Let’s get this out of the way right from the start — I’m not from the South. In fact, I’ve never even been to Louisiana. (The closest I ever came was briefly dating a girl from Shreveport. And I once sat next to Paul Prudhomme at Chinois on Main.) But like everyone else, I did get caught up in the Cajun craze a couple decades back, and could be caught slapping dried thyme on anything that had once moved and blackening it. What endured from that time was a love for gumbo.

While I may not be from N’awlins, I do consider myself a connoisseur of all things rich in flavor and heavy in calories and slow cooked and stirred with love. Food that requires patience. Gumbo is one of those great, simple dishes — like Italian bolognese or French cassoulet — that is so much more than the sum of its relatively mundane ingredients. Don’t cook it in that new stainless pot you got for your birthday; cook it in something old and preferably cast iron, black with use and memory. Gumbo gets better the longer it sits around, the longer the flavors have to integrate. And I got better at making it the longer I sat around, the longer my cooking and my soul had to integrate.

This recipe goes well with something — anything — fried: shrimp, crawfish, oysters, catfish, corn dough. It goes well with accordion, slow acoustic blues and a six pack of beer — that much better if you make the music yourself. I invite all y’all from the south to chime in with your own variations.

File Gumbo with Catfish
Serves a whole bunch

2 quarts chicken stock
1 lb okra, cut into chunks (frozen is okay)
1 large onion, chopped
2 large carrots, cut into slices
2 stalks celery, cut into slices
1 8 oz can peeled tomatoes, smashed
canola oil
1 kielbasa sausage (or two andouille sausages), cut into slices
1 lb catfish, cut into chunks
1 tbsp dried thyme
1/4 cup chopped parsley
2 heaping tbsp flour
1 tsp filé powder (optional)

Note: if you have trouble finding catfish, you could use shrimp or even chicken thighs instead.

Put a couple tablespoons of oil into a large pot, and fry the okra over medium high heat, stirring often, for about 10 minutes. Add the sausage slices and onion and continue cooking for 10 minutes more, until onion is wilted and beginning to turn golden. Add carrots and celery and cook for 5 minutes more. Add the tomatoes (To smash, I like to squeeze them in my hands right into the soup — it works well and it’s kind of exciting. But you could put them in a large bowl and smash them up with fork instead.) Add the chicken stock, turn heat to medium low, cover and cook for 30 minutes.

Add catfish chunks and thyme and continue simmering. In the meantime, put a quarter cup of canola oil in a frying pan. Heat over medium high. Add 2 tbsp. flour and cook, stirring frequently, to make a roux. If it’s too soupy, add another tbsp. flour. The roux will begin to darken after about five minutes. You want to keep cooking, stirring frequently, until it reaches the color of milk chocolate. Turn off the stove. Add the roux to the gumbo, stirring in. Then add the chopped parsley and the filé. Cook for another 10 minutes and serve, over white rice with a dash of Tabasco, if you’d like. Or leave in the fridge for a day or two and then it’ll really taste good.

9 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Andrea Thompson
    Dec 21, 2010 @ 00:56:24

    I LOVE gumbo. This looks great! I was in Louisiana for a month when I worked for LensCrafters and it was SUREAL! So different. Anyway, thanks for the great recipe!


  2. Lisa Gaskin
    Dec 21, 2010 @ 03:19:54

    can’t believe you knew about y’all y’all’s……..


  3. Lisa Gaskin
    Dec 21, 2010 @ 03:20:59

    as in all y’alls 😉


  4. Suzanna
    Dec 23, 2010 @ 07:02:27

    That pic is Joe & Cleoma Falcon – the curiousity of a guitar-playing woman in the late 1920’s!


  5. Lisette
    Jan 04, 2011 @ 19:46:30

    I’m going to cook this. You know Paul is from Lousiana, right? He is very picky about his Gumbo.


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