Fat Tuesday Mardi Gras Parade and Party on Tuesday, March 5th.