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Remedial gumbo question [Moved from New Orleans board]

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chocolatetartguy Oct 29, 2007 04:10 PM

A question from the culturally-deprived in California.

I know that there is file gumbo and there is okra gumbo. Does the twain ever meet? Is there gumbo that contains both file and okra? I'm trying to assess a bowl of gumbo with okra that I sampled this weekend.

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  1. d
    dct RE: chocolatetartguy Oct 30, 2007 12:01 PM

    I'm no expert but I'll add that there is also a roux-thickened gumbo. I think there may be rules/preferences, but today it's more about what flavor you like.

    1. d
      diobahn RE: chocolatetartguy Oct 30, 2007 01:46 PM

      Well, I'm a native south Louisianan...........in my family, we always start a gumbo with a medium colored roux............ingredients usually include some sort of sausage.....possibly some chicken, possibly smoked turkey parts, usually some sort of seafood............but always onion, bell pepper, celery and okra. The filé (which we make from our sassafras trees) is passed after the gumbo is served............some use it, some don't.
      d-

      1. just_ed RE: chocolatetartguy Oct 30, 2007 06:58 PM

        My experience is the same as diobahn. Okra and filé both thicken a gumbo, among other things. Use of filé in okra gumbo is a matter of taste.

        1. m
          MakingSense RE: chocolatetartguy Oct 30, 2007 09:12 PM

          Another native of South Louisiana - and New Orleans.
          There are many kinds of gumbo, some of which contain okra. Filé is a fine powder made from the dried leaves of the sassafras tree. It is a condiment used at the table, never in the pot, as the gumbo can't be reheated once it has been added. The amount used is a matter of taste.
          However, filé is traditionally not added to gumbos that contain okra and would never have been on the tables in the homes of my city or country relatives when an okra gumbo was being served. We did use filé as a table seasoning for other foods but never okra.

          29 Replies
          1. re: MakingSense
            JungMann RE: MakingSense Oct 31, 2007 09:47 AM

            I agree with MakingSense yet again. Though filé was used as a thickener by the native Choctaw Indians in their cookery, its use in thickening gumbo was restricted to those times when okra was out of season for the settlers. We have options now with year-round produce, but authentically-minded gumbo-thickeners know that filé and okra were not meant to team up in the same pot.

            1. re: JungMann
              m
              mambaker RE: JungMann Oct 31, 2007 12:50 PM

              That's really interesting history, particularly in that it suggests the Okra/filé issue as primarily a thickening agent. Next time I gumbo-scout I'll be sure to keep this in mind too, thanks!

              1. re: mambaker
                c
                chocolatetartguy RE: mambaker Oct 31, 2007 01:39 PM

                That is exactly what a CA friend with people in LA told me: that okra, file, roux were primarily thickening agents.

              2. re: JungMann
                d
                diobahn RE: JungMann Oct 31, 2007 02:13 PM

                <<We have options now with year-round produce, but authentically-minded gumbo-thickeners know that filé and okra were not meant to team up in the same pot.>>>

                I would not have the nerve to tell this to my Great Aunt Dora, who has been doing just that for all of her adult years. Now that she is approaching 92, it would be presumptuous on my part to tell her that she has been eating gumbo incorrectly allllllllllll these years. (she'd only reply that I should Go Tell It to the Indians)

                1. re: JungMann
                  JasmineG RE: JungMann Oct 31, 2007 03:38 PM

                  That is such interesting history! Especially since my family is all from Louisiana, and has Choctaw Indian roots, thanks!

                2. re: MakingSense
                  c
                  chocolatetartguy RE: MakingSense Oct 31, 2007 11:46 AM

                  I was waiting for your definitive response. Then, what I had was a straight ahead okra gumbo. I had been led to expect a file element, which I didn't detect. Me, I'm a file gumbo chocolatetartguy.

                  I'll return to the place, I just won't have the gumbo again. Now, if only their mustard vinaigrette approaches that of the Bon Ton Cafe.

