Filé your boots

This swampy stew was made for long lazy days on the bayou – or for your bank hol­i­day. It takes a while to make: a per­fect ex­cuse to crack open a cold one and get stir­ring ...

The Guardian - Cook - - Feature - Ja­cob Kenedy is chef-pa­tron of Bocca di Lupo res­tau­rant and Plaque­m­ine Lock restau­rants in Lon­don; @ja­cobkenedy

Nowhere do folks throw a bet­ter party than in Louisiana. I should know – my grand­mother Ginny was from there, a town called Plaque­m­ine on Bayou Plaque­m­ine, down which our fam­ily hauled Span­ish moss, shin­gles, lum­ber and oil from a swamp on to the Mis­sis­sippi. Ginny knew how to party. One of her par­ties in­spired Fellini to make La Dolce Vita. She’s prob­a­bly still par­ty­ing now.

To party, you gather all your peo­ple to­gether, fill their cups, fill their plates, fill their bel­lies and let a voodoo magic hap­pen – that spell which falls when in­hi­bi­tions fade and voices rise. In New Or­leans, they call the noise of peo­ple en­joy­ing them­selves “gumbo ya ya” – many peo­ple talk­ing at once, so you can’t pick out the words. That en­chanted buzz is the hum of a welloiled res­tau­rant en­gine – it makes my hair stand on end when I hear it and makes my heart glow. It is the sound of a happy din­ing room, the purr of hos­pi­tal­ity. It is the first thing I look for when gaug­ing our work at Bocca di Lupo and Plaque­m­ine Lock and the most vi­tal of all the rea­sons I be­came a chef.

The phrase “gumbo ya ya” it­self de­rives from the food gumbo; ya ya is just peo­ple yakking. Gumbo is the swampy soup that de­fines Louisiana in a bowl – a con­coc­tion of mys­te­ri­ous murk, sim­ple in­gre­di­ents lay­ered to­gether so their flavours meld, but none is iden­ti­fi­able on its own.

And not just in­gre­di­ents, but cul­tures too – Louisiana is a true lady of the night – ev­ery­one’s had some

in­put. The word “gumbo” is said to de­rive ei­ther from the West African Bantu word for okra – ki ngombo; or the Choctaw In­dian for the herb filé

– kombo. French roux forms the base – nearly ev­ery Louisiana recipe be­gins: “first you make a roux” – and fur­ther thick­en­ing comes ei­ther from okra or from pow­dered sas­safras leaf (AKA filé). Ger­man-style smoked sausage (with a French name, an­douille) spikes many a gumbo pot.

The ori­gins of this stew are ob­scured in the depths of its caul­dron – it’s likely to be the con­flu­ence and evo­lu­tion of Aca­dian tri­cot, French bouil­l­abaisse, Choctaw and African stews. The in­gre­di­ents came with the colonists, the slaves and the slavers, but the ori­gin of each seems al­most im­ma­te­rial – the voices of each sound as one in the bab­ble of a slowly bub­bling gumbo pot.

We had sim­i­lar shenani­gans go­ing on around our Christ­mas ta­bles at home. Fam­ily gath­ered, re­lax and raise glasses and voices to­gether. We ate tur­key and cran­ber­ries from the Amer­i­cas, dates from the Le­vant, can­died fruits from Si­cily, red cab­bage stewed with ap­ples like the Ger­mans do, and strewed to­gether meats and fruits and spices as our me­dieval fore­fa­thers did, and as they still do in the Mid­dle East. We drank wine, sweet­ened and spiced. And we talk gumbo ya ya.

Tur­key gumbo ya ya

This pot of gumbo can eas­ily be in­creased to make more (ex­cess keeps well, re­frig­er­ated or frozen). The recipe is a good rest­ing place for any left­overs – Christ­mas or oth­er­wise. It will cost 3-4 hours of your life, so have a drink ready. It’s worth it.

