Some friends recently recommended “Best.Gumbo.Ever” by Lolis Eric Elie in the June 2012 issue of Smithsonian Magazine. In the article, Elie, a former columnist for the New Orleans Time Picayune, traces the origin of gumbo and summarizes the Cajun cooking craze and its effect on gumbo. He points out some oddball gumbo variations that originated with the craze, including cow-foot gumbo with corn and truffles. I hope that’s a joke, but you never know. What I do know is that his mama’s gumbo recipe ends with the best line ever: “In case of leftovers, gumbo freezes well. But if you cook it right, you won’t have to worry about leftovers.” The article is well worth reading and dispels any myths that Smithsonian is only about pre-Columbian pottery and dinosaurs. As for me, I’ll pass on the cow-foot gumbo. I prefer my gumbo with legs, crab legs that is.
Though some people consider gumbo a “throw it all in the pot” or “clean out the refrigerator” dish, I disagree. Contestants on Gordon Ramsey’s Master Chef often face the dreaded Mystery Box challenge in which they attempt to make delicious dishes with a jumble of ingredients. But no contestant ever makes gumbo. I guess it takes too long for television. But most of all, good gumbo doesn’t need surprise ingredients. It’s no mystery, as Mama Elie points out in her recipe. It’s an art.