Thursday, January 10, 2013


Years ago, before i had any inkling that it would be interesting to visit a place called New Orleans, i picked up a cookbook at a sale of "withdrawn" library books, called "The Original Picayune Creole Cook Book."  I'm not sure why THAT, of all the cookbooks offered, called my name, but i'm sure glad i snagged it.  As a reenactor and a tradition-inspired cook, it has come to be one of my favorite vintage recipe books.

It's a window on an important culino-cultural event ... if that's a viable expression.  Everyone KNOWS that French cuisine is one of the world's greatest, and in La Nouvelle Orleans time-tested traditions met a previously-unrealized array of novel ingredients to create a new world of great food.  This book speaks of the heritage of the city which i consider the best restaurant town i've ever gotten to know.

The arrangement of chapters is interesting:  just beyond the Introduction and "Suggestions to Housekeepers" is "Creole Coffee" -- over two small-type pages of description and instruction for that most important support of life and civilization.  Just how to make café noir, and to augment it to make café au lait....  From this MOST basic "necessity," the book continues to another primary foodstuff, upon which it would be easy to subsist -- Soup.  But not just one chapter on soup -- chapters two through seven progress from "Soups" through "Meat Soups," "Fish Soups," "Lenten Soups," and "The Bouilli" to "Creole Gumbo."  (Then it moves on to Fish, etc.)

Oddly enough the book doesn't define "gumbo" and the casual reader will puzzle over why the variations aren't simply incorporated into one of the other categories of soup.  It doesn't seem to be defined by any particular ingredient or combination of them; it doesn't always contain okra, or filé (powdered dried sassafras leaves), or seafood, poultry or sausages, but can contain a wide variety.  Nor is it always thickened with roux or other grain derivatives, though it generally seems to be.  The origin of the name is even in doubt -- some think it's from the Bantu word for okra (ki ngombo), and others from the Choctaw word for filé (kombo).  Whatever the case, Gumbo has become an institution.

So with this book as a reference, you will probably think it extremely perverse of me to base my favorite gumbo on an old vegetarian version i picked up many years ago -- but i just like the flavor!  I use stock as a base which i stash in the freezer after crockpotting beef or pork roasts or chickens, or after boiling bones.  I put in whatever meats i have hanging around the refrigerator or freezer, depending on my whim.  I feel that some vegetables are a sine qua non (like onions, tomatoes, celery and okra), and others are a desirable elective (squash and bell peppers).  Unless you're skilled at concocting creole/cajun dishes, i strongly recommend the "spicy" version of Tony Chachere's Creole seasoning -- it has less salt in it, so you use less of it and then salt the gumbo to taste.  Then of course the bottle of Tabasco or Crystal hot sauce goes on the table, for those who think my recipe isn't hot enough.  :-)  In the creole cookbook, it's recommended to put rice on the table SEPARATELY, then add a couple of spoonsful to each serving -- the convention of serving gumbo atop a big pile of the stuff probably originated in restaurants ... or poor families.  Naturally, when i make this recipe for myself, i don't cook rice for it at all.


2 c. chopped onions -- the "hot" kind, not those damned sweet things!
2 T. butter or drippings
6 cloves garlic, or to taste
1/2 c. sliced carrots
1 c. sliced celery
2 c. stock
large can crushed or diced tomatoes with juice
2-4 c. sliced okra -- i often use frozen ones
2 medium diced bell peppers -- i like to use yellow, or one green and one orange
1 c. diced zucchini or yellow squash
1 T. cajun spice (i like Tony Chachere's spicy version -- contains less salt
1 t. paprika
1 lb. peeled, raw (imparts more flavor!) shrimp/prawns
a couple of raw diced chicken breasts, or sliced andouille or chorizo sausage, or diced ham or ... whatever floats your pirogue  ;-)

Sauté onions in the fat, stir in the garlic, carrots and celery and cook a little longer.  Add the other veggies, seasoning, stock, and sausage or chicken (or both).  Simmer slowly till the carrots and okra are almost "done" then add the shrimp, and cook another five minutes.  This is one of those concoctions which only get better as time goes by, even if your vegetables kinda disintegrate with subsequent warm-ups....

