Survival feasting!!


Oct 8, 2004
It is cool and raining here today, so my thoughts turn toward a hearty, warming favorite food for super. Tonight it will be my own not-yet-world-famous Gumbo File' Ya Ya aux Cochon. It is an adaptation of Cajun with a touch of Creole and a bit of Olde South Soul food thrown in. I think it might fit here in that the recipe comes down from lean times where families made do with what was on hand, usually next to nothing. Creativity led to a blending of Choctaw, German, Acadian, French, Spanish, and several othe cuisines as families shared and learned from each other. Most ingrediants were either native to the area of the Gulf Coast swamps, bays, and bayous, or were easily grown traditional crops easily grown in the sultry conditions and rich black delts soils.

As far as the food in New Orleans, there is Cajun and then there is Creole. They're cousins, actually. Think of Cajun food as country food, exemplified by mostly 1-pot dishes. Red beans and rice, for instance, is always eaten on Mondays. This stems back to wash day in the country, which was an all-day affair with heating huge tubs of water and beating the clothes, hanging to dry and ironing on an old cast-iron iron which had to be heated by fire (before electricity) and then the clothes ironed without getting soot on them – not an easy task. Therefore, the women had to cook something that could be left unattended for hours. Red beans was it. If a ham bone (pork meat is the favorite meat of the Cajuns) would be left from Sunday’s dinner, and that would be used for the seasoning meat. Sauté the Holy Trinity (onions, green bell pepper and celery); don't forget the Pope (garlic); add beans and water about 2” over the beans and simmer for several hours adding water as necessary being careful never to let the water cook out of the beans. In New Orleans, we serve the beans over rice with a green salad and French bread. In the country, red beans and rice are eaten as a side dish with fried pork chops or chicken as the entree. Other Cajun dishes include jambalaya (similar to paella), sauce piquant (meat smothered in a highly seasoned tomato gravy eaten over rice), smothered steak and gravy, crawfish étouffée. Gumbo is also a favorite, and most people will tell you that Seafood Gumbo is the best – not the case. Seafood loses something when it is cooked in a roux (another Cajun/Creole method – simply equal amounts of flour and fat cooked together by stirring over a very low heat for a looooooong time, stirring constantly, until it is a rich golden brown). The very best gumbo is Chicken and Andouille Sausage Gumbo with Okra (used as a thickener, probably derived from the Africans) and Filé (another thickener). It doesn’t get any better than that. Gumbo was originated to stretch the food budget by making a little meat go a long way.

Creole food is seen as city food. New Orleans has a diverse culture, and the foods reflect the native Choctaw Indians (they gave us filé, which is ground sassafras leaves used to season/thicken gumbo, the Spanish culture (they once governed the city), the French influence, of course, Italians, Africans, Germans (lots of meats and sausages), etc.

And among the best sausages are boudin, and andouille. Mmmm... just thinking about them brings back memories of little towns like Ville Platt, Opelousas. Breaux Bridge, Broussard, and Mamou where every small store including gas stations have signs "HOT BOUDIN".. Meat markets present a tapestry of offerings quite familiar to the residents, but oh so alien to outsiders. Goat, alligator tail, coon, odd pork cuts like cracklins and a delightful mix of fresh water and saltwater crabs, shrimp, crawfish, oysters and yes, even fish. Fresh locally grown and milled spices too, some blended into secret concoctions promising to be the best ever to grace a pot.

My own gumbo recipe does not use a traditional roux (equal parts fat and flour slow browned in a skillet for use as a thickening), since I use okra and file' powder for thickening. Several cups of rice are set to boil, with my own spice mixture added. Some cayanne pepper, not too much, a bit of bay, salt, fresh ground black and white peppercorns, six herbs finly ground. A touch of butter to the pot helps control the tendency to boil over. Then as the rice is nearly done, I begin adding meats. This is where creativity pays off. There is no set meat type for my gumbo. This time it will be hot sausage (boudin) quail (perdrix), wild duck breast (cunard sauvages), venison (chevreuil), and the pork (cochon) that gives it a smokey flavor. I get this delecacy free from a local BBQ house. It is the "crust" or "rind" trimmed from their hickory smoked pork shoulder. First, I slow render the cochon in a cast iron skillet to get the lard (I usually cook with olive oil, but not gumbo). Then I add a sizable slice to the spiced rice pot. Next, I pull the bits of good lean meat from the trimmings and dump it in the pot. The lard is used to saute' fine diced bell peppers, bananna peppers, celery, and onions (three kinds), then they are added to the pot, and the other meats are browned, drained, and added. The seafood (oysters, shrimp and crab meat) and whole baby okra are added as the rice and meats are nearly cooks. Overcooking seafood is a sin. The last ingredient added is the file', just enough to flavor and thicken. SOmetimes if the okra isn't done at this point, I add more water. File' works fast and you don't want the finished gumbo too thick. Add a side order of crawfish or shrimp, boiled and chilled, some sourdough bread or rolls, and eat bowl after bowl! Depending on the meats, I can feed folks for about $1 a bowl. It takes a big appitite to eat four bowls.

Mmmm sounds good to me. Maybe a little Zydeco in the background. Love the food and the music.
Good Lord, Codger, that was wonderful to read. You got me heading to the kitchen looking for something, anything :)
That right thar sounds like a mighty fine dish!

Thanks! I might just have to head to the store and see about making that next week at the firehouse!
Thanks. FIrst time in the saddle, we want to be gentle with you, lest you become horse shy. When you go to the store, look for Zatarains New Orleans Style Gumbo Mix. It is in a 4x6" box and contains everything but the meats, seafood, and fresh vegetables. COnsider usinf hot Italian sausage if you can't find Cajun. Slice it and quarter it before sauteing. This is a very good base mix to start with. Just use your imagination from there. BTW, I like to stretch the recipe by adding extra rice and water. Add a dash of Cajun seasoning blende if you like it hotter. And remember that blackened grouper or snapper is great with gumbo. Just plan on doing the blackening outside. The blackening spice, if used right, sets up a cloud like tear gas in the kitchen. Zatarains makes the blackening spice as well.

Sounds great Codger. What time do you want us over there?

I'd never heard of file' powder before. I little googling turned up that its powdered sassafras leaves. I've always liked their smell, but had no idea they could be made into a condiment. Now I can't wait for summer so I can try making my own. Thanks!
The powdered leaves, file', can be found in the spice section of a lot of better food stores too. And online as well. There are times when I will use a few fresh leaves in a dish and remove them like you do a bay leaf after cooking. They just keep and blend better dried and powdered.
Yeah I could probably survive a while on that. I make a pretty mean gumbo myself and catfish stew too.

I survived and fed my wife and son for a couple of years eating a lot of rice, beans, spices and wild meat, fish, fur and fowl, if you have a few basic things you can stretch a loooooong way. Chris