Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Two Yummy Gumbo Recipes in Honor of National Gumbo Day

Last Friday was #NationalGumboDay, a food that’s featured prominently in my book Under the Cajun Moon. To celebrate, I decided to share a bit about that book and pass along two great recipes for gumbo—one that’s easy and quick and one that’s more complicated but well worth the trouble.

Food in Fiction

One of my favorite reviews I’ve ever gotten was this one from Publisher’s Weekly for Under the Cajun Moon:

“…a delicious recipe of intrigue, romance and intelligent character development…Clark's story line is full of spice and lingers with an unexpected bite familiar to Cajun cuisine lovers. This text is sumptuous.

The review was cleverly worded, because much of the novel is set amid the New Orleans restaurant world and deals with Louisiana cuisine, especially gumbo. In fact, in the story, concealed in what seems like an ordinary gumbo recipe are clues to the whereabouts of a hidden treasure! 

Gumbo as Character Development

In the novel, Gumbo also serves as a symbol of the troubled relationship between the main character, Chloe, and her demanding and distant father, as shown in this excerpt:

“Don’t you know how to make gumbo?” Travis asked.
I shrugged, not explaining about my one disastrous experience at gumbo when I was sixteen years old. My father had taken a rare day off from work and we were both at home, so in yet another desperate attempt to get his attention, I had had the brilliant idea of asking him to teach me how to cook.
Much to my delight, he was pleased with my request at first, eagerly gathering the ingredients from the kitchen cabinets and describing for me the origins of gumbo and the infinite number of variations that people had managed to create over the years. His version started with a roux and ended with filé, he said, though many folks believed you didn’t need filé if you had a roux.
He prattled on and on, and though I didn’t care much about the specifics, I remember beaming in the glow of my father’s undivided attention. With him watching over my shoulder, I stood at the stove and stirred the flour into the oil exactly as he directed.
“The trick is to keep stirring and stirring and watching and watching as it changes colors,” he said.
Sure enough, the longer I stood there and stirred, the mixture began to change from a light brown he called “béchamel sauce” to a darker one he deemed “sauce piquant.” As it slowly grew even darker, I thought the mixture might burn, but he assured me that as long as I kept stirring we could push it to the very limits, to that precise dark brown moment that waited between “not quite enough” and “disaster.”
Unfortunately, the phone rang as we were coming into the home stretch. He answered it, motioning for me to keep stirring. My arm was getting tired, though, so when he ducked around the corner to talk, I took a moment to shake out my arm and switch the spoon to my other hand. That one didn’t work as well for stirring, though, so I switched back, accidentally dropping the spoon in the process.
Mortified, I wiped up the globby mess from the front of the stove and the floor as quickly as I could, knowing that that sort of clutziness in his restaurant could get a person fired. Hiding the dirty paper towels in the trash and the spoon in the sink, I ran to get a new, clean spoon from the drawer. I made it back to the stove, spoon in hand, just before my father hung up the phone and returned to the room.
I thought I had gotten away with it, but the moment he came around the corner, he screamed. Apparently, in the few seconds it had taken me to clean up my mess, my lack of stirring had caused the roux to burn.
My father went into a rage so extreme that one would have thought I had burned the house down. He took over then, pushing me away from the smoking pan as he banged and clanged and continued to yell. By the time his tirade had run his course, I was still there in a corner of the kitchen, determined to make things right.
“Can we still make gumbo, Daddy?” I asked softly, trying not to cry.
At that, he turned to me and gave me his most withering glare. “You burned the roux, Chloe. There’s no going any further when you burn a roux.”
All these years later, I could still feel the sting of that moment, of standing there alone after he stormed out, our happy time together having gone up in smoke.

If the above scene makes you sad, not to worry: In the final chapter of the book, Chloe takes another crack at learning how to make gumbo, this time with a far kinder teacher, and she ends up with much happier—not to mention far more romantic—results. (Sorry, I can’t include that excerpt here or it’ll give away the ending of the story!)

Shortcut Gumbo

Here’s my own quick recipe for the gumbo I usually make, which is a bit of a cheat since it mostly comes from a box, but it really isn’t half bad…

Louisiana Gumbo

If you’re a more ambitious cook than I, you might try this recipe instead, which is the one my brother David usually uses. Considering that he’s the single best cook I’ve ever known, it’s an understatement to say that this gumbo is beyond delicious.

Tough Job, But Somebody’s Gotta Do It

One last note, when I was researching Under the Cajun Moon, my husband, John, and I got to take a culinary tour of New Orleans. This included a lesson in making a roux as well as a yummy sample of the end product. Look closely at the photo below, which always makes me laugh: As you can see, John is far more focused on the gumbo sample than he is on the cooking lesson!

I hope you enjoyed this week’s post, and if you end up trying either recipe, I’d love to hear how it turns out in the comments below or on my Facebook page.

Bon Appetite!

No comments:

Post a Comment