One of the foods synonymous with New Orleans is gumbo. Honestly, it’s something I knew very little about, and probably still know very little about, but it’s an extremely delicious food with which I want to expand my relationship.
Prior to going to New Orleans, most of my gumbo experiences were from Disneyland and one other gumbo I had at Ritters SKC in Santa Ana. I watched this season’s Top Chef: New Orleans where they had gumbo challenges. From that, I learned that one of the most important components for gumbo is the thickener. The different types of thickeners include okra, file powder, or roux. Other components are a flavorful stock and seasoning vegetables, which often include celery, bell peppers, and onions.
There’s also Creole gumbo as opposed to Cajun gumbo. Creole gumbo typically contains shellfish and is thickened with file, whereas Cajun gumbo often has a dark roux. The various thickener types typically gives it the stew-like thick texture. As evidenced on many different cooking shows, a perfect dark roux is extremely hard to make. Roux is created with flour and fat, typically butter. Roux is used for other sauces and gravies.
Although Tom Colicchio has a well-known and serious hate-hate relationship with okra, I actually like okra. Most people who hate okra can’t handle the sliminess of the insides of the pods. I don’t mind the potential sliminess, but it’s usually cooked down to minimize the sliminess. One way to do that is to stir-fry the vegetables. That’s the most common way that I eat it, at a local Indian restaurant. When they are thinly sliced and cooked for a long time in a gumbo base, the sliminess dissolves and therefore alleviates the problem with the texture. The leaves of the plant are used as the thickener for gumbo as well.
The first cup of gumbo I tried set the bar extremely high. It was at Commander’s Palace. I will be writing more about the Commander’s Palace and the amazing meal I had there tomorrow. I ordered the soup 1-1-1. It came with small cups of gumbo, turtle soup, and the soup du jour. For the purposes of this post, I will focus on that cup of gumbo. The gumbo was a seafood gumbo. The stew itself had a beautiful color. The flavors were so well-incorporated and the vegetables had so much flavor as well. The seafood didn’t have any fishiness about it and were cooked perfectly. No overcooked shrimp at the Commander’s Palace, that’s for sure! That tiny cup was not enough to fulfill my gumbo cravings. I wish I had ordered a full gumbo, but then I would not have been able to enjoy the rest of the soups… Oh, the dilemmas of a diner!
The next cup of gumbo I had was for brunch at the French Market Restaurant at the French Quarter. It was a chicken and andouille sausage gumbo and it was actually surprisingly good. The gumbo itself was dark and flavorful, and the chicken wasn’t dry either! Maybe I had low expectations because we didn’t end up going to the brunch joint I wanted to go to.
While we were in New Orleans, they had the Treme Creole Gumbo Festival at the Louis Armstrong Park. Unfortunately, I had dinner reservations that night so I kept myself from ordering gumbo from each vendor. All the vendors actually had a vegan gumbo, but what’s a gumbo without meat?! Upon recommendation from a local, I went to Brocato’s Eat Dat stand. She said that the dark roux chicken & sausage gumbo was one of the best from the area. And goodness, it was delicious! The gumbo is dark, the chicken is moist, and the sausage was delicious and spicy. I wanted to go to Miss Linda’s Soul Food as well. Miss Linda was on Chopped! If I knew more about gumbo then, I would have made that sacrifice and bought that extra cup of gumbo.
Onto the next gumbo! We made our way to Emeril’s New Orleans. We had the gumbo of the day, which was the country file gumbo. It had delicious andouille sausage, with a perfect amount of spicy and salty, and shrimp. Everything was perfect and delicious. On a scale of Commander’s Palace to Disneyland (not saying that Disneyland gumbo is bad), it was right up near Commander’s Palace. Emeril is so picky about his gumbo, and now I know why.
Maybe I’m not critical enough about the gumbo I tried because I don’t know enough about gumbo yet, but I understand that I just said all the gumbo I tried was delicious…
But not to worry, there’s another gumbo left that I tried during my trip. It was the last gumbo I had. Definitely a “last but not least” situation… We went to the City Diner in Metairie on our way to the airport. It’s a diner, like Denny’s… with gargantuan portions as well. As a farewell to the city, my boyfriend ordered one last gumbo for the road.
One thing I learned was that every restaurant has its own gumbo recipe. Some are much better than others. The gumbos that I wrote about up to this point were all really darn good. But this one… was terrible. It was a chicken and andouille gumbo. It had a weird aftertaste and the gumbo itself was so salty. It was just an explosion of salty broth with a funky aftertaste. The chicken was unidentifiable and the andouille sausage was just okay. There weren’t very many vegetables in the gumbo itself as well. It was a gumbo I definitely want to forget.
After all the gumbo I had in New Orleans in the span of a few days, you’d think I don’t want any more for a year… but now, all this gumbo-liciousness just made me crave gumbo even more! There’s supposed to be a good New Orleans style restaurant in Hermosa Beach that I must try now. Ritters SKC’s gumbo is actually pretty authentic… and now I wish Santa Ana was closer to Torrance! I even want a Disneyland pass so I can just go to the park and order more gumbo… but now that I think about it they have New Orleans style restaurants in Downtown Disney… duly noted!
I have to go now and dream about gumbo… I’ll be back tomorrow to write about the fancy foods I had in New Orleans!