                  1. re: chocolatetartguy
                    m
                    MakingSense RE: chocolatetartguy Oct 31, 2007 02:46 PM

                    Filé gumbos are the brothy winter gumbos. JungMan is right. That's when hot weather is gone and so is the okra which is a hot weather crop. The wild game has come down the Mississippi Flyway and hunting season is in full swing. So we have duck gumbo and things like that. Gumbo YaYa and Gumbo Z'herbes are other gumbos made without okra that are more popular in winter.

                    Creole Mustard Vinaigrette: 2T Creole Mustard, 1/4 c red wine vinegar, 1 c olive oil, salt and pepper to taste. The mustard and vinegar are whisked together and then the oil is added slowly while whisking to form an emulsion. Is that the one you like?

                    1. re: MakingSense
                      c
                      chocolatetartguy RE: MakingSense Oct 31, 2007 03:49 PM

                      Sounds like it.

                      On both my trips to NO in the mid 90's (on my way home from Tampa business trips), I left late afternoon on a Monday and ate red beans and rice and the aforementioned salad at Bon Ton, which was recommended by a FQ bookseller's attorney brother. Never tasted better before or since and my neighborhoods have been anchored by Chez Panisse and Olivetto.

                      1. re: MakingSense
                        c
                        chocolatetartguy RE: MakingSense Oct 31, 2007 05:34 PM

                        On the styles of gumbo: Are any of the variations based on the ethnicity of the cook?

                        In CA, some of the best gumbos are served in African-American soul food restaurants. These gumbos tend to have a thin, file broth with some combination of chicken, shrimp, sausage and/or crab. No okra in da gumbo, although often offered as a weekend side. I have had such gumbos at Black-owned restaurants whose primary offering were hot dogs, baked potatoes and burritos/fried fish. All those gumbos seemed authentic to me.

                        1. re: chocolatetartguy
                          JasmineG RE: chocolatetartguy Oct 31, 2007 08:09 PM

                          I think that that's because there are a lot of black people in California who have roots in Louisiana, and so when they open restaurants, they often serve gumbo, because that's what their grandmothers always made.

                          1. re: chocolatetartguy
                            m
                            MakingSense RE: chocolatetartguy Oct 31, 2007 09:42 PM

                            It's not a "filé broth." The filé is the condiment (powdered sassafras leaves) that is added after the gumbo is removed from the heat. Yes, they are completely authentic gumbos, the kind often served both in Creole New Orleans and in Cajun Country. No, you don't see them on the Food Network which seems intent on presenting stereotypes. They are largely served in homes although they are disappearing as people cease to cook traditional, regional foods as they once did. Now they are disappearing from restaurants because people are no longer familiar with them.

                            Ethnicity in Louisiana is as varied as the styles of gumbo. What you might be referring to as an African-American could be a black person with roots in the British, French or Hispanic Caribbean; someone who has significant Choctaw or other Indian heritage; someone from the Creole free black families or with rural slave traditions. Those factors influenced them and their cooking (and their culture) more than their ancestors having been from Africa long before.

                            To just say African-American ignores all the influences that give their heritage its enormous wealth. Before and after slavery, blacks worked in private and restaurant kitchens at all levels and they still do. Haute cuisine, not just soul food. Some of the finest chefs and cooks in the South have always been blacks. We need to give them a great deal more credit than we do for the richness of traditional Southern food, particularly Creole food.

                            That's where some of those gumbos come from. It's a more sophisticated cuisine than people give it credit for.

                            1. re: MakingSense
                              c
                              chocolatetartguy RE: MakingSense Nov 1, 2007 04:00 PM

                              I have been laboring under the assumption that if it wasn't an okra gumbo, it was a file gumbo. Not true?

                              Is the file added by the cook in the kitchen or at the table or both? I don't think I've ever seen file on the table or the counter at soul food places or the fewer upscale NO style restaurants in San Francisco. Pretty sure I've had it, but not sure how it got there.

                              1. re: chocolatetartguy
                                JasmineG RE: chocolatetartguy Nov 1, 2007 10:47 PM

                                That's probably because you eat gumbo in restaurants; I live in the Bay Area, and on both sides of my family, we always have file on the table when there is gumbo.