A NOTE ON FILÉ POWDER:  Filé should NEVER be heated in the pot!!!  This turns it stringy, and when people say they don't like gumbo, it's frequently because they've had badly-handled filé.  The Picayune cookbook recommends adding it right before transferring the gumbo to the tureen, and i've seen elsewhere that the best way is to stir it into the individual bowl.  As for myself, i rarely use it at all -- but i have some in case a guest does want it!  :-)


  1. This sounds wonderful and perfect for the dark, rainy-snowey weather we're having. Too bad I'm at work and won't be doing any cooking today. I'll definately save this one!

  2. i hope you enjoy it! i've always been a lover of soup, and this one rivals chili in my affections.

  3. I have never tried to make it, but you are inspiring me to grow more okra this summer.

  4. it's easy and delicious! after writing the above, i decided to turn some leftover potroast, chicken-foot broth and frozen okra into a new sort of gumbo with onions and garlic browned in the grease left from our breakfast pastured-pork patties. the smell is driving us crazy, but the liver in the oven won't be done for another half hour....

  5. Liver in the oven? I so wish I could learn to like liver again (as a child, fried liver & onions was a staple and I liked it well enough). I just can't seem to get with it again. How do you make liver in the oven?
    And, how do you make your bone broth?

  6. when i was last in Scotland, i found this great "traditional" cookbook -- and it was £1.50!!! take a pound of liver ... oh hell, i'll just put it on the recipe page! :-)

  7. Tess-

    Great blog! I've been reading for quite some time.

    You may have answered this before but given your love of 'Nawlins do you watch Treme at all? I am a big fan -- probably most appealing to jazz fans?

    My wife and her family is from NO, and my wife's sister runs a great place there in the Marigny. Very interesting place.

  8. Oops forgot to mention, I really struggle with liver other than chicken's liver in pate or fried chicken livers, which I really like.

    It's a southern thing. I hope the nutrient benefits out-weigh the PUFAs (probably need to pan saute those suckers at home in oil that is more saturated?)...

  9. hi, Franklin -- thank you! :-)

    i haven't seen Treme, but i need to -- i learned from Deadwood that you can't just start in the middle. i'm gonna have to order the DVDs.... your SIL has a place in the Marigny -- you're gonna HAVE to "advertise" it here! :-D an alternative to mainstream hotels sounds like a great idea. we rented a place on Burgundy at Gov. Nichols, and had just begun to explore the Marigny when my husband switched jobs.

    i know what you mean about liver -- i enjoy pate and swoon for foie gras, but a big slice of liver kinda gags me. check out the casserole on my recipe page! the liver is cut in smaller-than-bite-sized pieces, and there's lots of bacon and onion to disguise the texture. yeah -- dip chicken livers in an egg/coconut flour batter, roll in almond flour and fry in coconut oil and voila -- healthy little chunks of heaven!

  10. Restaurant/bar in the Marigny called "Mimi's in the Marigny" (I will bet you can guess her name), nice kind of mostly locals/neighborhood place with a decent amount of off-shift traffic from people working at other restaurants/bars.

    I absolutely loved Deadwood, even if it did end poorly once when cancelled. My favorite long-arcing series is "The Wire," followed by "Breaking Bad." You definitely have to see all in order, as with Treme. Treme is more a rambling, music-dedicated, character-oriented series with even less plot than Deadwood seemed to have, that is intended to give you feel for the food, the music and the place that is N.O. Even more love it or hate it than Deadwood.

    1. yeah, i'm definitely going to have to order Treme.

      :-) for all i know, we've already eaten at Mimi's! some places i'm more familiar with by location than name.