I feel a little cheated that we celebrate Shrove Tuesday here with an excess of pancakes, when in New Orleans and other cities worldwide they celebrate Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday) with a huge parade, party and lots of food. The origins of both are the same, Catholic celebrations devouring excess calorific foods before the fasting that occurs over lent. Traditionally held in cities of French origin it has now spread throughout the Southern US, even to Universal in Orlando, Florida where we celebrated Mardi Gras last week. A little early I know, but they have chosen to celebrate it every weekend for the month. You can never have too much fun, right?
Lots of food features, like King Cake, Beignets (fluffy gorgeous doughnuts smothered in icing sugar), Jambalaya and rich and delicious Gumbo. I made Gumbo last week with the chef from Universal whilst covering it for iVillage, and I thought it would be lovely to publish the recipe here too.
Notes on the recipe: Gumbo recipes vary from family to family and town to town, and there are very strong opinions on it (it reminds me of asking for a recipe for an Italian ragu!), but there are common ingredients. There is almost always shrimp, okra, rice, brown roux, gumbo file and andouille sausage. Andouille is a spicy pork sausage of French origin, a good substitute would be Calabrian nduja (which has similar origins), a chorizo would also do. Brown roux is a normal roux (flour & butter or some say oil and flour) cooked until it browns and gets a smokey flavour.
Gumbo file (fee-lay), a powder of crushed dried sassafras leaves, is used as a thickener and for flavour. Originally used by the Choctaw Indians in their cooking to thicken soups, the Creoles adopted it when they moved in. It has an interesting flavour, very earthy and pungent. The sassafras tree grows along the Eastern US so it can be difficult to source in Europe. It’s worth sourcing if you can (I’ve seen it on ebay), The Spice Shop sells a Creole seasoning mix with file powder included. Don’t worry it you can’t get it, it will still be a good and authentic gumbo, the okra and brown roux also function as thickening agents so just add a bit more of one of those. If using file add it only at the end and don’t boil as it will go stringy, and will continue to thicken your gumbo as long as it is in there. It is also added after like pepper for flavour with tabasco.
I have adapted the recipe from a US chefs version, changing quantities and converting to metric.
I hope you enjoy it! It’s a cracker for Mardi Gras after your pancakes.
Authentic Gumbo Recipe
I onion, finely chopped
2 sticks celery, finely sliced
½ red pepper, diced
½ green pepper. diced
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
5 slices streaky bacon, diced
1 bay leav
½ tbsp Thyme leaves
200g okra, cut in 1cm chunks
1 x 400g tin chopped tomatoes
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1l fish stock, hot (can substitute with light chicken stock)
1 tbsp gumbo file, dissolved in 200ml cold water
250g raw peeled prawns
250g sliced Andouille sausage (substitute nduja or chorizo)
50g plain flour
To serve: enough boiled rice for however many you are serving and a bunch of spring onions finely chopped to garnish.
Prepare brown roux by melting the butter and adding the flour. Cook over a moderate heat, stirring so it doesn’t burn, until the roux is brown. Take off the heat and leave to the side.
Sauté the bacon in its own fat until starting to brown, add the onion, celery, peppers and cook until tender over a medium heat, should take 5 minutes or so. Add some oil if its starting to stick. Add the garlic and cook for a further minute.
Add the okra, bay leaf, thyme, some black pepper and Tabasco, stirring constantly.
Add fish stock, sausage and tomatoes and bring to the boil. Blend in the roux mixing well.
Bring back to the boil, turn down heat and simmer for 45 minutes to let the flavours develop. Stir frequently.
Add shrimp, Worcestershire sauce and simmer 10 more minutes.
Remove from the heat, stir the gumbo file and water with a whisk and stir into soup. Adjust the seasoning to taste.
When serving, put one spoon of boiled hot rice into the serving bowl and pour in enough gumbo to cover it. Garnish with chopped spring onions.