The Tuesday before Lent is observed in a variety of ways across the world. But in the United States, it’s New Orleans Mardi Gras that comes to mind first. So much so, that the day is just as much a chance to celebrate all things Cajun as it is a religious festival. That especially goes for the cuisine.
There’s no denying that Louisiana has a heavyweight place within America’s food landscape, bringing us delicacies like king cake, beignets, and po’ boy sandwiches. But if you had to pick just one item that represents the bayou’s heart and soul, it’d have be gumbo, a dish with a history as rich as its taste.
Gumbo has existed in Louisiana since the 18th century, emerging out of a multicultural mash up of influences, including French, African, indigenous American, and Spanish. There are endless variations and recipes, each one highly personal and specific to its creator and place of origin. In its most well-known form, gumbo consists of a stew based around a dark, chocolate-colored roux, mixed meats and seafood, okra, and the Creole holy trinity of celery, bell pepper, and onions.
The resulting dish is a myriad of textures and flavors, combining spices and seasonings, a deeply savory, thickened base, and tender pieces of vegetables and proteins. Literally and figuratively, it’s a uniquely American ode to diversity, bringing together a melange of ingredients and techniques with far-ranging origins.
The recipe below will get you on track to creating a classic gumbo. It’s meant as a sort of guideline, and can be adapted to whatever meat or seafood you’d like. Because ultimately, gumbo is about putting your own stamp on it and adding on to traditions that have existed for centuries.
Mardi Gras Gumbo with Shrimp Recipe
What you’ll need:
3/4 cup vegetable oil
1 cup flour
1 1/2 cup diced onion
3/4 cup diced celery
3/4 cup diced bell pepper (green, or a mix of green and red)
2 cloves minced garlic
2 quarts chicken stock
One 12 oz package sliced, frozen okra
1 package gumbo crabs
12 oz andouille sausage, sliced thick
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
2 bay leaves
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
A mix of any of the following: fresh shrimp, crawfish tails, crab meat, shucked oysters, mussels
What to do:
In a heavy-bottomed 4- to 5-quart pot, heat oil over medium heat. Stir in flour, lower the heat, and continue stirring until mixture is the color of milk chocolate.
Stir in onion, celery, bell pepper, and garlic. Cook, tossing, until veggies are tender, about 5 minutes. Slowly whisk in chicken stock, blending thoroughly with the flour roux. Stir in okra, gumbo crabs, andouille sausage, Worcestershire sauce, dried thyme, bay leaves, salt, and cayenne pepper. Let simmer over very low heat until liquid has a saucy consistency, about 50 minutes.
Stir in your seafood and simmer until cooked through, about 5 minutes. Season to taste with salt. Serve with cooked long-grain rice.