Megan Braden-Perry Teaches You About Gumbo
Gumbo is easily one of the signature dishes of New Orleans, for home cooks and restaurants alike. Everyone has their favorite recipe or their favorite type, as well as their favorite add on (rice or potato salad).
I’ve eaten plenty of gumbo before and since I moved here, and I’ve previously taken gumbo cooking classes, so I know a little about it.
But there is someone who knows much more about it than I do. Writer Megan Braden-Perry wrote a definitive article for Bon Appetit this week about the eight best bowls of gumbo in New Orleans - some at elegant restaurants, some at walk up storefronts.
She and I met up on Tuesday, and many laughs ensued. Megan is a fashionista (she wore gold cowboy boots to lunch), calls everyone “Bebe” and also has the deep roots to assess the city’s best versions of this iconic dish.
Let me back up a second. For those who aren’t familiar with it, gumbo is thicker than a soup, less dense than a stew, although many are rich with ingredients. It may or may not start with a roux, a mixture of oil and flour that is cooked to a rich dark color (some recipes skip it). A thickener, such as okra or file powder, is a key element.
Chicken and sausage or seafood are the most common types of gumbo, although you can include just about any protein. I have not seen tofu gumbo, however, I think it might disintegrate unless it was incorporated at the very end like shakshuka. Gumbo may be served with a scoop of rice or one of potato salad, the latter being more popular in Cajun country.
The way you make gumbo or the kind you prefer depends on your upbringing. “I’ve been eating it since I was a bald-headed baby with only two teeth and I’ve been making it since I was 18,” wrote Megan, who hails from the Seventh Ward of New Orleans.
“One thing I learned from interviewing chefs across the city as I put this list together is that pretty much every chef’s gumbo exemplar is the one they ate growing up.”
As she noted in her story, gumbo is one topic in New Orleans that is certain to launch a conversation. If you want to laugh until you cry, watch this TikTok, sent to me by Ina Pinkney.
Said Frank Brigtsen, the chef-owner of beloved restaurant Brigtsen’s. “Of all the dishes in Louisiana, gumbo really stands out as unique and identifies us as Louisiana people.”
A cooking secret
Frank’s gumbo is among the eight on Megan’s list, and he shared a tip that we agreed was vital to a great gumbo. After you make your roux, set it aside to cool. By doing so, that allows any residual oil to rise to the top, where it can easily be skimmed away. Frank also believes in layering flavors, something I was taught, rather than dumping in all the vegetables or all the proteins simultaneously like the guy in the video.
If you have ever tasted gumbo that seemed sort of bland, it’s probably because everything cooked at once. But different ingredients cook at different speeds, and if you add seafood too soon, its contribution just disintegrates.
Megan’s story is full of her observations and her list includes places for all culinary comfort levels and prices.
I laughed out loud to see that she featured Broad & Banks Seafood, a no-frills corner market in Mid City. I have been going there for several years, on the recommendation of a chef I met in a bar. (If that is not a New Orleans sentence, nothing is.)
Their gumbo has a distinct Vietnamese flavor, reflecting owner Ken Nyugen’s heritage. “I put every kind of meat in there,” he told Megan. “Back in Vietnam, we didn’t have much, so now that I’m in America and we have so much to eat, I include a lot.”
Gumbos that I have eaten at places on the list include Gabrielle’s, Lil’ Dizzy’s and Dooky Chase’s. You will want to book mark her article and sample some when you visit. For my local friends, there are a few on here I have not tried. When are we going?
Italian Chefs Visit South Korea
I hadn’t checked in for while with my favorite streaming series, Welcome! First Time In Korea? Last week I looked up the episodes that have run in 2023, and got a wonderful treat.
Four episodes feature a trio of chefs from Italy whose restaurants all have Michelin stars. If you have ever wondered what it would be like to take a culinary tour with top chefs, these episodes show you what it would be like.
Before leaving Italy, the chefs made a long list of things they wanted to eat and places they wanted to eat. From the moment they arrive, these gentlemen are there to dine and get ideas to take home.
They go to seafood markets, dine at outstanding looking restaurants and ask numerous questions. They get a step by step tutorial in making kimchi that’s as complete as a cook could wish. I’ve watched these episodes twice and they are a terrific education. There are English subtitles, and the chefs speak in a mix of English and Italian, plus make an effort to learn some Korean.
Apparently, the final of the four episodes was the highest rated program in its time slot on Korean TV that week. The Italian chefs are bound to be back, echoing the Finnish friends who are so beloved by the show’s audience.
Our Next Giveaway: Plant-Based On A Budget
Food prices have soared the past couple of years, due to the pandemic and related supply chain issues. At the same time, a number of people changed their eating habits to cut out costly proteins, only to wonder how to adapt their cooking skills.
Our next giveaway is a new cookbook useful for just about anyone. It is Plant-Based on a Budget: Quick and Easy by Toni Okamoto, who has a popular blog, website and podcast on the same theme. Her cookbook went on sale last week, and is already the number one seller in vegan cookbooks on Amazon.
Her book offers 100 recipes that “show how easy and affordable it is to cook decadently without meat, eggs, or dairy.” Along with dishes that stretch from breakfast to snacks, Toni also offers a series of tips for getting the most out of groceries, and avoiding food waste.
I have one copy as a premium for our paid subscribers. The winner will receive it directly from the publisher. Current paid subscribers are automatically eligible, and you can upgrade and join the contest by clicking here.
Especially with spring approaching, it’s a good time to make use of the fresh produce we’ll see in farmer’s markets and farm share boxes. Toni’s cookbook is perfect for that and you can expect to save money, too.
Keeping Up With CulinaryWoman
I have a drawer in my kitchen that’s primarily devoted to parchment paper. Last week, I got to write about my parchment obsession for The Takeout. Be sure to read my own money-saving parchment tips.
Just a reminder of my next book appearance two weeks from today at the Southern Food and Beverage Museum here in New Orleans. I’ll join a variety of other authors on March 26 from 1 pm to 5 pm. I would love to meet newsletter readers and sign copies of Satisfaction Guaranteed.
You can reach me at culinarywoman at gmail dot com. Follow my New Orleans adventures on Instagram at micki_in_nola and my overall impressions at michelinemaynard.
I hope all my friends up north are dealing with the aftermath of the snowstorms, and that you are healthy.
I’ll see paid subscribers tomorrow for Red Beans and Advice, and free subscribers back here next week. Stay well!
That video is priceless!