                              2. re: MakingSense
                                c
                                chocolatetartguy RE: MakingSense Nov 1, 2007 04:06 PM

                                The tradition of the thinner gumbo lives on in Northern California Black families. It seems to be traditional to make a big pot of gumbo for New Year's. I've heard about this from many friends, co-workers and the janitors in my office building (who I know well since I work late), some of whom have brought me samples.

                                The biggest shame is that my best friend's family was from Lafayette, but I didn't know about gumbo when his mom was living so never sampled her homecooking. He always talked about her "mock shoe," which I now know was macque choix (sp? mangled).

                                1. re: chocolatetartguy
                                  m
                                  MakingSense RE: chocolatetartguy Nov 1, 2007 10:09 PM

                                  Maybe everyone thinks of filé gumbo because of the old song...Jambalaya, crawfish pie, filé gumbo...
                                  Yeah, filé is added to gumbo but in recent decades so many of the old traditions have been lost or become muddled. As people have moved away and weren't able to get the Louisiana products they were used to, they stopped using them in the old ways.
                                  It makes sense that you wouldn't see them in San Francisco in much the same way that someone from France wouldn't see French things in Louisiana because cooks there adapted to local products as the food was "creolized." Simple evolution. I'm sure we'll see a lot more because of the Katrina diaspora as South Louisiana cooks use the products local to wherever they have landed.

                                  The old tradition was very much driven by the seasons as JungMan pointed out above. Okra is a hot weather vegetable. When it was gone in the fall, the winter stock-based gumbos used the sassafras leaves (that dried as winter came) as a thickener. Many gumbos are indeed thin and don't fit the stereotype of being chock full of vegetables, seafoods or meats. Roux could be used at any time but not everyone had access to wheat flour and that was a European method of thickening more likely to be used in Creole cooking.
                                  There is always gumbo, not just at New Year's, and the types should vary with the seasons. They were an easy way to feed a lot of people with a little bit of protein. The gumbo I made this week used one chicken, one pound of sausage, and one pound of okra to feed about 15 people. No filé. Cheap eats that could have been served in a very good restaurant if I do say so myself. Hunting season means free ducks from friends so my roux-based duck gumbos will cost next to nothing. I'll put filé on the table for those because I like the flavor with duck. We're starting to have frosts at night so the greens will be good soon and gumbo z'herbes will be back on my stove. And of course turkey gumbo after Thanksgiving. All thin gumbos, none with okra, all with filé. We never called them "filé gumbo," - just duck gumbo, gumbo z'herbes, turkey gumbo, etc.

                                  BTW, it's maque choux. Funny spelling. The dish probably has its roots with the Choctaw Indians in the Atchafalaya Basin. Many people in Louisiana, black and white, are part Choctaw.

                                  1. re: MakingSense
                                    JungMann RE: MakingSense Nov 2, 2007 07:09 AM

                                    I was about to correct you by saying it's "macque" choux, but I should know better than to second guess your knowledge! I've been misspelling the name for years and now you've inadvertently corrected me.

                                    I do believe, however, that roux is universal to both the Cajuns and Creoles, the difference being the type of fat used and the darkness of the roux. My uncle (a Louisiana mutt, if ever there was one) taught me to make rouxes of different colors depending on what I was making. A blonde to peanut butter roux for gravy and sauce, a medium roux for etoufee and a dark chocolate roux for gumbo. Each type of roux affects the dish in subtle and not-so-subtle ways.

                                    1. re: JungMann
                                      m
                                      MakingSense RE: JungMann Nov 2, 2007 04:02 PM

                                      I always want to put a "c" in maque choux so I looked it up yet again before I posted - in two places. I'll probably spell it wrong again tomorrow.

