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01.27.2003

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gumbo, y'all how to make a good Louisiana gumbo 1 2

I always look forward to those nights when my Louisiana-born-and-bred friend Kim, in a fit of homesickness, decides sheís craving a good Cajun feast, and invites us over to share a big pot of dark, spicy gumbo. For years Iíve been begging her for a recipe, but, like most of the best cooks I know, she cooks her gumbo by instinct. Thus any attempt to extract an exact written recipe has had a tendency to sound something like ďOh itís easyÖ add some of this, then some of that, stir it up until it smells right, cook until everythingís done.Ē So when a couple of months ago, in thanks for having hosted her for several dinners, Kim offered to bring the ingredients over to my house and show me her gumbo secrets, I eagerly turned over my kitchen for the evening, and prepared to take notes.

The key to a good gumbo, Kim says, is in the roux, that flour-butter mixture that serves as the foundation of the dish. Gumbo roux must be cooked until itís very nearly, but not quite, burnt Ė you have to have the patience, and the guts, to push it to its limits. The roux takes on a distinct smell Ė a certain delectable smokiness-- when itís reached the right point, but for those of us who havenít grown up just plain knowing the smells, you can use visual cues: gumbo roux will reach a rich, beautiful, dark, chocolatey-brown when itís ready. Stop the cooking too soon and youíll end up with a weak, faintly floury gumbo that lacks the complex flavors one expects from the dish. As Kim says, itís almost worth it to push the roux past the burning point one, just so you know what the difference is between too-cooked and just cooked enough.

The shrimp, bell peppers and okra used in this recipe make for a pretty common gumbo combo, but gumbo is an infinitely flexible dish Ė you can substitute with the shrimp with crayfish, or toss in some Andouille sausage and chicken. Although okra is nice because it helps to thicken the dish, you can also use just about whatever veggies suit your fancy Ö except tomatoes, insists Kim with a shudder: itís the one ingredient that no true Cajun cook would ever allow to grace their gumbo.

mosey along for the recipe

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