Our family's big meal--the one that we cook two or three times per year and spend lots of money on--is gumbo. We were thinking of serving gumbo for Christmas dinner, but we decided to have friends over tonight for gumbo.
For those who do not know, gumbo is often described as a spicy soup. Mathematically speaking, the gumbo space is partitioned into creole and cajun gumbos, as well as into seafood and non-seafood gumbos.
We make cajun non-seafood gumbo, but I like some of the other stuff, too. Creole gumbo is sort of a tomatoee spicy soup. Cajun gumbo is more like a spicy gravy soup.
Seafood gumbo starts with seafood stock--made by boiling shrimp or shrimp shells or some such. Cajun gumbo is made in chicken stock.
A good cajun (non-seafood) gumbo is dark brown or black with lots of little pieces (maybe 1/4 inch dice) of chicken and spicy sausage (preferably andoullie (pronounced ahn-DU-ee)). I have been served this stuff in the best restaurants in New Orleans, but I have never had any that surpassed mine. A few have matched mine, though. The best cooks use a recipe similar or identical to mine.
Here is how I make it. (Don't worry, this is not exactly a recipe. It is cultural theater.)
Rub some chicken with cayenne pepper, garlic powder, and salt, then flour it, and fry it. Heat oil in a cast iron skillet, then add an equal part of flour and cook that over high heat, stiring constantly. The flour will brown and turn nearly black. Just before the flour burns, pour in diced (I prefer pureed) fresh onion, bell pepper, and celery (known as "the trinity" in southern cooking). Continue cooking over high heat. I cook this stuff until the oil starts to separate from the mixture.
Drop this goo, called a roux (pronounced roo), into boiling chicken broth. Add diced sausage and a bit of fresh minced garlic. Simmer for 45 minutes. Add diced fried chicken and serve over rice.
Cooking gumbo takes about three hours. I once sold gumbo as a fund raiser for my son's cub scout pack. My dad and I took an entire day to make seventeen gallons of gumbo. We sold it for an exhorbitant price and made about three hundred dollars profit for the scouts. We cooked it outdoors on two butane cookers. The hard part was making all that roux in the cast-iron skillet. I stood at the stove for three hours. I was wrung out. Everybody raved about it, but I never got to taste it, since it all sold.