Serves 8 For the gumbo

Tur­key left­overs – car­cass, plus picked meat (most likely this will be the dark meat, it­self a good thing)

5 cel­ery sticks

3 medium onions

3 green pep­pers

4 gar­lic cloves, sliced

6 bay leaves

A spoon­ful of pep­per­corns

2 jalapeno pep­pers

Some seafood – 2 dozen raw shell-on prawns (shrimp), or cooked shell-on cray­fish (craw­fish), or 2 cooked small­ish lob­sters, or 2 medium (or one mas­sive) cooked crab. Or all the above. 125ml veg­etable oil

125g plain flour

400g smoked sausage, chun­ked (in Louisiana this would be Ca­jun an­douille – use cook­ing chorizo or smoked Pol­ish sausage in­stead, or cooked smoked ham hock, or ba­con)

100g okra, sliced into 1-2cm rounds

To serve

1 bunch spring onions, thinly sliced 1 soup-bowl­ful of cooked rice

1 Start the stock – put the tur­key car­cass in a large pot and barely cover it with cold wa­ter. Bring to a sim­mer and keep it there. Chunk 2 of the cel­ery sticks, 1 of the onions and 1 of the green pep­pers (seeds, stalks and all) and put them in the pot. Also add 2 sliced gar­lic cloves, 3 bay leaves, and the pep­per­corns. Keep sim­mer­ing.

2 Dice the re­main­ing veg­eta­bles for the gumbo – cut the cel­ery and onions into 5mm cubes (throw the trim­mings into the stock­pot), seed and dice the green pep­pers and jalapenos the same way (seeds and stalk go into the pot as you go). Keep the stock sim­mer­ing.

3 Now, shell the seafood. Keep the shells. Keep the brown meat. If us­ing lob­ster, cut the tail meat into chunks. If us­ing shrimp, re­move the veins. Put the shells into the stock­pot, and keep it all sim­mer­ing.

4 Make a roux: in a wide, heavy pot heat the oil and flour to­gether over a medium heat. Stir, sip a beer, and stir again. It will start to turn a nut brown. Keep stir­ring – but care­fully, this stuff is like magma and splashes could be se­ri­ous. It’s get­ting darker, but you’re brave – keep stir­ring un­til a fine white smoke rises, the flour pre­cisely the colour of melted dark choco­late. Now you have to keep it from burn­ing: quench it with the veg…

5 All at once, add the diced veg­eta­bles (cel­ery, onion, green pep­per, jalapeno) to the roux along with the gar­lic and bay. Stir in well with a good pinch of salt – the roux will seize up and darken to the colour of solid dark choco­late.

6 Con­tinue to stir over the heat for 1015 min­utes more, un­til the veg­eta­bles are fully soft­ened and the roux has re­laxed to a gloopy sauce. 7 Add the chun­ked sausage (or ham) and stir it in. Leave it over a low heat while you turn your at­ten­tion back to the stock­pot.

8 Taste your stock. Its been on the heat maybe 2 hours now, and should be de­li­cious. Strain it, and skim off any fat. Mea­sure out 1.2 litres and, in a few fairly rapid ad­di­tions, stir it into the roux. Keep any ex­cess stock in case the soup needs thin­ning later. (If you have left­over gravy from a roast, as long as it’s proper stuff, you can dis­pose of it now by adding it to the pot.)

9 In­crease the heat to bring the soup back to a sim­mer, then re­duce it to keep it there again. Add the okra and cook gen­tly for 30 min­utes more. The soup should be tend­ing to­wards a cer­tain thick­ness and body – not gloopy, but sub­stan­tial.

10 Re­mem­ber your tur­key meat – the rea­son you started mak­ing this gumbo, now so long ago? Cut it into chunks, small enough to eat in the soup, and add it. Sim­mer long enough for the meat to start to re­lax – prob­a­bly 15 min­utes, but this de­pends on your tur­key, and what you did to it at Christ­mas.

11 If the soup isn’t for serv­ing now, or you won’t use all of it, chill or freeze any­thing that isn’t for eat­ing im­me­di­ately. It can be brought back to a sim­mer be­fore you add the seafood, which should be just be­fore you eat. Oth­er­wise ...

12 Add the seafood. Sim­mer for 3 min­utes – just long enough to cook the shrimp or warm the craw­fish/ lob­ster/crab. Your gumbo is (fi­nally) ready. Serve it in bowls gar­nished with not too much hot cooked rice and a fair bit of spring onion. It should look like a swamp in a bowl, and taste of the bayou as much as truf­fles do the earth and oys­ters do the sea – it is the essence of Louisiana.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.