I am a proud Maker of Gumbo. I make four different kinds, depending on the expectations of the people who will be eagerly holding their empty bowls and waiting for dinner.
I am accustomed to praise, awe and gratitude whenever I make gumbo. This is the honest truth. (I had one disaster in Texas about seven years ago, due to old spices and a difficult pan, but we all try not to talk about that).
For my mother’s birthday–to be celebrated on Easter Sunday with her nearest and dearest friends–I intended to make a Shrimp-Okra gumbo. No andouille sausage and no chicken, just a more refined gumbo with shrimp as the star. The roux would be darker, the vegetables finely minced.
So on Saturday I minced onions, green peppers and celery (Banjo Man was busy with taxes, so I was on my own with a knife and cutting board), enough for a double recipe. I retrieved my coveted shrimp bouillon cubes for the broth, assembled the spices and made the roux.
The roux, brown and silky, was a triumph. The vegetables went in–the smell was pure New Orleans Restaurant–and it all went together beautifully. I defrosted and sautéed two packages of cut okra, added them to the mix and let it simmer (the shrimp would be added shortly before serving it the next day).
I tasted it, but the flavor wasn’t good enough. So I added more salt and thyme, cooked it a little more, then refrigerated the gumbo in its giant pot overnight, hoping that another 12 hours would let the flavors meld.
No such luck. I heated it Sunday morning. Something was off. Was my oregano old? Or was it the cayenne pepper? In my haste to solve the problem, I burned it. Yep, the bottom of the pan was a burned layer of okra and vegetables. So I got another giant pan and poured the rest of the gumbo (which didn’t taste burned) into it, scrubbed the black layer from the pot before Banjo Man could venture upstairs and ask questions (I didn’t need questions!) and texted my daughter.
Yes, she said, she would buy two more bags of frozen okra for me on her way to the house. I asked if she would get three bouquets of peach or rose tulips, too? My centerpiece is too big for the table. Yes, she said, no problem.
Back to the gumbo…
I would have to make another batch, and fast. So luckily I had a bag of frozen–don’t tell anyone–chopped green peppers and a bag of frozen chopped (not finely minced, but what the hell) celery, peppers and onions. So I made another lovely–if I do say so myself–roux (hot oil + flour and cooked over high heat, stirring constantly, until it is dark chestnut brown), added the frozen vegetables (thank you, Walmart frozen food section), more shrimp bouillon broth (heated separately) and the spices.
NancyK arrived with the tulips and the okra, so I defrosted and sautéed it (in my new square copper pan, boy is that easy to clean!) and dumped it into the new gumbo.
Then I combined both gumbos and tasted it again. Not bad, but would it be better when the shrimp was in? I had to know.
So it was time to defrost the shrimp, purchased specially because the shrimp were from the Gulf and not Indonesia. It’s hard to find USA shrimp in New England (as opposed to Texas). The problem was that we had saved it for so long that it had FREEZER BURN and looked like cauliflower.
So NancyK and I raced to the grocery store six miles away and bought five bags of frozen, peeled, deveined and de-tailed shrimp and I don’t know where the hell it came from and didn’t care, either. Our guests were arriving in twenty-six minutes.
NancyK defrosted the shrimp in batches, under cold water, while I readied the brown rice and the white rice. I unfortunately forgot to set the timer. The white rice would take 25 minutes and the brown 40 minutes, but the damn brown rice took too long and wasn’t cooked until after the first round of gumbo was consumed.
Now I know you’re wondering how the gumbo tasted. Everyone there said it was wonderful, but honestly? I wasn’t totally convinced. A layer of flavor was missing and I still don’t know what it was.
That bugs me.
We also had ham. Sweet potato casserole. Beans! Coleslaw. Sangria! Birthday cake. It was so much fun. Maddy, the nineteen-year old granddaughter of Mayme and George, was a special guest (we hope she’ll come back over and over again) and won a scratch ticket in the Easter Egg Hunt.
Yes, there was an Easter Egg Hunt.
I filled all the eggs–except the hot pink ones–with candy. Banjo Man hid them in the back and side yards. Everyone was told to find four eggs. Amidst the complaints that the pink eggs had no candy, I produced six lottery scratch tickets. Those lucky enough to have found the hot pink eggs had chances to win $500-$2000.
Very few of us (if any?) had gambled with these scratch tickets before, so there was a lot of hilarious confusion over how it worked.
George won $3.00. NancyK won $1.00.
Not exactly a Big Money kind of egg hunt, but we enjoyed the fresh air and Banjo Man’s cascading rock water fountain before we returned inside for birthday cake.
I gave Mom containers of gumbo for future meals and froze the rest of it, along with 10 cups of brown rice. Fresh red pepper and file powder might help, but I’m going to wait a few weeks before I try again. My Gumbo Queen ego is a bit crushed.
It was a lovely day, one of the best Easter parties ever.