It must be five years ago that the girls made their first road trip together. To California. To Disneyland. I kept hearing how amazing the Gumbo was at Disneyland’s Blue Bayou restaurant. I’ve never been to the Blue Bayou but I vowed to make that gumbo one day.
There were two ingredients that always put me off. The first was Gumbo Filé, that elusive sassafras-based spiced that apparently is needed to give the gumbo an authentic flavour. Never could find it.
The other was okra. I’ve always been a little bit afraid of okra. I vaguely remember it from my childhood when my mom used to feed me Campbell’s Chicken Gumbo soup. I remember liking the soup and I remember the okra in it, but everything I’ve heard about it since has warned me to stay away from that slimy vegetable unless you’ve been raised with it, in Louisiana, learning its secrets at your grandma’s elbow as she chanted magic okra words while cooking her gumbo in a bubbling pot. As a result, I never considered okra a suitable cooking ingredient.
So, I have a free Sunday and I think that today’s the day to make gumbo. Something new and different for dinner. I’d picked up a bottle of Gumbo Filé in Seaside, Oregon, last summer (go figure) and our local produce store always carries fresh okra. (Okra (bhindi) is often found in Indian cooking.) And I can buy just enough of it – nothing extra staring at me for weeks from the bottom of the crisper.
I’d deboned some chicken a few days ago and so had lots of chicken stock. (No bones go to waste around here.) It was time!
Of course, the girls were all busy. They’d been anticipating this ‘gumbo day’ for years but today, of course, everything came up. (“I wasn’t supposed to have shift today, but they gave me one. Can you plee-ee-eze save some for me?”)
No matter. I’ve got all the ingredients. I’ll make it for ME!
Fresh bread is baked. I pull the recipe from the Internet. I find a bottle of Cabernet. (An invaluable cooking ingredient – you put it in the cook.) On the stereo, the urgent pulse of Tiësto and DJ Timeline has given way to classic Sinatra (from the 60’s. No no You can’t take that away from me….) and I’m shuffling to the beat through the kitchen. The cats stare.
Cook, cook, Stir, stir. (Sauté. sauté.) I actually stay very close to the recipe this time, rather than just using it as a list of suggestions like I usually do. I keep the heat down and don’t burn anything. It comes together nicely.
I ladle it out. It looks good. It tastes good. But is it the real thing? I’m going to have to wait until one of the girls gets home and tries it before I’ll find out.
To be honest, I’m not thrilled. It’s good but not great. Maybe it’s the social aspect that’s missing. Good food should be shared with good company. It makes the food better. Maybe gumbo just doesn’t come together next to the cool, misty west coast waters. Or maybe it’s the audio-animatronic fireflies flitting over the cool evening waters of Disney’s bayou that put the gumbo experience there over the top.
I guess I’m going to have to do a study in gumbos. Maybe search out a few backwater diners somewhere deep in Louisiana. You know, check out the real thing.
Update: I got three thumbs-up from the girls, so I guess the gumbo was a hit. As to its authenticity, all three said its just been too long since their dinner at the Blue Bayou and they couldn’t say for sure if was the same taste experience. I guess they’ll have to go back and see.