Marianas Variety

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    Tuesday, March 19, 2019-11:35:48A.M.

     

     

     

     

     

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BC’s Tales of the Pacific | How gumbo came to the Pacific

FROM sinigang to goulash to vegetable beef stew, it seems like every culture features a dish that is an all-in-one pot of delight.  Ingredients are inexpensive and easy to find, a little goes a long way, and everybody’s grandmother has her own secret recipe.

Gumbo is like that.  Originating in the Louisiana swamps around New Orleans in America, gumbo has become a favorite all over the world and in the Pacific region, and I like to think I had a little hand in that.

I have been cooking gumbo since I picked up a spoon.  My first attempts were pretty poor, yet my wife dutifully gobbled it up, hoping it would improve over time.  And it did.  I would visit restaurants and talk to their chefs, and get advice from old women who had been cooking longer than I have been alive.  Eventually I weaned myself off of the prepared packages and worked from scratch.  Cook’s famous gumbo evolved over years of trials and mistrials.

I cook gumbo wherever I travel, from Australia to Alaska, from Japan to Saipan and everyone likes it.  It is a great way to feed a lot of people and it’s not like anything they have eaten before, which makes it memorable.

Ingredients:

Roux - wheat flour, oil

Veggies - onions, celery, garlic

Meats - smoked sausage, chicken, shrimp 

Make the roux, add the veggies, add the meats, add water and spices and cook on low heat for several hours.  Pour the entire concoction over rice and enjoy.  That’s it, a pretty simple formula, but what separates the average gumbos from the masterpieces are the ways they are combined and varied.  For example, sometimes I use bacon fat to make the roux, sometimes I use olive oil.  It changes the flavor and the color of the final soup. 

Any gumbo worthy of the name uses onion, garlic and celery, known as the Holy Trinity of Cajun cooking.  They are always together and go in everything.  True gumbo enthusiasts will insist that it must contain okra, and I will not quibble on this point.  Okra is a must for true New Orleans-style gumbo but many people do not like the sliminess it brings, so I often leave it out unless I am cooking for purists.  You can always substitute a product known as gumbo file, which adds the flavor but not the slime. 

Also, I vary the type of chicken.  Sometimes I use the flavorful and fatty dark meat of the thighs and sometimes I go for the leaner, heftier breasts.  White breast meat costs more, so if you are feeding a large crowd you may want to stick with thighs.  Experiment with the amount of water you add to adjust the thickness and potency of the roux flavor.  I like my gumbo a little soupy, as opposed to a thick, heavy gumbo that sticks to your ribs.

Now a word on spices.  You can experiment with different combinations of salt, pepper, cayenne, paprika and so on or you can buy a can of Creole Seasoning from many grocery stores.  The work has already been done for you so you just have to decide how much to put in, the proportions are already nearly perfect.  From time to time I have experimented with different spices but I usually end up going back to Tony Chachere’s Cajun Seasoning in a green can.  Tony spent a lifetime perfecting the recipe so I don’t have to.

The only other thing you will want to serve with gumbo is garlic French bread.  Some folks start with a salad but really, gumbo is meant to be a meal in a pot, one dish eating at its most delicious.  I left my recipe with friends all over the Pacific so give it a try.  Better still, try your own recipe!

 BC Cook, PhD lived on Saipan and has taught history for 20 years. He travels the Pacific but currently resides on the mainland U.S.