Bowls of gumbo

In the mail from bon appétit magazine this morning (Daylight Saving Day in the US), this hymn to the gumbo restaurants of New Orleans:

(#1) Artwork for the story, “The 8 Best Bowls of Gumbo in New Orleans: Pretty much everyone in this city has strong opinions about gumbo. Writer and New Orleans native Megan Braden-Perry shares her picks for the eight best versions you can find”, by Braden-Perry on 3/5/23

As it happens, I am a gumboiste, a gumbophile, known in years long ago at academic conferences in New Orleans for indulging in 7 or 8 different gumbos in a single day. As I wrote in my 8/17/22 posting “Knuckle macaroni”, about elbow macaroni, and then “knuckle dumplings”, that is, gnocchi:

for me gnocchi are like gumbo: there are a zillion variants, hugely different in their ingredients and preparations, some of them transcendent, some of them delightfully weird, some of them pedestrian, but all of them good, each in its own way.

So bon appétits celebration of New Orleans gumbos derailed my intended posting for the day.  Now, from Braden-Perry’s main text, plus her notes on two of the eight restaurants, with photos.

Where’s the best gumbo in New Orleans? If you live here, that’s something you’re asked all the time. Being a Creole girl from the 7th Ward — a multigenerational native New Orleanian at that — I certainly have opinions on gumbo. I’ve been eating it since I was a bald-headed baby with only two teeth and I’ve been making it since I was 18.

At its core, gumbo is somewhere between a soup and a stew. It’s a blend of a roux (flour and fat that’s cooked until brown), stock, the Louisiana seasoning trinity (bell peppers, onion and celery), plus meat and/or seafood. When I make gumbo, which is usually only for holidays because it’s expensive to do it “right,” I put everything in it: chicken thighs, andouille, hot sausage, deveined shrimp, cleaned blue crabs, oysters, and okra. There’s also filé (ground sassafras) on the table for me and whoever else wants it. Never in my entire life would I include a tomato in any form. Certainly not an egg, not snow crab claws, not loose crab meat, not crawfish, never anything crunchy unless it’s cooked all the way down, and, for the love of all that is holy, never corn! These ingredients just do not belong — that’s me though. Needless to say, everyone here has strong feelings about this dish.

The restaurants she surveys offer a huge variety of gumbos, including some with with crab claws and tomato and who knows what else. I’ve picked two of them on the basis of the photographs. One looks like the archetype of gumbohood, the other like gumbo as served up on a Mardi Gras float.

The apparent archetype. The photo and the text:

(#2) The gumbo at Saint John and sister restaurant Gris-Gris is cognac-brown and rich with chicken and andouille sausage, the latter from Poche’s in Breaux Bridge. The stock is made daily, using the carcasses from chickens roasted for the gumbo. “It smells like Thanksgiving,” executive chef Eric Cook says of the restaurant.

The surprise is that this gumbo is seafood-free (it’s a regional specialty).

The showy extravagance. The photo and the text:

(#3) The gumbo recipe at Li’l Dizzy’s [Cafe] is about 60 years old. It’s the same gumbo you’ll find in  The Baquet Family Cookbook, and is full of ham, smoked sausage, crab, shrimp, and the Baquets’ own pre-packaged hot sausage and gumbo base. Co-owner Arkesha Baquet credits her mother-in-law Janet Jourdain Baquet with some of Li’l Dizzy’s most revolutionary concepts, like making their own hot sausage and gumbo base recipe, and having its production outsourced to a commercial kitchen. Chef John Cannon IV says that getting those two key ingredients outsourced gives him the time to focus equally on the food and business aspects of running a restaurant, without sacrificing quality or consistency. “Gumbo is a simple dish, but it takes a lot of steps to get it right,” he says

You should treat the photo as a kind of fevered Carnival fantasy, with a honking big crab splayed over the whole thing, among the Mardi Gras beads and stuff. Not, I suspect, the presentation at Baquet restaurants.

3 Responses to “Bowls of gumbo”

  1. Mitch4 Says:

    Makes me wonder what a 7-cent stamp is used for. (Probably to make up a shortage from older stamps when the rates have changed?)

  2. Mitch4 Says:

    Oh, oops!

    But I have in fact seen low-value stamps, like 2 or 3 cents, which were useful as I described — if you had a bunch of first class stamps with an older cover price (this before Forever Stamps) and needed to add the difference.

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