                                      Both Creoles and Cajuns use rouxs. Cajuns use animal fat or oil, Creoles use those or butter. If you consider history, animal fat was the common cooking fat with vegetable oils being developed later. Olive oil would have been an expensive import. Butter was expensive and was reserved for fine baking and use as a table spread. Flour was not a local product and was relatively expensive so maybe that's why there are some Cajun gumbos that use no rouxs.
                                      John Folse has an excellent synopsis of rouxs on his Creole/Cajun food site http://www.jfolse.com/fr_rouxs.htm Well worth reading. I have this bookmarked for use when I multiply recipes to make big quantitites.

                                    2. re: MakingSense
                                      c
                                      chocolatetartguy RE: MakingSense Nov 2, 2007 12:04 PM

                                      Funny about the post TG turkey gumbo. We make turkey jook!

                                2. re: chocolatetartguy
                                  s
                                  sighmesigh RE: chocolatetartguy Nov 1, 2007 09:00 AM

                                  Are you sure there is no okra in the gumbo? In the gumbo made by my Baton Rouge family, by the time the gumbo is ready to eat, there is no evidence that the okra is in there, except for the presence of tiny little seeds in the broth. No actual chuncks of okra are visible. But, its in there.

                                  1. re: sighmesigh
                                    m
                                    MakingSense RE: sighmesigh Nov 1, 2007 11:10 AM

                                    Good question, sighmesigh. I actually went downstairs and looked at the leftovers from the huge vat of chicken/sausage gumbo that we had for guests last night. No, you really couldn't have picked out okra among the other stuff in there. Hard to even see the seeds in that long-cooked gumbo.
                                    The difference is that I used okra in there because I like - and use - okra in that particular gumbo and I can make it year round since I can get good frozen okra (yeah, I use the frozen stuff.) Not that many years ago people couldn't get okra except in season, so they didn't use it for most of the year.
                                    I make several gumbos in which I don't use okra. Tradition. Preference. Other means of thickening. A belief that all gumbos don't have to be thick. Even filé doesn't thicken gumbo that much when it's added at the table. It does add a flavor that I like and some mouth feel.

                                    But you are very right that just because you can't see it, doesn't mean that it wasn't there. But conversely, just because it's gumbo, doesn't mean there is okra in there or that there should be.
                                    VooDoo?

                                    1. re: MakingSense
                                      s
                                      sighmesigh RE: MakingSense Nov 1, 2007 12:00 PM

                                      Yeah, you right. I tell my texan friends, that everyone's gumbo, etouffee and jambalaya are different, sometimes a little and sometimes a lot different. Those differences don't make the dish any more or less authentic. It just makes it more interesting.

                                      1. re: sighmesigh
                                        m
                                        MakingSense RE: sighmesigh Nov 1, 2007 12:55 PM

                                        To complicate - or confuse - matters even more, I checked a wonderful old 1978 cookbook, Creole Feast - 15 Master Chefs of New Orleans Reveal Their Secrets, by Nathaniel Burton, the chef at the old Caribbean Room at the Pontchartrain Hotel, for years one of the best in the city. It has recipes from the best of New Orleans' famous black Creole chefs. Especially because chocolatetartguy asked about soul food restaurants in California. And you're talking about recipes in Texas. And I now cook in Washington, DC.
                                        Their gumbo recipes were all over the place. In one essay, Raymond Thomas describes what he personally does, adds, leaves out, prefers, etc., and why. Others obviously disagree because the other recipes do exactly what he doesn't do.
                                        So sighmesigh is exactly right about that individuality - as long as gumbo stays true to its roots. I still hate to see lobster or other non-Louisiana foods in gumbo.

                                        Henry Carr of Pascal's Manale's used okra plus 1 teaspoon of filé and did cook the gumbo for an hour after it was added.
                                        Raymond Thomas who cooked at Commander's, Pittari's, and Brennan's used roux, only 1/4 pound of okra and no filé for his seafood gumbo.
                                        Leah Chase of Dooky Chase's used a loose roux plus okra but no filé in her Creole gumbo which uses chicken wings, sausage, beef, oysters, shrimp, and crabs.
                                        The late Austin Leslie of Chez Helene used roux but no okra, in his gumbo of ham, sausage, crabs and shrimp, adding filé at the end in the kitchen, before bring the pot just back to the boil.
                                        Burton himself used only okra with neither roux nor filé.

