What is Gumbo? Gumbo is considered a soup or stew. It is one of the most famous as well as popular dished in the realm of Louisiana cooking. It was originally a south Louisiana dish (as history has it) in the early 18th century. Gumbo is often used as a parallel for the mix of cultures existing in south Louisiana (French, Spanish, Native Americans, African slaves, Italians and Germans). In the cold winters, the Acadians would cook soup using whatever ingredients were available. When they moved to Louisiana and were not able to find their traditional ingredients, they would use what was available. They would use shrimp instead of seafood. Later on the dish was changed to include ingredients common to other cultures.
The gumbo consists primarily of a strongly flavored stock with meat (usually chicken or shrimp with a smoked sausage, a thickener, celery, bell peppers and onions and seasonings. Some added okra as a thickener, some file’ (a dried ground sassafras) and some added a roux (a French base made with flour and fat). Many choose to use duck or turkey in their gumbo as their meat. What’s fun about this wonderful dish is that you can add any ingredient you wish. I can tell you from experience that a bowl of steaming gumbo is one of great pleasure.
Gumbo is an example of Louisiana’s melting pot. Various different parts of Louisiana cook their gumbo using one of three ingredients. In New Orleans, they make a Creole gumbo which usually contains shellfish, tomatoes, and a thickener. CAJUN gumbo varies greatly but often has a dark roux with either shellfish or fowl and sausage. Sausage or ham are often added to gumbos. There is also a lesser known variety (meatless gumbo z’herbes which is a gumbo of slow cooked greens many times thickened with roux and served with rice on the side).
The dish combines ingredients and culinary practices of various cultures (French, Spanish, German, West Africa and Choctaw. Some believe gumbo may have come from a traditional West African or native dish. Some feel it may be a derivation of the French dish bouillabaisse. The dish gained widespread popularity in the 1970’s when it was added to the United States Senate cafeteria menu in honor of Allen Ellender (a Louisiana Senator).Paul Prudhomme’s popularity made it even more popular. Gumbo is the official cuisine of Louisiana.
Gumbo is a heavily seasoned soup or stew that combines several varieties of meat or seafood. Meat based gumbo might have chicken, duck, squirrel, or rabbit. Some add oysters. Seafood gumbo usually has shrimp, crabmeat and sometimes oysters. Andouille sausage is often added to either to add extra flavor. The Cajun gumbo combinations are common in the southwestern part of Louisiana (populated primarily by the Cajuns. The other is traditionally New Orleans and southeastern Louisiana which is commonly known as Creole after the Louisiana Creole people (descendants of the Spanish and French settlers.
Gumbo has been described as an economical dish useful for feeding a large number of people with a small amount of meat or seafood. It is always a good choice to feed a crowd. It is an effective way to use up leftover meat and seafood. It is served over rice. It is served at social gatherings in Louisiana. Many families have a gumbo party or host a social gathering where friends and family come together for food and fellowship. Many southern Louisiana cooking competitions are centered around gumbo. Many festivals also are centered around gumbo.