Melting pot: Prawn gumbo. Photo: Edwina Pickles
What is it?
A soupy dish from Louisiana of spicy broth, onions, celery and green capsicum, first documented in 1802. A combination of West African, French, Spanish, German and native Choctaw influences, gumbo is a real melting pot in action. It's returning to fashion around the world as chefs rediscover the roots of American cuisine.
Where is it?
Gumbo has been on the menu of Bondi's Panama House since it opened in 2012. ''What we put in it changes all the time,'' says chef Patrick Killalea. ''In that sense, it's being true to the original nature of gumbo, because they used whatever was around and in season.'' He also suggests the leftover gumbo is great as a sauce for fried chicken and cornbread-crusted fish. ''It has a lovely smoky, rich flavour'', he says.
At the new Soulfood Kitchen in Canberra, Alabama-born chef Victor Kimble says there are lots of different ways to cook gumbo, and a lot of ways not to cook it, too. ''There's a base called the holy trinity, of celery, capsicum and onion,'' he says. ''Without it, it just isn't gumbo.''
Adrian Durrant of Redfern's Eathouse Diner has seafood gumbo on his blackboard menu that comes with barramundi, mussels, chorizo and okra: ''I go hard on the green chillies, and keep the whole wet and soupy.''
At The Bourbon in King's Cross, gumbo takes the form of a spicy duck broth with smoked sausage, chorizo, red chilli and coriander. ''The traditional brown roux is very heavy on the palate,'' says sous chef Tom Deadman, ''so we lighten it off and keep it fresh and full of flavour.''
At Melbourne's Gumbo Kitchen food truck, the big order is for chicken and smoked sausage gumbo, served with red beans and rice. "The key to gumbo is the darkness and richness of the roux," Michael Cotter says. "You have to keep the temperature low, and just keep stirring." He likes to quote Miss Leah Chase, of New Orleans' famous Dooky Chase restaurant, on the correct technique. "She says you should always have a beer in one hand and a spoon in the other." Cotter says gumbo will also be on the menu at the new Po'Boy Quarter when it opens in early August in Fitzroy.
Chef Katrina Higham, of Joe's Bar in St Kilda, is doing seafood gumbo specials and crab boils this week to celebrate America's Independence Day. "I'm using yabbies, green capsicum, celery, onion and okra," she says. "I reckon yabbies are the closest thing we have to Louisiana's crawfish." At St Kilda's Claypots Seafood Bar, chef Manil Jheelan loves making crab gumbo with either mudcrabs or blue swimmer crabs, built on a dark roux with ''secret Cajun spices''.
Can I do it at home?
Yes, with whatever you like - chicken, duck, crab, mussels, sausage, vegetables and/or winter greens such as kale and silverbeet.
The Bourbon, 22 Darlinghurst Road, Potts Point (02) 9035 8888
The Eathouse Diner, 306 Chalmers Street, Redfern (02) 8084 9479
Panama House, 25 Bondi Road, Bondi (02) 9365 0839
My version has a lighter-than-normal roux as its base, so the end result is more soup than gloop. Serve with steamed rice and Tabasco sauce.
4 tbsp vegetable or olive oil
2 onions, chopped
2 celery stalks, sliced
1 green capsicum, seeded and chopped
1 green chilli, sliced
300g smoked sausage and/or chorizo, sliced
300g okra, sliced
2 tbsp plain flour
600ml chicken or vegetable broth
4 garlic cloves, finely grated
400g canned tomatoes, chopped
2 tbsp tomato paste
1 tsp dried oregano or thyme
1 tsp cayenne
Sea salt and pepper
12 prawns, peeled and deveined
2 tbsp chopped parsley
1. Heat two tablespoons of oil in a heavy pan and cook the onion, celery, capsicum and chilli for 10 minutes until softened. Add the sausage and okra and cook for five minutes or until browned.
2. To make the roux, heat remaining two tablespoons of oil in a saucepan. Gradually sprinkle in the flour and cook over low heat, stirring constantly, for 15 minutes or until caramel coloured. Gradually add the stock, stirring constantly. Add the garlic, tomatoes, tomato paste, dried oregano and cayenne. Season generously and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes. Add the vegetable and sausage mixture and simmer for 20 to 30 minutes or until the okra is cooked. Skim off any excess oil. Add the prawns and parsley, simmer for 5 minutes, and serve.
Jumbuck. The evocative name given by Greenvale Farm of Willaura near the Grampians in Victoria to their four-year-old, dry-aged mutton; spotted at The Royal Mail at Dunkeld, St Ali North and South, and Vue de Monde, Melbourne. Also spotted in Sydney at Restaurant Atelier, Glebe; and Three Weeds, Rozelle. See greenvalefarm.com.au