My wife is making seafood gumbo, and there is no better gumbo on earth than hers. Sure, I’m biased. And yes, most husbands wholeheartedly believe their wife’s gumbo is the best. But in my case it’s true.
A few years ago I wrote a column about gumbo and received a truckload of messages from Midwestern and Mid-Atlantic people who were unfamiliar with gumbo.
I was surprised especially to receive messages from people who had never heard of gumbo. Like the guy in Akron, Ohio, who wrote:
“Gumbo? You mean the flying elephant movie?”
You have to worry about some people.
Well, I’m no gumbo authority, so I won’t even attempt to define this dish from a culinary point of view because: (a) gumbo enthusiasts are fanatical nuts, almost to the point of being confrontational and aggressive, and (b) I am married to one of these people.
Here on the Gulf Coast, gumbo varies by region, many will claim their wife’s or mother’s version is the best.
My friend Brent, for example, swears by his wife’s gumbo. But I’ve tried it, and it left me unimpressed.
Basically according to Brent, the way his wife prepares gumbo for her large family is she gathers all the leftovers in the fridge: chicken, sausage, expired hotdogs, three-year-old lasagna, past tax records, nine-volt batteries. Then she lets this simmer all day, adds hot sauce, and serves it with a side of Pepto-Bismol.
Then you have my friend Bill, in Metairie, Louisiana. His wife’s gumbo is thicker than commercial masonry adhesive. Also this gumbo is VERY salty.
Salt, you should note, is a powerful laxative when consumed in high quantities. Look it up.
Bill’s wife’s gumbo is so salty—this is a true anecdote—that at a recent get-together, after eating the gumbo, Bill’s grandmother spent the remainder of the evening in the lavatory with the door locked.
When concerned family members knocked and asked, “You alright, Granny?” Granny’s only answer was what Bill described as “delivery-room noises.”
So you cannot compare gumbos. There are too many out there, and where would you even start?
You have gator gumbo, andouille gumbo, duck-fat gumbo, blue crab gumbo, bull shark gumbo, oyster liquor gumbo, green gumbo, German-Catholic gumbo, Cajun-Creole gumbo, and once at a sketchy restaurant in Mississippi I ate a gumbo which I believe was 30W motor oil.
And you probably already know this, but you can’t prepare traditional gumbo without roux. Classical roux is a culinary slurry used to thicken stews and sauces. Its ingredients are simple: fat and flour, browned in a skillet.
But this description only hints at the varieties of roux found in the world. Some culinary experts will insist that there are four kinds of roux (white, blond, brunette, and roofing tar.).
But any gumbo freak will tell you there are more varieties than this. In fact, you could put 15 gumbo enthusiasts in a kitchen and get 15 different colors of roux. Then all 15 enthusiasts would assault each other with surgically sharp kitchen instruments because these gumbo enthusiasts are not known for their easygoing nature.
Take my wife. She is a retired professional chef and a gumbo maniac. When my wife first graduated from culinary school I remember watching her spend entire afternoons practicing her roux behind a skillet.
This roux had to have exactly the right color, viscosity, and flavor, otherwise her gumbo would not come out right. It took her decades to zero in on her gumbo recipe. And it has kept evolving over time. I’m telling you, my wife’s gumbo is an international treasure.
My favorite gumbo story, however, has nothing to do with my wife’s gumbo. This story took place during a gumbo competition a few years ago wherein my wife and I were invited to be guest judges.
Actually, my wife was invited to judge; my culinary role would have been more accurately described in culinary terms as “Guy Carrying Wife’s Handbag.”
There were 27 gumbo entries that day. Judges had to sample them all, and immediately we officials were at an impasse. There were simply too many unique gumbos to choose from.
Some of the actual varieties from that contest included:
Deer-meat gumbo, crawfish gumbo, squirrel gumbo, rabbit gumbo, rattlesnake gumbo, keto gumbo, turkey gumbo, and bourbon-and-tomato gumbo, which was the weirdest thing I’ve ever tasted except for when Johnny Tyler dared me to drink Elmer’s glue.
So anyway, when the contest judges had finished comparing notes and popping powerful antacids, they unanimously decided there was no way to select a solitary winner. They declared it a 27-way tie.
Which meant that during the award ceremony I was busy in the parking lot with another husband named Chuck, applying gold-colored spray paint to 27 plastic spoons to use as trophies.
But it was a great day, and everyone had big fun. And I’ll never forget when one emotional cook held her golden-spoon award and said to her husband, “Oh, honey, I’ve never won anything before.” And she was actually crying.
At which point her husband placed his arms around her and said, “Haven’t I been telling you, sweetie? Your gumbo is the best in the world.”
Whereupon 26 other husbands all sincerely told their wives the same thing.
It’s too bad, of course, that these husbands were wrong.