Gumbo in New Orleans. Once you start talking about it, everyone’s mom or grandma always has a better recipe. They all have their local spots and go-to’s, but no matter what…it doesn’t compare. I think the classical recipes and regional dishes like that really reflect the importance of cuisine in the culture of New Orleans. You don’t really hear that as much up here in the Northeast. No one fights over whose grandmother makes a meaner chicken pot pie. But in NOLA, food is such an important part of life.
Gumbo was probably my first introduction to creole and cajun cookery, because the technique is different from how I was trained in classical French cuisine. Sure, rues are incorporated in a lot of french cuisine – white rue, dark rue with butter and flour…in a gumbo, you still have flour but it’s cooked in oil with a higher smoke point and enables a much darker colored rue that is really the base flavor for a properly cooked gumbo. The butter used in the French style will burn and taste like burnt peanut butter, not the “Mississippi Mud” that oil can achieve.
It went against everything I learned with taking a rue that dark.
When you’re trained your whole career to never burn a rue and here you take it to the absolute limit, it was eye opening. And then there’s the incorporation of andouille sausage, and some kind of spice mix (everyone has their own of course) to pump up the heat, adding another layer of flavor. And then, when you add the trinity – onion, bell pepper, and celery, it really creates that distinct flavor and smell that defines that cuisine. You’re taking the time in one pot to layer all of these flavors, creating a really rich dish where the technique in cooking it and the quality of ingredients is it’s essence.
I know, I know. On the surface it doesn’t sound that complicated, but it really made me understand why everyones’ grandmother has the best recipe: the time and love that goes into sitting in front of that stove really reflects how everything they do in New Orleans circles around cooking and eating the best food they can.
So what was the secret ingredient I was lucky enough to add in to my recipe this summer? Two words: Gumbo filé. Filé is a spicy herb made from the dried and ground leaves of the sassafras tree, and is often used in Louisiana Creole cuisine. It thickens the gumbo and has an earthy, root beer flavor. BUT IT GETS BETTER. Where does one find sassafras, you ask? Well at The Labrie Group of Restaurants, we look no further than one of our own – Michael Labrie. He ventured out to his secret foraging spot right here in New Hampshire and brought back sassafras that I was able to use in our gumbo at The Atlantic Grill this summer. It continues to highlight the amazing food that can be locally sourced right here in our “backyard”, and is something that is very important to our ethos as a restaurant group. I’d like to think that my time as a chef in New Orleans is something that I infuse into my approach at The Labrie Group as well. Just like grandma’s gumbo, I want the culture in our kitchen to reflect the quality of ingredients and care that goes into each dish.
Laissez les bons temps rouler!