FOOD COLUMN: Aunt Goldie’s Gumbo | Columnists
My Aunt Goldie who lived in Lake Charles, Louisiana with her soft-spoken husband, CA, was known in our family for her delicious seafood gumbo. Dad’s younger sister Goldie was probably not five feet tall. in heels. His frequent smile and playful banter revealed an immediately warm and kind nature. In southern Louisiana, okra is a dish often prepared when families and friends get together. The first thing one noticed upon entering Aunt Goldie’s house was the tantalizing aroma of seafood gumbo.
Gumbo combines ingredients and cooking practices from multiple cultures. It may have been based on traditional Choctaw stew or it may have been a derivative of bouillabaisse, a French dish. The dish shows African, Spanish and Caribbean influence and when German immigrants settled in Louisiana, sausages were added to the pot. All of these cultures contributed to the recipe we recognize today as okra. It was first described in 1802 and was listed in various cookbooks in the second half of the 19th century. The dish gained popularity in the 1970s after the United States Senate Dining Hall added it to the menu in honor of Louisiana Senator Allen Ellender. The name okra most likely comes from the African word for okra. However, the Choctaw word for ingredient net (pronounced fee-lay) is also similar to the word okra.
The preparation of okra begins with the roux. The roux is a mixture of equal parts fat and flour and cooked to the desired level of browning. In classic French cuisine, the fat is butter. Roux is used in three of the five mother sauces of classic French cuisine; béchamel, velouté and spanish sauce. Our cream sauce is what chefs call a blond roux because it is cooked for less time and is therefore less brown. In Gumbo, the fat is usually vegetable oil and often butter is added for flavor. Olive oil is not recommended for making roux due to its low smoke point, which means it will burn before you can brown the flour. The roux is cooked over low heat with constant stirring to create the characteristic dark brown color and flavor of okra. When you brown your roux, keep stirring and cook until it has the color of milk chocolate. Once there, remove it from the heat so as not to burn it. If you prefer a shortcut, there are some great pre-made pot roux but don’t tell Aunt Goldie or other Louisiana parents I said that.
Okra is a spicy dish with many layers of flavor. An easy way to capture the flavors of southern Louisiana is to use a Cajun seasoning blend, something like Tony Chachere’s. But if you read the ingredient list, it’s very easy to mix up your own Cajun seasoning using spices you already have. It saves money and you won’t have to make room for another spice in the rack. My recipe offers a good alternative to the relatively expensive Cajun mix you’ll find at the store. You will need to purchase Okra Fillet. This Native American spice is made from the crushed leaves of sassafras and is one of the necessary ingredients in okra. Adding it to okra or soups after cooking and just before serving will thicken it and add a delicate flavor.
A pescatarian is not a pesky vegetarian but rather someone who abstains from meat while including fish. If you happen to have a wife who is pescatarian, you can adjust my recipe by replacing the chicken broth with vegetable broth and omitting the sausage. Kathy returned for a few seconds to her batch of pescatarian okra. For me, the andouille sausage adds yet another layer of flavor. I believe Aunt Goldie would agree with either interpretation.
Tim Scallon is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist with years of experience practicing nutrition therapy in hospitals and local clinics, teaching nutrition, and developing healthy recipes. He is a resident of Nacogdoches and he helped create the popular TV show Memorial Cooking Innovations celebrating the world of food and health. Memorial Cooking Innovations has been shown in 62 cities and is available locally on cable channel 2 from Sudden Link in Nacogdoches.