Above: “You’re a cowboy, Je-emy,” said Tobey (left) when I tried on the cowboy hat that Melvin Croaker gave me as a Christmas gift last night. When I was his age, I dreamed of being a cowboy… Don’t all little boys?
According to the Oxford English Dictionary (online version), the word gumbo comes from the Angolan kingombò or quingombo, meaning okra.
Uncle Tim’s gumbo doesn’t have any okra in it, nor does he make it with seafood. But, man, is it delicious: Texas is the only place I’ve lived in the U.S.A. where folks are so passionate about the food they make and eat and where there exists (what I call) idiosyncratic cuisine, where every family (and seemingly every family member) has its own interpretation and expression of traditional dishes and recipes.
Above: You pour the gumbo over boiled short-grain rice (do not used parboiled rice) and then dress with potato salad (made with hard-boiled eggs).
Uncle Tim makes his gumbo as such:
- Prepare 2 gallons chicken stock using chicken thighs (discard the bones if necessary and shred and reserve the chicken meat). Prepare a roux using 2 cups flour and 2 cups vegetable oil (rendered lard was traditionally used), whisking constantly (about 45 minutes) until the flour has browned. Filter the roux using cheesecloth (or paper napkin) and reserve. Combine the roux and stock, add finely chopped yellow onions and green onions, and then add smoked sausage sliced in rounds, including the casing (Tim uses deer sausage, made from deer he hunts himself). Season to taste with Tony Chachere’s Creole seasoning (some use Tony Chachere filé, a powder made from finely ground sassafras leaves). Add the reserved chicken to the pot and simmer for 3 or 4 hours, as necessary, until the desired consistency is obtained. Serve over boiled rice, dressed with potato salad.
Above: Folks in coonass country all have their own idiosyncratic approach to making gumbo but one thing they all seem to agree on is Tony Chachere’s seasonings.
One of the keys to great gumbo, says Uncle Tim, is smoked sausage: the smokey notes, he explains, are what gives his gumbo its distinctive flavor. Be sure not to use Minute Rice (or any other parboiled rice): it will absorb and mask too much of the flavor, he says.
Tracie B and I paired with Luneau-Papin 2006 Muscadet Sèvre & Maine Clos des Allées: the intense aromatic nature of the grape and its bright acidity were great with the spiciness and moreish fattiness of the gumbo dressed with the potatoes, hard-boiled eggs, and mayonnaise in the potato salad.
Above: Uncle Tim and his dog Zsa Zsa. I asked Tim if her nails were painted red for Christmas but that’s her regular color, he said.
Beyond the excellent gumbo, the highlight of the evening for me was a special gift that Melvin and Pam Croaker gave me. You see, they’re very close friends of the B family and so they feel very close to Tracie B. Ever since Melvin got a Facebook, he’s been following my metamorphosis of Calfornian turned Texan (via Italy and New York).
Above: That’s me with Melvin. When we left at the end of the night, Aunt Ida Jean said, “we’ll see you tomorrow, Tex!”
At a certain point after dinner was served (they’d been serving gumbo at Tim and Ida Jean’s house since 2 p.m.), Melvin asked for the roughly 20 guests to join him in the living room and he sat me on the one side of him, Tracie B on the other.
“I’ve been following Jeremy’s transformation of becoming a Texan,” he told the room. “He’s found himself a beautiful Texan girl, he’s been learning about barbecue, and he’s even got himself a Texas driver’s license. But he’s still missing a few things.”
He then proceeded to give me a six-pack of Lonestar Beer: “Now, I want you to go analyze this the way you do with your wine,” he said. But most importantly, “you need to start dressing like a Texan. And so I got you this hat.” And then he proceeded to fulfill a childhood wish of mine: he gave me a real cowboy hat, a Justin “cutter straw western.”
Tracie B’s little nephew Tobey jumped up and exclaimed, “you’re a cowboy Je-emy!”
Thanks again, Melvin and Pam, for the generous and thoughtful gift and for welcoming me to Texas and the extended B family: I guess some dreams do come true on Christmas…