Gumbo at Dooky Chase (Photo: Joshua Brasted)
When discussing gumbo, every New Orleanian can agree on one thing: the very best bowl is served out of his or her own mother’s kitchen. Fortunately, chefs on almost every street in the city are kind enough to dish out their own lovingly crafted batch for any soul food enthusiast to enjoy. The fierce pride and the undeniable joy that goes into an authentic pot of gumbo makes for a tradition as rich as the stew itself.
A traditional Creole dish that probably emerged sometime in the 19th century, gumbo brings together many of the different culinary cultures that shaped South Louisiana. These have simmered down through the centuries into the spicy, smoky stew over rice that has us scraping the bottom of our bowls today. There is much contention over the exact recipe for a perfect pot — for instance, many Southern cooks have been in at least one heated debate regarding whether filé (ground sassafras) or okra is the better gumbo thickener. Luckily, this difference of opinions only serves to produce a variety of delectable results catering to practically any palate.
Almost any southern restaurant in the city will have its own take on gumbo, from the traditional to the more adventurous. Here are some standouts in the various styles of gumbo you may come across, but don’t be afraid to explore the nooks in the New Orleans culinary landscape and let your taste buds be your guide.
Chicken and Andouille Sausage Gumbo
This is one of the most widely served varieties of gumbo, and for good reason. The savor of browned chicken coupled with the unique zing of andouille sausage takes the chill off winter months and keeps diners coming back for more.
Where to find it: Herbsaint has an elegant yet hearty rotating menu of gumbos, but keep an eye out for for their luxurious chicken and andouille feature.
It seems only natural to combine the area’s unrelenting adoration of seafood with the piquant stock of its beloved gumbo. Thanks to the bounty of the nearby Gulf of Mexico, seafood gumbo (featuring some combination usually including shrimp, crab and even oysters) is always popular, but demand spikes during the Lenten season, when many Louisiana Catholics abstain from meat.
Where to find it: Perennial Mid-City favorite Mandina’s is known for serving up a thick gumbo of shrimp, crab and okra that seafood lovers dream about.
Made from a variety of greens such as turnip, mustard and collard, instead of meats, gumbo z’herbes is a rare but delightful find in modern restaurants. Lovers of leafy vegetables should be sure to jump at the chance to order this traditional green-stock variation when they come across it.
Where to find it: At Dooky Chase’s, a soul food gem in the historic Tremé neighborhood, Miss Leah Chase has been serving up her family recipe for gumbo z’herbes for over 50 years.