Searching for the perfect Gumbo recipe

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By Lee Scott

Learning the local cuisine has become an adventure. Eating the fresh vegetables, the assorted seafood and desserts such as Key Lime Pie and Lemon Squares have expanded my family menu. One of the most popular dishes around appears to be the gumbo. After eating Seafood Gumbo at various restaurants, Chicken Gumbo from the grocery store and Shrimp Gumbo from the seafood market, I decided that I needed to find a good recipe. Although I have found the ball jars with gumbo at the local farmers markets, I wanted to make my own from scratch.

I typed in “Gumbo” in the search engine and found pages and pages of recipes and instructions. It didn’t take long to discover that okra was found in all the soups. I did a little research and found that the term “gumbo” is a traditional word for okra, which I hadn’t known. Further research revealed that it is thought that the term gumbo is derived from the West African Bantu word “Ki ngombo”.  So technically, it is okra soup or stew.

The recipes provided some interesting hints, like always sauté the onions and okra before you put them in the soup stock and fresh okra is a must.  When I spoke to my butcher in the local grocery store, he told me which Andouille sausage to use and he said when making Shrimp Gumbo, always use fresh shrimp.  He said that the freshness of all the ingredients makes a difference in the flavor. I also got another hint in a book I recently picked up at the library titled  “Sanctuary Cove” by Rochelle Alers. In the fictional novel, the main character learns the secret to a good gumbo: Fry the okra in oil to reduce the coating before you put it in the soup. This, she is told, is the true Gullah secret to great Shrimp Gumbo.

But the best advice about my quest for the best Gumbo recipe came from a discussion with a local shrimper.  He shook his head at me and said, “Never mind about a recipe. It’s who made it that’s important. There was never any better Shrimp Gumbo in the whole world than my grandmother’s  Shrimp Gumbo. She threw everything in the pot and served it with corn bread.”

I thought about his comments and realized that no matter what recipe I use,  my grandchildren will remember that they had the best Shrimp Gumbo ever from their grandmother. Wise man.