“Ye who believe in affection that hopes and endures, and is patient,
Ye who believe in the beauty and strength of woman’s devotion,
List to the mournful tradition still sung by the pines of the forest;
List to a tale of love in Acadia, home of the happy.”
Those lines were written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow – from the prologue to his epic poem Evangeline. It is a hauntingly romantic tale of the French settlers that were driven out of Nova Scotia in the mid-1700’s. Friends and families were separated as were Evangeline and her intended. The bulk of the poem describes their traumatic search for each other. I shall not tell you more because if you have not read it, you will want to experience it for yourself. Most of the Acadians traveled down the Mississippi and settled in the delta regions of that great river. Today we call them Cajuns.
These twice transplanted French homemakers reharmonized their cooking with the culinary ideas of their Spanish, African and Choctaw neighbors. They rewrote the bass line with local produce, meat and sea food and created a distinctive culinary song that is admired by all who love good food.
Today we are going to create one of their specialties – Shrimp Gumbo. Gumbos and Jambalayas are similar and both can be made with almost identical ingredients. The difference is in the liquid. A jambalaya is relatively dry because the rice is cooked with the meat and vegetables and the rice absorbs the sauce. Like a pilaf, it is eaten with a fork. Gumbos are eaten with a spoon because the rice is cooked separately, then the meat and vegetables with their sauce is poured over the cooked rice. It is more like a stew.
I have been doing this recipe for years, and it has gone through many revisions and may not be strictly authentic. Nevertheless, for me, it still congers up visions of swamps with Cyprus trees draped in Spanish moss, and in my mind, I catch a glimpse of Evangeline and her family in a flat bottomed pirogue searching for her beloved.
You will need:
1 lb. Raw Unshelled Shrimp 2 cups Fish Stock (This is is the water that you cooked the shrimp in, or a combination of that water and clam juice.
½ to 1 cup of other meat (This could be: fish crab, crayfish, sausage, ham or chicken.
1 small green Bell Pepper 1-8 oz. can of Tomato Sauce
½ Yellow Onion 1 tsp. Cayenne Pepper
1 Rib of Celery 1 tsp. Paprika
1 cup of Cut Okra 1 tsp. Tabasco sauce
2 Green Onions 1 tsp Salt
3 Tbs. Canola Oil 2 cups Cooked Rice
3 Tbs. A.P. Flour
1. Chop (mince) the green bell pepper, onion and celery.
2. If you are using fresh okra chop it into ½ inch pieces. Both canned and frozen okra works well in this recipe too. I once accidently picked up frozen breaded okra, but you wouldn’t do that. Would you?
3. Chop the green onions in ½ inch pieces. This is for the garnish.
4. Chop the secondary meat. Ideally, this should be something that you have left over. If you have no leftovers, buy a can of crab meat, (imitation crab will not work in this recipe.) or some Andouille (ahan-DOO-ee) sausage or a smoked sausage like Polish kielbasa or oysters or crayfish. If you are using ham, only use ½ cup because of its strong flavor.
1. Cook the rice. Simply follow the package directions.
2. Cook the Shrimp. Bring a large pot of water to boil. Add the shrimp and boil until they turn pink. If you are using uncooked secondary meat (like fish or chicken) you can throw it into the pot to cook with the shrimp. Watch the pot carefully so that it does not boil over. Shrimp has a tendency to do that. (If you are using Andouille sausage, you will need to sauté it.) When the shrimp are pink, remove them from the pot. Do not throw away the cooking water. When the shrimp are cool enough to handle, peel them. Do not throw away the shrimp shells. Throw them back into the pot and let them continue to simmer. They will enrich the fish stock.
3. In a large heavy bottomed pot make a roux with the canola oil and flour. If your flour is very dry, add another tablespoon of oil. Cook the roux over a medium heat until it is deep brown. As long as you do not use a heat higher than medium, it will not burn. Stir the roux continuously. Some Cajun cooks like to use a roux that is almost black, but brown is a sufficiently deep color unless you have a lot of experience with a dark roux.
4. When the roux has reached the desired color, throw in the vegetables. This stops the browning process and cooks the vegetables. Stir and cook for about two minutes. If you get a large clump of vegetables glued together with the roux, that’s all right. Just keep stirring.
5. Add your fish stock. That’s the water in which you cooked the shrimp. It is a nice flavor addition to use clam juice as a part of the stock, if you want. You can find small bottles of clam juice at your grocer where they display jars of oysters, and canned sardines and crab.
6. Stir in the can of tomato sauce.
7. Season the sauce with: 1 teaspoon of Cayenne pepper, 1 teaspoon of paprika, 1 teaspoon of Tabasco sauce and 1 teaspoon of salt. This will give you only a moderately piquant sauce. Later you can add more Tabasco sauce if you wish.
8. Add the shrimp and the secondary meat.
9. Let the gumbo simmer for twenty minutes.
10. If the gumbo gets too thick add more fish stock or water.
11. Taste and adjust the seasoning. More salt? More Tabasco? If you want to be really bold, add a teaspoon of red pepper flakes!
1. Divide the rice into the individual bowls, then ladle the gumbo over it.
2. Garnish each bowl with a sprinkling of chopped green onions.
3. Your whole meal is in the bowl, unless you want to make some pecan pralines for dessert.
4. To make the meal extra special, consider reading Evangeline to your family and friends after dinner.
Food for Thought: The One Who Seeks us
The Bible portrays Christ as a Good Shepherd who would go to the ends of the earth to find his lost sheep. C.S. Lewis experienced him as the Hound of Heaven. In the New Testament God presents Himself as the Lover desiring his Beloved, and in the New Testament the husband who loves his bride so much he is willing to give his life for her.
Evangeline could be a type of Christ, devoted eternally to seeking her lost love, remembering their blessed fellowship and yearning for its return.
Sometimes, carelessly, we allow ourselves to become enthralled with someone or something other than Christ. We gradually slip away from our Best Beloved to bow at other altars.
And He pursues us. Be careful, my love, you are beginning to think and talk about your current passion more than me. I know your art is important to you, and I would not take it from you because I know it gives you so much joy. But do you not remember the crystal-clear fun and laughter and companionship we once experienced?
I long for that fellowship again, dear one. I want you to miss me as much as I miss you. Your friends are like me, wanting to know why you’ve disappeared. You’re lost in something that consumes you, and it will bring trouble into your life. I am a jealous lover and will not cease to seek after you, wooing you until you’re back in the safety of my arms.
When we esteem the words of a friend more highly than the words of our Loving God, we distance ourselves from Him. But Christ is a faithful lover, there for us when we’re ready to return, when we’re ready for true Joy.
“The Lord will take great delight in you. He will quiet you with his love. He will rejoice over you with singing.”