Jumbo Gumbo

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.


  1. Christina - March 22, 2021 6:38 am

    I have no doubt Jamie’s is the best! Just waiting for her cookbook with your stories. Now THAT would be the best!

    • eliz - March 22, 2021 10:20 am

      Christina, brilliant idea…Jaime’s cookbook!

  2. Sharon Brock - March 22, 2021 6:53 am

    Unfortunately my grandmother took her shrimp and sausage gumbo recipe to the grave. I tried this summer to recreate this heavenly dish to no avail. Mine was runny. Gumbo is not supposed to be runny. I will keep looking for the recipe. Meanwhile, The Almighty is eating fine.

  3. Susan - March 22, 2021 7:18 am

    Great story, but you left out one thing: your wife’s gumbo recipe!! 🙂

  4. Leigh Amiot - March 22, 2021 9:13 am

    My husband raves about my from scratch spaghetti sauce the way you do Jamie’s gumbo. Makes a woman feel proud!
    I second Christina’s cookbook collaboration suggestion!

  5. eliz - March 22, 2021 10:21 am

    ok, tomatoes or no tomatoes in your gumbo? And recipe please!

  6. Champ837 - March 22, 2021 11:27 am

    You’re absolutely right! At least part of what you said was right. MY Mothers gumbo was the best, and my wife’s gumbo (using my mother’s recipe) is second. Good gumbo must have okra and shrimp and a little crab meat in it. Oh, by the way, it’s always better the second day.

  7. Liz Bishop - March 22, 2021 11:43 am

    My brother and have begun a tradition of making gumbo together in early Spring. We too made Southern Gumbo last Saturday. It was scrumptious, and my husband declared it “the best gumbo ever!”
    I would love a copy of Jamie’s cookbook when it comes out😊

  8. Alice Lewise Bryan - March 22, 2021 12:00 pm

    I love your writing and I love gumbo. I was surprised, however, that nowhere in your post today did you mention “okra”. “Gumbo” actually means “Okra”. Okra is an essential element in “Gumbo, the soup”.

    Keep on what you are doing you are great at it. I look forward to your posts every day.
    (originally from New Jersey but blessedly living in the South since 1967).

  9. Debbie g - March 22, 2021 12:22 pm

    I used to walk with a friend from Louisiana. She was always looking around. One day she exclaimed that’s it. That blackbird would be great in my gumbo 😂😂I never tried her gumbo 😀😀

  10. Kay Britton - March 22, 2021 12:42 pm

    Does Jamie have a cookbook published? If not – there is your next book, complete with your adorable comments on each page. You could even add a short story with each one. Bound (no pun intended) to be a winner!❤️

  11. joan moore - March 22, 2021 1:43 pm

    Sean, I would never find fault with your columns, until now! You were supposed to end the post with Jamie’s recipe! How else can I know what I am doing wrong 😂 Freeze a little for later! Love to the girls!

  12. Heidi - March 22, 2021 1:49 pm

    Looking at all the comments….you & Jamie need to collaborate on a cookbook for us! And please don’t forget her biscuit recipe so we can sop up all that gumbo goodness!!!! Makes my mouth water just thinking about it!!😋

  13. Dean - March 22, 2021 3:28 pm

    Would love to have a recipe for gumbo. Only ate it one time made by someone from Louisiana. Didn’t like it much but i am sure there is a recipe I would love. You’ll need to do a cookbook

  14. Anne - March 22, 2021 4:12 pm

    If this writing gig goes south on you, Sean, y’all can always open a gumbo shack beside the road. Jamie’s cooking and you ringing the cash register.

  15. Linette Wright - March 22, 2021 4:39 pm

    Please keep doing what you do! You make the world a better place.

  16. Linda Moon - March 22, 2021 4:41 pm

    Your wife is an excellent cook. I am not. It’s usually too bad when husbands are wrong, even if it’s sincere. But, I think one of those husbands was right: Jamie’s Guy! My Guy should give me a golden spoon right now….just for my attempts at getting meals on the table. I’ll take any reward I can get. You’re a lucky husband, Sean Dietrich!

  17. elizabethroosje - March 22, 2021 5:42 pm

    I agree! I will be first in line for Jamie’s cookbook! 🙂 I love your writing, it cheers me up! Thanks so much Sean!

  18. Maureen Brown - March 22, 2021 6:05 pm

    Me too … COOKBOOK with lots of stuff from you included. YAY, you two!!!

  19. MAM - March 22, 2021 7:37 pm

    My husband has conquered roux. And Alice was right in asking why you didn’t mention okra. That’s “almost” the best part, except for the andouille or shrimp or chicken or all of the above. I would vote for my husband’s gumbo as the best. And he started out as a Yankee, but gumbo converted him to a GOOD man and an excellent chef for every meal. I am spoiled rotten and loving it. But I still make the biscuits!

  20. Chasity Davis Ritter - March 22, 2021 10:19 pm

    This one sure made me smile and darn it if I didn’t tear up a little too. Back in my early 20s I worked at a catfish place here in Oklahoma for a man that drove up weekly from Lumberton, Mississippi. Mr Bill Davis. He was the kinda man you still tell stories about almost 30 years later. One weekend we decided to make some gumbo as a special. I still remember his voice and Cajun accent. We started with the roux he taught me to make and added all the goodies. It was delicious and went over well. I think we actually didn’t sell any just gave it all out as samples and then never made it again but it’s still a great memory. Only time I’ve ever had it too but in my head I picture and almost taste your descriptions in this blog. Go get you some gold spray paint and let Jamie know she is the best!!

  21. Chasity Davis Ritter - March 22, 2021 10:28 pm

    Oh and I agree with everyone else. A cookbook would be amazing. Her recipes and some of your stories and drawings. I’d buy it!! And give as presents too!!!

  22. Harriet - March 22, 2021 10:37 pm

    Jamie’s cookbook would be a huge hit with your fans Sean. Her pound cake, biscuits, gumbo, and soups sound so delicious!!

  23. AlaRedClayGirl - March 23, 2021 1:44 am

    I think I just gained 5 pounds from reading about all this food! Sure wish I had a bowl of gumbo right now.

  24. Ali Hardwick - March 23, 2021 4:45 am

    Sure wish I could have some of that mighty fine gumbo! Love your stories. Thanks for helping to put a smile on my face daily

  25. Andriea SuttonMitchell - March 23, 2021 1:27 pm

    You are HILARIOUS!! Thank you💯❤

  26. Naomi Smith - March 23, 2021 2:16 pm

    Gumbo is an individual thing. I was taught to make Chicken and Sausage Gumbo by a little Cajun lady in Erath, Louisiana. I still make it the same way she taught me and I have shared my recipe with a number of friends and relatives. When my son got married, he wanted me to make gumbo for his rehearsal dinner.
    Gumbo has helped us make lots of memories!

  27. Scott morrow - March 24, 2021 2:45 am

    My name is scott and as a. teenager i want to make gumbo like my grandma did people would drive allday just to eat a bowl of her gumbo. It was the best seafood gumbo that i had in my life so every time my grandma would make a large pot of gumbo i was there to help and watch her very close so one day i could make my own . now my children ask me all the time dad make a pot of gumbo like your grandmother used to make for you please it makes my three children very happy now they want to learn how to make. A pot of gumbo for their own but. Just like my grandma told me dont tell no one besides family how to cook like only a conass. Cann.

    • Larry Wall - March 27, 2021 8:06 pm

      Scott Morrow – spoken (and written) just like a true co(o)nass. 🙂


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