The Secret History of Gumbo
Gumbo is one of the most satisfying Southern dishes. It’s a spicy blend of cultures just like the South itself. Gumbo is a traditional stew that has its roots in Louisiana. Most commonly seen today in either a chicken and sausage form or a seafood preparation, this thick hearty stew is at the heart of Gulf Coast cuisine. At Captain Joey Patti’s we use mama’s recipe, one that goes way back to the very beginning. You can taste how it’s been fine tuned for years to deliver that savory satisfaction. With gumbo being such a staple of Gulf Coast cooking, we don’t often think of the origins of this delicious dish. As it turns out, the history of gumbo is a lot more complicated and is full of intriguing rumors, as well as a fair amount of debate over who first came up with this tasty stew.
Gumbo’s International Origins
This dish that feels so exemplary of the South actually has its origins across the Atlantic. Though some think that gumbo is an adapted version of the traditional French seafood stew bouillabaisse, it’s more likely that this dish has its origins in West Africa. The reason we know that this is an adapted African dish is because the dish is traditionally thickened using okra, and what is the word for okra in some West African dialects? Ki ngombo, commonly shortened to gombo. There are theories also that gumbo has origins within the Native Americans indigenous to Louisiana. These tribes often used ground sassafras powder or filé to thicken their stews. The Choctaw word for this powder was kombo. Regardless of the origin of the dish, it quickly grew in popularity, sparking almost every chef in New Orleans to develop their own specified recipe that they insisted was the best. Gumbo first pops up in documented history on a menu for a gubernatorial reception in 1803 and quickly spreads in historical documents from there, appearing on menus, in magazines, and locally published cookbooks.
Today, gumbo can be found all over the world. A simple google search for “gumbo recipe” yields thousands of results with ingredients that vary from the standard holy trinity of vegetables to out of the box additions like kale and avocado. Gumbo has even left our planet, with the International Space Station serving up a thermostabilized seafood rendition of the classic stew. Certainly, the Louisiana settlers who were just making use of their local ingredients never imagined that their recipe would be eaten among the stars.
With all the options out there for how to make gumbo it can feel incredibly overwhelming to get started. Each of the recipes insist that theirs is the best and you shouldn’t be making it any other way. So how do you even pick one? Well, the thing about gumbo is that it’s personal. It’s a family dish, developed to feed the people that you care about. Making gumbo is about who you share it with, so find a basic recipe and then adjust it to exactly what you like. If you don’t like peppers, don’t put them in. If you love sausage, add more than the recipe says to. The only way to develop your perfect gumbo is to start making it. You can also get some inspiration from our family, at Captain Joey Patti’s we make our perfect recipe, which might just become your favorite as well. So, come enjoy a bowl from our family, you can taste the history of this incredible dish in every bite.