Yesterday night, (my new bestie), Janee, invited me over for some southern gumbo. She made it from scratch. Regardless of what she will tell you, it was the perfect marriage of rice and seafood comfort. And of course it has to be, because Janee is that cool chic who’s always busy hanging out with someone.
Tonight, maybe driven by the awareness that I need to wake up by 5AM, I decided to make my own gumbo (shown above). I used what I had, so hence the Asian flare.
According to Southern Food Ways, gumbo originated from the west African word for orka. The more famous and common gumbo is the seafood combo that also encompasses chicken and sausages.
Janee felt her gumbo need a little more cooking time to blend the flavors together. I cooked mine in a Tiger double-wall nonelectric slow cooker. Of course, I didn’t pay $238 for mine. I’m a bargain beast and I got it for under $10 and it’s worth every money saving penny!
The Asian Inspired Gumbo:
To Tomato or Not to Tomato:
There’s a hot debate about the use of tomato sauce. Janee’s gumbo did not include tomato sauce. The first and only recipe I looked at online was an authentic Good New Orelans recipe from Allreicpes.com made with tomato sauce and bacon fat that was passed down from grandmother to mother to granddaughter. Since I was using what I had it in my kitchen, I used tomato sauce.
After using a stepping stool, I discovered in the very top and back of my seasoning shelves, an possibly ancient bottle of creole seasoning. I poured some to taste. Very salty and herbie. Score!
I also used some classic Italian seasoning. For that Asian flare and my secret sauce for seafood dishes, I put in a healthy, long drizzle of fish sauce. Janee used file powder, made from sassafras trees to thicken her sauce but since it was my first time learning about this new ingredient, I will have to try it another time.
In Asian dishes, cornstarch is a staple for thickening sauce. My dad used to mix a spoonful with a little bit of water. he would stire out the chunks to a creamy smooth paste before dumping in the wok.
Gumbo roux is a basic mix of flour and water cooked and stirred to a brown thickener for the gumbo base. My roux came out terribly white. I panic at the sight of my flour caking the bottom of my steel pan as I kept stirring it with a metal whisk. I pulled it before it had the opportunity to brown. My mistake as Janee would text to tell later that night. It probably needed 5 more minutes.
I had fishballs for my seafood. My husband loves these in pho (rice noodle soup) but I usually eat around those big floating balls. I cut them into thin slices.
I hopped at the opportunity to use the frozen frog legs from Ranch 99. Sausages came my lunch leftovers. Grilled chicken came premade and frozen. I chopped it to mimic the shredded chicken breasts Janee had used her in gumbo.
When Janee was speaking about the holy trinity. I smiled because superstar Emerald Lagasse from Food Network taught me that was the soul of southern comfort foods was the holy trinity: bell peppers, celery, and onions. I’m embarrassed to say I had the celery but was missing onions and bell peppers. A ton of powder made up for the coarse chopped onions. I used carrots for the bell peppers. Emerald has a version of gumbo here.
I also used a small open bag of frozen corn, carrots, and peas mix. I typically use it for fried rice.
Since okra is not a stable in my household, I substituted shredded cabbage. I was hoping it would somehow thicken the sauce. I probably should have used more because it got cooked out.
The Last Ingredient:
I actually had some rice earlier that day, which mind you is rare for our household as we don’t eat it old-school style (meaning I used to eat it 3 square meals 365 days a year). We are a mixed household and I can definitely tell you, my husband and my son could not survive on eating rice for more than 2 meals tops.
After I undercooked the roux, I dumped everything into my thermal cooker pot. I waited for it to boil a sweat with the lid on top and transferred the pot into the outer pot shell. I took a pic to send to Janee as I knew she would be proud. She called it stew! My patience pushed 30 minutes when my not hungry belly was won over by my hypnotically, hungry nose.
The gumbo was so divine over white rice! Hot enough to tickle the root of my mouth and so salty. Yum! I snapped a picture of it but, I realized it looked a lot like jambalaya. Janee had explained the difference was that jambalaya held less liquid and didn’t have all the seafood goodness that gumbo did.
By morning, after several hours, it looked like below. I could taste the fish sauce and the gumbo was definitely thick. The frog legs was tender and falling off the bone. I actually ate the fishballs at all.
I did miss the shrimp. And maybe next time, I might add a little less tomato sauce and some bacon drippings. (Janee has used vegetable oil.) Plus the holy trinity must come into play. I’ll let you know how the updated version out next time.
So, what do you think? Did this work as Asian gumbo with fish sauce? Or was it as Janee puts it, just a stew?