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Jambalaya, crawfish pie, filé gumbo are the opening words of a popular New Orleans song. Like its music, New Orleans is its food and its food is New Orleans. New Orleans is a city well known for its love affair with seafood where it is plentiful and available 365 days out of a year. Having a variety of seafood so readily available allow the locals to create many dishes using as much seafood as one can eat or put in a pot. Popular dishes like jambalaya, crawfish pie, shrimp Creole, red beans and rice, and filé gumbo are permanently etched in the fabric of this city. Gumbo and specifically seafood filé gumbo is particularly one of those dishes associated with the New Orleans area, although variations of this popular dish are prepared and enjoyed throughout Louisiana.

Variations of Gumbo

By definition, gumbo is a soup or stew type dish always served with steamed white rice. The main ingredients determine the flavor and type of gumbo. Some favorites are chicken and andouille smoked sausage gumbo, okra gumbo, and traditionally most well known is seafood filé gumbo. Other main ingredients often used are meats like turkey, duck, or rabbit. There is also an all vegetables variety, mainly a combination of an assortment of greens as collards, mustards, and turnips. Gumbo is definitely one of those dishes where you put your personal spin on it and make it to your liking. It can be extra spicy, thick, thin, full of meat, seafood, or a combination of both. The color can be nutty to dark brown, greenish, a tomato tint, and any color range in between. According to famous New Orleans chef and restaurateur, Paul Prudhomme, “there must be as many kinds of gumbo as there are families in South Louisiana!”

Seafood File Gumbo

In seafood filé gumbo, the main ingredients are shrimp, crab, oysters, and sometimes crawfish, when in season and plentiful. An equally important ingredient along with the seafood is the spice filé. This spice pronounced (fee-lay), is actually ground sassafras leaves. Adding filé thickens the stock and gives the seafood gumbo an extra layer of an earthiness flavor. In addition to its delicious rich seafood flavor, preparing and serving this style gives an extra bonus for being a healthier variation as compared to other versions where the main ingredients are combinations of meats and sausages.

Gumbo Traditions

Traditionally, within New Orleans families, the favorite family gumbo recipe is prepared the same way by passing it down to each generation. There is at least one person in most New Orleans families who is the gumbo person. This person brings the gumbo to all the family gatherings for special occasions. Gumbo is not a dish that is prepared as part of an everyday meal, but is reserved for Sunday dinners and holidays, especially Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Chef Paul’s Recipes: Chicken & Smoked Sausage Gumbo