I realized I was near Dooky Chase, the legendary restaurant known for fried chicken and civil rights organizing. I stopped to get some of that famous chicken to go, but when I saw gumbo z’herbes on the specials board, I knew it was my lucky day. The gumbo is only served once a year.
Made with a garden’s worth of leafy greens, gumbo z’herbes likely comes from the Lenten dictate for meatless Fridays, but the most well-known version is full of porky goodness. It’s the hearty gumbo served at Dooky Chase, but only on Maundy or Holy Thursday. They say it’s meant to fill you up so you’re not so hungry the next day, Good Friday. The number of greens used carries both secular and religious baggage, nine varieties to represent the number of churches the faithful visit, or a new friend in the coming year for every different type. And the number should always be an odd one.
I think it tastes too good to eat just once a year, but it is a production. As they say in Louisiana: First you make a roux. Gumbo like this gets a lot of flavor from the dark roux, and the easiest way to make it without constant stirring is using the oven. It also eliminates the very real possibility of burning the roux or yourself. They don’t call Cajun napalm for nothing.
While the roux cooks, chunks of pork and smoky sausage simmer to make a flavorful stock. Our version uses five different greens that cook in the same broth until they’re very soft, then they’re blitzed in the food processor. The classic Gulf coast trinity of onion, celery, and bell pepper soften in the roux before everything comes together, preferably in a cast iron pot. Serve the gumbo in a big bowl with a scoop of rice and have a bottle of Crystal hot sauce ready.
For the shopping list
pork shoulder, cut in 2 inch pieces and salted
smoked sausage, cut into 1 inch pieces
flat leaf parsley
stalks celery, chopped
green bell pepper, chopped
black peppercorns, crushed
From the kitchen
8-10" Cast Iron Skillet or Baking Dish
Large Pan or Dutch Oven
Preheat oven to 350F.
In an 8-10 inch cast iron skillet or baking dish, stir 1/2 cup flour and 1/3 cup olive oil together. Bake until the color of dark chocolate, from 90 minutes to 2 hours. Set aside
Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large pan or Dutch oven and brown the pork lightly. Add the sausage and let brown, then add 4 quarts broth along with a good pinch or two of salt, reduce heat, cover, and simmer until very tender, about 45 minutes. Remove the meat from the broth and set aside.
Chop greens coarsely and add to the broth. Bring the pot to a boil, reduce heat, cover, and until very soft, about 30 minutes. Use tongs and a slotted spoon to remove the greens, saving the broth. Blitz the greens until chopped very fine in a food processor, then add back to the stock.
Heat the roux over a medium flame, being careful not to let it burn. Add the onion, celery, bell pepper, and cook until soft, about 20 minutes.
Combine the cooked meat, roux and vegetables, and the greens with the broth. Add more water or stock, it should be more soup-like. Taste, add salt and pepper as needed, and simmer for at least 30 minutes. Serve with rice and Crystal hot sauce.