                                        These chefs cooked at other places and also, in the years that they were the head chefs in the fine restaurants in New Orleans, would have trained many others, who would have made changes of their own, and trained others. All of these chefs and plain cooks would have worked at places fine and not so fancy, and many would have moved far from New Orleans. So it's easy to see why there would be a great number a variations on the common recipes for gumbo.

                                      2. re: MakingSense
                                        d
                                        diobahn RE: MakingSense Nov 1, 2007 12:20 PM

                                        <Not that many years ago people couldn't get okra except in season, so they didn't use it for most of the year. >>>

                                        There are many families..........mine included..........who can okra and tomatoes in season. Thus, we have it on demand. And as I stated previously.............we grind our own filé.
                                        d-

                              3. re: MakingSense
                                bbqboy RE: MakingSense Oct 31, 2007 01:10 PM

                                Why can't you reheat it once you've put the file on it?

                                1. re: bbqboy
                                  m
                                  MakingSense RE: bbqboy Oct 31, 2007 02:35 PM

                                  The filé gets slimy and stringy. Just not a nice texture.

                                  1. re: MakingSense
                                    bbqboy RE: MakingSense Oct 31, 2007 03:57 PM

                                    thanks!

                                    1. re: bbqboy
                                      m
                                      Major504 RE: bbqboy Nov 2, 2007 12:36 PM

                                      I'm a chef in PA...and used to work at a Cajun/Creole place with a chef/owner from the swamps. We made a lotta gumbo. He never used okra, nor did he offer file at the table. I'm comfortable now saying that gumbo seems very much to be a dish that is different from household to household. Obviously there are certain standards to maintain...but I guess my question is: were we doing anything wrong here?

                                      Our gumbo: "mahogany" roux made with oil, not butter. Some combo of duck, andouille, crab, shrimp...trinity, heavy seasoning. Overall cooking time....usually about 4-5 hrs for 6gals.

                                      1. re: Major504
                                        JungMann RE: Major504 Nov 2, 2007 12:51 PM

                                        Sounds like a Cajun gumbo with that dark oil roux. Not every gumbo has okra or filé, but when the roux is that dark, its thickening power is reduced and I tend to believe that a darker roux demands either okra or, per MakingSense's preference with duck, filé.

                                        1. re: JungMann
                                          c
                                          chocolatetartguy RE: JungMann Nov 2, 2007 03:56 PM

                                          I think that dark oil roux is what I see in the Bay Area. The broth is dark, dark brown and there is usually a slick of fat on top. Tastes great though.

                              4. WCchopper RE: chocolatetartguy Nov 3, 2007 04:14 PM

                                Now I need some GUMBO! This thread is bringing on the hunger pangs! I make it with a dark roux and okra. Another variable in Cajun/Creole cuisine is the differences in jambalaya from eastern and western Louisiana. Maybe an expert could comment on that.

                                3 Replies
                                1. re: WCchopper
                                  m
                                  MakingSense RE: WCchopper Nov 3, 2007 04:23 PM

                                  Why don't you start a new thread on that subject since it is so different from the gumbo question?

                                  BTW, I don't use roux in my okra gumbo. Neither do a lot of people. Hungry Celeste thinks that is close to a mortal sin. A lot of people agree with her. Enjoy your gumbo!

                                  1. re: MakingSense
                                    WCchopper RE: MakingSense Nov 3, 2007 05:36 PM

                                    My comment was intended to make the point that regional differences within Louisiana from dish to dish are not necessarily "correct" or not.Hence the rich variety. The right way to make it is usually how your own mama made it, so I try not to be too critical about "a lot of people's" home cooking.

                                    1. re: WCchopper
                                      d
                                      diobahn RE: WCchopper Nov 3, 2007 06:31 PM

                                      <The right way to make it is usually how your own mama made it, so I try not to be too critical about "a lot of people's" home cooking.<<<

                                      Most south Louisiana cooks would agree with you...............obviously, I should not share too many recipes on this board.

