Feb 17, 2015


Shrimp Gumbo

He picked out a white plastic spoon from a paper cup stuffed with spoons and rolled napkins. The corners of one of the napkins had someone’s barbeque fingerprints. Around him, the crowded room groaned with the sounds of black and white people devouring whole sides of beef and pork. People ate family style at Mama’s. Sitting at a single long table, they shared the stories of their lives in between plates of Etouffee and bowls of seafood gumbo.

Across from him a bowl of dirty rice, a plate of red beans, and a bottle of tobacco sauce sat on the side waiting. The smell of the beef and livers in the rice made his mouth water, but he was at Pinky’s for one thing, the Shrimp Gumbo.

“How soon?” he asked Mama, when she passed by with a bowl of greens.
“I’m adding the Gumbo File’ right now,” she said.

He knew that the ground sassafras leaves made gumbo what it was. That and the okra. Not every New Orleans cook included okra, but Mama added fresh okra at the same time she added the shrimp and sausage. The Gumbo File’ was sprinkled on at the last minute to thicken and brighten the Creole stew.

He was working on his second beer when a waiter placed a large bowl filled with a cup of white rice in front of him. Mama believed a customer should decide how much rice to mix with the gumbo. Next a black iron skillet was placed in front of his bowl. In the skillet, the brown-green gumbo bubbled; thin wisps of steams emerged up from the bottom of the skillet. Perfectly cooked shrimp, chunks fish and sausage floated on the top of the southern delight. Taking a spoonful, he realized all the waiting was worth it. Fat Tuesday wouldn’t be complete without a bowl of Mama Pinky’s Shrimp Gumbo.

One time he asked Mama’s what made her gumbo so good?
“Patience and timing,” she answered. “The roux can take over an hour of constant stirring. You have to wait for just the right moment when the color of the roux changes from brick red to dark brown. Too soon and you have a tasteless soup, too long and the stew will taste burned. When the roux is just right, and only then, can you cook the carrots, celery, peppers, and onions followed by the fish stock, and tomato. Gumbo is a labor of love,” she added.

Taking another spoonful he guessed she was right. 
At its heart, he thought. Gumbo, like love, was all about the care you take to make it and knowing when the moment is right.

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