I grew up eating meaty Alaska King Crab out of my mother’s pots of gumbo, so I can’t fathom having to settle for the small blue crabs that are caught out of the Atlantic Ocean. They simply don’t compare to one another. Speaking of not comparing, I am reminded of my time in Washington, D.C. The blue crab is a favorite of the area due to the abundance that are annually pulled out of the Cheasapeake Bay.
Simply tossing crabs and other seafood together into a pot doesn’t a gumbo make. My friend Tyrone learned this lesson the hard way. He invited a group of friends to his house in Maryland to celebrate his birthday. He swore he could make a good seafood gumbo and since my family is from Louisiana, I held him to that claim. Ty had already started celebrating his birthday long before his guests arrived, so by the time I got there he was passed out cold. I went into the kitchen, lifted the lid off of the pot on the stove and to my chagrin there was a white mess inside. I went back into the other room to wake Ty.
“Ty, where’s the gumbo?”
“It’s in the kitchen on the stove,” he responded groggily.
I couldn’t help but to laugh because anyone who knows anything about authentic Lousiana cooking will tell you that gumbo is never white. The reason is because of the most essential ingredient, roux.
Louisiana tradition dictates, the darker and richer the roux the better the dish will taste. A dark roux is purported to give the food a nice nutty flavor. It is the base of most dishes that come out of the region. To make a rich, southern roux many cooks use equal parts of oil and flour then whisk the mixture until it turns from a pale butterscotch to chestnut and finally a rich deep chocolate color. At that point the roux is taken off the stove and chopped vegetables and stock are added to it. If the roux is burnt it is considered unusable and the cook must start from scratch. Making a good roux is practically a science and some would argue that it is an art.
Ty didn’t even know what roux was. He had thrown some scallops, random seafood and fish into the white floury mixture and dubbed it gumbo. The March 8, 2006 New York Times article, “Rhapsody in Roux” contends that “In Louisiana, the color of a man’s roux can tell you a lot. Is he from the northern part of the state, or the south?” Obviously Ty’s lack of roux spoke volumes about where he is from – Phoenix, Arizona. It told me loud and clear that he was completely oblivious to the fact that the missing ingredient in his counterfeit gumbo was indeed the roux.