Gumbo, Tailgating and Football

Doc Lawrence

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Olivia Thomason's Tailgating Poster Celebrates Food and FootballOlivia Thomason

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LSU Alum Richard Lewis Loves His GumboRichard Lewis

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Gumbo is perfect for Elegant Al Fresco DiningRichard Lewis

By Doc Lawrence

Football season is just around the corner filling weekends with pageantry, excitement, drama and some of our finest food. Tailgating was, according to the late Frank Spence, born in the South with roots in the Civil War. Spence, an accomplished raconteur and a front-office executive with the Atlanta Braves and Atlanta Falcons, was a master of sports traditions and loved good food.

Likewise, Richard Lewis, a native of Gulfport, Mississippi and an LSU alum, is a trusted source for food and sports traditions. Arguably, LSU is the premier tailgating campus in America. Richard, now retired and living in Richmond, Virginia, shared his Gumbo recipe along with some personal color. It’s fun to make and sure to satisfy hungry fans before kickoff.

Richard’s Gumbo YaYa

The word Gumbo carries with it a mystique as muddied as the concoction itself. Cultures that have their spoons in the gumbo melting pot include African, Native American (Choctaw), French, and Spanish. The name is borrowed in part from a West-African word for okra and a Choctaw word for ground sassafras leaves. Though it is the official State Cuisine of Louisiana, the savory dish can also be found along the Gulf Coast from Corpus Christi into Florida. Its national popularity came in part from the celebrity of Chef Paul Prudhomme, who was from Louisiana, and Emeril Lagasse, an adopted son. It was Chef Prudhomme who proclaimed that his gumbo “would make you want to shout ya yah!”

The two predominant types of gumbo are seafood gumbo, and chicken and sausage gumbo. This recipe is for the latter. And wherever you live, you can make this wonderful dish provided you have the right cookware and can get the authentic ingredients.

Mise en place is so important with gumbo. Everything needs to be measured, cut, organized, within easy reach and ready before turning on the burner. Let's start with the pot itself. Heavy cast iron, whether enameled or not, is an absolute must. It helps to distribute heat properly and eliminates hot spots. Make sure to use a big one, too. You'll be surprised at the volume.

Ingredient quality is also key. Use fresh vegetables only, never frozen or pre-cut. Gumbo calls for andouille sausage and there are many, many poseurs out there. To be safe, go with an authentic made-in-Louisiana brand such as Savoie's (SAV-wahz), Poche's (PO-shays) or Richard's (REE-shards). Check your grocery first and if it doesn't carry the real thing you can easily order it through onlines such as Cajungrocer.com.

One last thing: the cooking of gumbo is not difficult but portions of the process are exacting and require very close attention, which can produce stress. To take the edge off, keep a bottle of good wine and a big glass close at hand.

The recipe:

1 cup vegetable oil

1 cup all-purpose flour

4 cups chopped onions

2 cups chopped green pepper

1 tb chopped garlic

2 cups chopped celery

1 chicken, boned and cut up

1 1/2 pounds andouille sausage

8 cups chicken stock

Creole/Cajun seasoning to taste

Prep the vegetables first and place them all together in a large bowl with the minced garlic. Cut the sausage in quarter-inch or less slices and, if desired, cut the slices into half-moons. You may opt to pre-cook the sausage by sautéing it in a pan. Cut the chicken meat into bite-size pieces. Have your oil and flour measured and ready to go.

Now comes the stressful part - making the roux (the flour and oil). Roux is the foundation for many Creole and Cajun dishes and can be easily ruined. Put a medium fire under your cast-iron pot and let it get properly heated. Pour in your measured oil and let it get hot. Now put in the flour and start stirring with a flat-bottomed wooden spoon (some folks use a metal whisk). You must keep up a constant, gentle stir. Resist all temptations to answer the phone, go to the bathroom, or let the dogs out. Don't worry about time, it is the color of the roux that is important. As the flour and oil cook the concoction will brown, slowly at first and then a bit faster. The shade of brown is up to your preference, but for gumbo many people prefer a darker roux. Keep stirring, making sure that the blade of your spoon covers every square inch of the bottom of that pot until the roux is about the color of milk chocolate, or a Spalding football. The process may take as much as a half-hour, so be patient (and drink some wine). If during its preparation dark flecks appear in the roux, it has burned and there is no salvation for it. Throw it out, clean out the pot, and start over. Otherwise, right away put in the chopped onions, bell pepper, celery, and garlic and continue stirring until the vegetables are tender. The onions, pepper and celery are referred to in Louisiana as the "Holy Trinity" because they are essential to so many dishes.

Now add the sautéed chicken and sausage into the mix and stir it all up. A beautiful aroma should now be wafting up from the pot. Gradually add 8 cups of chicken stock and once again give it all a good stir. Bring it all to a boil, knock the heat down to a simmer, cover that pot and let it rock and roll for an hour or more. You've done your job, now let that cast iron do its job. Go sit comfortably and have another glass of wine.

After the gumbo has cooked a while go taste it. Andouille is a spicy sausage and some folks don't add any additional seasoning. But if you want a bit more of a kick add a tablespoon of Creole/Cajun seasoning such as Tony Chacherie's (available at many national grocery chains), Zatarain's or Poppa Earle's. If in a while it still isn't hot enough for your tastes, add more. But be careful - once too hot it's gonna have to stay that way.

Before serving, cook a generous portion of long-grain white rice. To serve, spoon out some rice into individual bowls and ladle on the finished gumbo. Serve with a good, crusty French baguette and butter. Leftover gumbo can be stored in the fridge or even the freezer and is somehow even better after storage.

Note 1: If you feel overly concerned about making a good roux, don't fret. Decent store-bought roux is available. Some folks think this is cheating but the stuff in jars is not bad at all. If you can't find it locally, order online.

Note 2: An almost essential ingredient in traditional gumbo is okra. Since okra is seasonal it can certainly be omitted. Those who view okra as hairy slugs have never tried it in gumbo. If you can get your hands on fresh okra, get enough to make a couple of cups, chopped. Just chop each okra into quarter-inch pieces and discard the cap. Put it in the gumbo before the liquid starts to boil and let it ride. The okra will thicken the gumbo and add a delicious taste. Do not use frozen okra. It's nasty.

Note 3: If that glass of wine you poured a half-hour ago has gone room temperature and you don't want to drink it, pour it into the gumbo! It adds a lovely depth to the flavor.

Georgia’s acclaimed folk artist Olivia Thomason’s one-of-a-kind painting captures the color, aromas and fun of college football tailgating featuring SEC, ACC teams plus Notre Dame and Ohio State.

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Veteran journalist, editor and publisher (Nationwide News), and published author specializing in food, wine, drinks, visual and performing arts, travel and cultural tourism. Currently writing a screenplay, "Requiem for a Wine Taster."

Stone Mountain, GA
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