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Gumbo Gris-Gris

How to make gumbo…


Let me guess, everybody around here is talking about Mardi Gras and you’re feeling brave. You wanna give it a go making gumbo? You’ve got a recipe and confidence. But let me fill in the gaps on what the recipe may not say.

First, you need some music. If you ain’t got the right music, your gumbo gonna taste like a rotten salt lick. 

If you’re a beginner to this, tell Alexa to play you some Rebirth Brass Band or Dr. John. “Born Under A Bad Sign,” by Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Keb’ Mo’, and Rebirth Brass Band, or “Tootie Ma is a Big Fine Thing,” by the Preservation Hall Jazz Band & Tom Waits will make your gone wrong get right. 

Pay attention here to this part: you are not authorized to make gumbo until you have danced alone in the kitchen with lips pursed, eyes closed, hips bumpin’, and fingers snappin’. 

The same self-liberation you need to dance is the same magic that makes the food taste good. Tell me I’m wrong. 

You see, gumbo isn’t food, it’s a feeling. Good food is a love language whereby we stir the juju we got into the big boiling pot. And don’t anybody want the bad juju. Ya heard? You just keep that mess to your own self. 

Then you make a glass of the libation you like, but don’t hurry…because you and Kermit Ruffins gonna be here awhile. If you get the roux wrong, you have to start over. This is the law.
“Sisters,” by John Boutté has just the right rhythm for stirring. Voodoo Hoodoo says stirring your gumbo counter-clockwise keeps them hurricanes from whippin’ up. So left to right, mon cher. Left to right. 

And if your roux is the color of a wrapped caramel candy, you ain’t there yet. Keep dancing. Keep singing. Keep stirring. 

Now listen here, I’m gonna tell you something for real for true: do not use regular sausage. If you can pronounce the brand, you’ve got the wrong kind. Get you some andouille sausage, pronounced ahn-DOO-ee, then look real close at the small letters underneath. If it’s processed in Louisiana, it passes muster. 

The recipe will call for the Trinity, or the Holy Trinity, it means 2 parts chopped onion, 1 part green bell better (cored and chopped), and 1 part chopped celery. It also means the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. You gonna need them, too, if you ain’t never cooked gumbo before. Forehead, chest, shoulder to shoulder. 

And the magic sprinkle is the filé. There is no substitute. There is no leaving it out. If you don’t got the filé, you don’t got the gumbo. All you made is some soup.

If you’ve gotten this far and aren’t laughing and nodding, it’s not time baby. It’s just not time. 

Put that recipe down and start a fight on Pensacola Foodies, instead. Ask them good folks “Who’s got the best gumbo in town?” Better yet, ask “Who’s gonna go WITH ME to find the best gumbo in town?” Because that’s really what gumbo and Mardi Gras are all about: eatin’ good, spending time with your people, and celebrating all the best things of being on this big beautiful Earth. 

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Dana is an Arkansas native and a seasonal resident of the Gulf Coast since childhood. She was a Pensacola resident for 13 years, before moving to Gulf Breeze. Dana attributes her Mayberry-esque childhood in Warren, Arkansas, as enormously influential in honing her definitely Southern style of storytelling. She earned a degree in Journalism, Advertising/Public Relations from the University of Arkansas (Woo Pig Sooie!). In addition to writing, she loves photography, art, adventures in the great outdoors, and spending time with her three children.