                                2. Scargod RE: chocolatetartguy Apr 29, 2008 08:51 AM

                                  I'd like to ask a few technical questions about making gumbo. I've made it for years and usually relied on two, simple, small cookbooks:
                                  Southern Standard Fittings, Cajun Cookbook. Southern Standard Fittings Company which used to be in Opelousas, LA,
                                  and New Orleans Recipes ( "A book of famous Old New Orleans Recipes Used in the South for more than 200 years") by Peerless Publishing, New Orleans, LA.
                                  My questions mainly involve the specific use of Filé and cooking okra.
                                  I was intrigued by comments recently in this topic http://www.chowhound.com/topics/498984 and then I found others on CH discussing gumbo.
                                  BTW, I have been (meaning I may want to change) in the camp of making a roux yet still using okra and usually offering Filé at the table, regardless of the style of gumbo I made. Sometimes I make the "kitchen sink" variety which can have shrimp, oysters, crab, chicken, sausage and ??.
                                  Delving into my books, and the internet, I came across terms and processes I was not familiar with. "Roping" okra was mentioned. This seems to be a process of drying out gumbo by sauteing it separately so it is not slimy and possibly does not act as a thickener. In the New Orleans Recipes cookbook there is a recipe for "Okra Shrimp Gumbo". While I think part of the recipe is flawed since it wants you to cook shrimp and okra slowly for one hour in lard then for another hour after adding water, (I would think the shrimp would be tough), they call for the okra to be cut into 1/8" slices first. Thus the okra would be fried for one hour, slowly on low heat, "till the okra no longer sticks to the pot or spoon", before water is added. I have not tried this recipe. I think I could just as easily add dried shrimp; but what does this do to the okra? Does it still have any thickening properties?
                                  Does anyone "rope" their okra and, if so, in combination with what thickeners?

                                  Which brings me to Filé. I have added Zatarian's Gumbo Filé to the pot, at the end before serving and had it on the table. If I put it in the pot, I add it after it is no longer boiling; stirring it in just before I serve it. I do not consider the consequences of it thickening the gumbo; perhaps I should. I might add a tablespoon to a gallon of gumbo. I would guess I use about a half-teaspoon over a bowl of gumbo and not mix it in. Is there a sequence or process that is more correct than another? When I add it to the gumbo, how much should I add (and should I allow for an increase in thickness)? One recipe calls for two tablespoons of filé to be added to one gallon of water, but this is the amount of water you start with so I don't know what the final amount of liquid is. I haven't experienced the "stringy" effect of boiling gumbo once you have added filé. Can you add a little to a thin gumbo and not have this happen? Can you mix filé with water (like flour and water) and not have it get stringy if it boils?
                                  Well, that's probably enough questions for now. I may need to go experiment. First I need to eat up all the leftover paella we have from a recent dinner party.

                                  1. l
                                    LA2CA2PA RE: chocolatetartguy Feb 7, 2009 06:11 AM

                                    I know I'm late getting in on this but this has always driven me crazy - the name of the dish gumbo is derived from the word "gombo", which means OKRA (hello!) in several West African languages.

                                    Yes, your Maman's gumbo is always the best & whatever is in it is authentic if she's from Louisiana & that is how they passed it down.

                                    I'm making Gumbo for 20 tonight and was up cutting and cooking okra all night.

                                    Gumbo for me & my St. Landry / Evangeline Parish-derived family means an okra stew which starts with a roux and ends with file. The okra is totally invisible by the time the gumbo is done cooking but the flavor is there. Everything else added or not is fair game for gumbo (though the family tradition is chicken, shrimp, andouille & crab).

                                    (Though I was born there & can put my foot in some gumbo, I'm not even considered legitimate anymore because of my decades in the Bay Area & now Philly - On this topic, I'd be told to "hush, che" 'til there was something to talk about that I knew something about.)

                                    LA 2 CA 2 PA

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