#10 Gumbo

Seafood Gumbo

I wouldn’t be able to forgive myself if I didn’t talk about the ultimate Cajun meal…gumbo! Now I’ve held off talking about gumbo for this long to avoid covering the most common Cajun topics, but enough is enough. There’s no denying gumbo’s place in a Cajun’s heart…or belly.

The very word gumbo makes a Cajun man or woman drool like ‘dem dogs with the bells and stuff. Gumbo is the ultimate Cajun comfort food, enjoyed on a cold night with friends and family, or by your lonesome if you don’t feel like sharing the good stuff. Eating it brings back memories of childhood, of the gumbos made with love by your mama or mom-mom. Cajuns have even coined the term ‘gumbo weather’ to hint to each other that it might be time to whip up a pot…and invite us over. Pretty much anything under 60 degrees is considered ‘gumbo weather’ to a coonass.

Gumbo is basically a stew or thick soup, made with a handful of simple ingredients, and served over rice. You start with water and a thickening agent like okra or roux (depending on the type of gumbo), then we add the holy trinity, or Cajun Mirepoix, which is a magical combination of onions, celery, and bell pepper that gives most Cajun food its signature flavor. After that, we throw in some meat and sausage, season with salt, cayenne, and garlic, and let it cook till it’s done.

There are no hard and fast rules for making gumbo. Each family has their own special recipe passed down over the generations. Think of them as Cajun snowflakes, each unique in their own special way. That said, there are NO TOMATOES in a real Cajun gumbo! Sorry, but there are few things that’ll make a Cajun man’s blood boil faster than trying to pass off a fake gumbo. You might find tomatoes in a New Orleans, or Creole gumbo, but that’s an entirely different beast than a Cajun gumbo. If a restaurant tries to serve you a tomato gumbo, demand a refund…cause you been ripped off.

Here’s a good chicken gumbo recipe I found online. You can save some time on the roux by buying it in a jar (sometimes we cheat a little). Next time ‘gumbo weather’ rolls around, I’ll try to write down my own recipe and post it (I usually just eyeball everything).


#3 Rice

JambalayaNo ingredient is more essential to Cajun cooking than rice. Cheap and abundant, impoverished Cajun settlers were able to feed their large families with this staple. But don’t start thinking of buttered rice or rice Pilaf…to hell with dat. We’re talking about rice and gravy son. Give us our crawfish étouffée, red beans and rice, jambalaya, gumbo, sauce piquant, and just about anything else we can cover it with. If there’s nothing heaped on top of it, bring it back…we don’t want it. And Cajuns don’t buy rice in those skinny 5 lb bags you see in the rest of the country. Give us the 20 lb sack of rice.

Rice is such a big part of Cajun culture that we have a yearly festival dedicated to the greatness of rice. Here’s a tip about Cajun people for future reference: If there’s a festival for it, we probably like it.