Suddenly I’m hungry . . .

It seems that the classic Cajun/Creole standby, gumbo, is changing with the times.

Gumbo, long a fixture in restaurants here, has disappeared from many menus as new chefs arrive with different cuisines and ideas, catering to a population remade by the transplants who settled in the city after Hurricane Katrina’s devastation in 2005.

But the chefs who have stuck by the dish are using the moment to stretch its boundaries by adding ingredients that defy tradition, bringing it fresh relevance. Many of the innovations reflect global influences on New Orleans cooking, particularly from South and Southeast Asia. This time of year, with the cooler weather and the start of the Mardi Gras season, may be the best time to sample them — and to appreciate gumbo’s long and continuing evolution.

Michael Gulotta, a New Orleans native, has resumed cooking the seasonal seafood gumbo he introduced as a lunch special last year at Maypop, his modern restaurant in the Warehouse district. It’s seasoned with lime leaf, fermented black beans and black cardamom, in homage to the Vietnamese and Chinese restaurants that have long flourished on the city’s outskirts.

Blue crab & black bean gumbo at Maypop’s

“I served that gumbo all last winter,” Mr. Gulotta said. “People went crazy for it.”

Gumbo has existed in various forms across south Louisiana for centuries. It can contain any number of ingredients, depending on the chef and the season. But until recently it was rare to find gumbo that incorporated ingredients beyond a fixed list of proteins (fowl, sausage, local shellfish), aromatics (onion, bell pepper, celery — known locally as the holy trinity) and spices (cayenne, thyme, white pepper).

Gumbo’s flavor is further influenced by roux, the blend of fat and flour used to thicken the broth. It’s a French technique adopted by Louisianians, who often cook the roux so long that it darkens and takes on bitter notes reminiscent of Mexican mole. Sliced okra and the sassafras powder known as filé, a Native American contribution to Louisiana cooking, are also used as gumbo thickeners, either in combination or in place of roux.

All of which is to say that New Orleans gumbo welcomed considerable variation and interpretation even before chefs and home cooks started to add collard greens and Vietnamese fish sauce to their pots.

The pale-roux gumbo with shrimp, crab and oysters that Billy Thurman, a commercial fisherman, cooks at home in Meraux, a 25-minute drive down the Mississippi River from the French Quarter, has little in common with the inky brown duck-andouille gumbo served at Upperline, a traditional restaurant in Uptown.

“Everybody likes it different,” Mr. Thurman said as he stirred his roux with a rubber spatula.

That a single dish can encompass such a broad spectrum of flavor is a big part of gumbo’s enduring local appeal. “Of all the many dishes in Louisiana cooking, gumbo is the one that most singularly defines us,” said Frank Brigtsen, the chef and an owner of Brigtsen’s Restaurant, where rabbit filé gumbo has been a signature offering for 25 years.

There’s more at the link.

I was very interested to read some of the recipes discussed in the article.  I’ve enjoyed Cajun dishes since coming to the USA in the late 1990’s;  my first state of residence was Louisiana, from which the title of this blog is derived.  If I do say so myself, I make a pretty good jambalaya.  I’m going to have to experiment with gumbo, too, and see about trying a few new twists to an old favorite.  The curried seafood gumbo served at Saffron Nola (shown below) sounds like a great place to start.

Dang, suddenly I’m hungry . . .



  1. "Just because you stick your head in the oven, doesn't make you a biscuit."

    "seasoned with lime leaf, fermented black beans and black cardamom," is NOT the gumbo of the Cajun bayous and prairies where I grew up, watching in the kitchens of Cajun women who themselves grew up using no ingredient that was stored dry in a cabinet or picked from the garden, grown on the homestead, or pulled from the lakes and bayous.

    Some of those concoctions you mention have about as much to do with authentic gumbo as a drag queen has to do with the girl next door.

  2. Hey Peter;

    You can ask "Murphy" from "Murphy's Law" to scope out the restaurants…he lives in the French quarter and give you his opinion?

  3. No, no, no, no,nooooo. This is cultural warfare to the extreme.

    "Some of those concoctions you mention have about as much to do with authentic gumbo as a drag queen has to do with the girl next door."

    Bwahahahahahaha. Completely agree.

  4. When I was stationed in Biloxi I had a hobby of sampling gumbo at every seafood dive from Pensacola to New Orleans along highway 90. There were variations but the best gumbo in the mid 80's was at a place called Baracef's in Biloxi (it disappeared when the casinos came in). I did get their recipe where it had the basics you listed and Beau Mounde. The secret is always making a good roux.

    You have me hungry now.

  5. I'll add to the list here that what is shown in that picture, while tasty probably, is not gumbo but a soup/stew. My wife, and everyone I've met from Louisiana will tell you tomatoes and beans do not belong in Gumbo.

    If you want to cook the real deal, get an older recipe (not the low fat version) of Paul Prudhomme or John Folse.

    If you are doing chicken/sausage you need real andouille, Cut the chicken, using all the parts you won't eat – (Back/neck/ wings) to make the stock.

    The only deviation I use in mine is I've started using avocado oil (as opposed to fat/shortening/veggie oil) and oat flour for the roux. It takes less time, gets darker, and has a nuttier tone to it.

  6. I know that all real Cajun cooks have not moved to Houston. I try to schedule lunch time when travelling on I-10 at Prejean's in Lafayette.

  7. Well, I found the article interesting, though I don't like the New York times.
    And I am not surprised by the comments.
    While I understand chefs wanting to change with their surroundings, maybe they have been gone from Louisiana too long?

  8. Saffron NOLa is an overnight success story that was 30 years in the making. I knew them when they were a Friday night pop up on the West Bank. We go there for all our special events.

    I was introduced to Indian food in 2003. I thought then that Cajun food and Indian had a lot in common. Saffron NOLa does an excellent fusion of the two.

  9. @oyster50 Checked out that website. If it don't have okra, it a stew. That's straight dope from my grandma's mouth(Breaux Bridge). The blog post does give good advice about the file' though. To be sprinkled over the bowl 'to taste'. For my dad that was like a tablespoon full. I was always decidedly more judicious in its application.

    That said, I have never refused to try a bowl of gumbo of any sort. My description of it later may not include the word gumbo….depends on content.

    For those so inclined there is a meme group on facebook that is amusing, "Cajun Meme Factory". One of the common themes is "tomatoes in gumbo?". Also "riced cauliflower in Boudin?" and you don't need to be 'on facebook' to browse the memes

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