Gumbo Des Herbes

Or as they call it colloquially, “Gumbo Z’herbes” or just green gumbo.  Sure, it’s the Friday before Superbowl Sunday and we would normally be serving up a recipe for your game day snacking: something like our bourbon shrimp pops, crab stuffed mushroom caps, jalapeno poppers or — if the Saints were playing — oysters rocketfeller or shrimp remoulade.  But they aren’t; neither are Pirate Caroline’s Vikings. So you get the point … this is a protest post.  

You think I jest?  I had long ago written “Korean fire chicken” in my calendar for today. Great game food, maybe we’ll bring it for the Louis Vuitton Cup races this time next year.

Gumbo Des Herbes

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1 bunch mustard greens
1 bunch collard greens
1 bunch turnip greens
1 bunch watercress
1 bunch beet tops
1 bunch carrot tops
1/2 head  lettuce
1/2 head cabbage
1 bunch spinach
3 cups diced onions
1 cup diced celery
1 cup diced bell peppers
1/4 cup minced garlic
2 gallons water
5 tablespoons flour
1 pound smoked sausage
1 pound smoked ham
1 pound brisket or pork butt, cubed
1 pound beef stew meat
1/2 teaspoon thyme leaves
salt and cayenne pepper  to taste
1 tablespoon file powder
cooked white rice, to serve (optional)

Someday, I’m going to look back at the progression of the past few weeks’ posts and wonder what I was thinking with the lack of variety.  Then I will remember that I had a ridiculous surplus crop of every kind of green imaginable (even radish tops are edible…did you know that?)  I’ve been whittling away at it with “anything plus greens” meals, but now it’s time to bring out the big guns; Leah Chase the Queen of Creole Cooking is best known for this dish locally and I’ve riffed off her recipe, using the greens I have (described below–the list above is Ms. Chase’s) and cutting her recipe in half, since the quantity of greens she called for would easily fill a spinnaker bag and there’s no way I can repeatedly strain two gallons of water in my little galley!

I had the mustard, collards, spinach and lettuce, but reasoned that bok choy works as cabbage, radish tops are remotely close to beet tops, arugula for watercress, and then a bunch of chard, chicory, parsley and a bit of cilantro would have to take the place of turnip and carrot tops.  Wash all your greens well to get rid of any grit — I was cooking in the slip today, so just washed them under the hose on the dock; got a few strange looks, but honestly most of our marina neighbors have gotten used to Galley Pirates being up to something!

Roughly chop or tear all the greens and put them in your biggest pot, along with the water.  Again, this is HALF Ms. Chase’s recipe and those greens are PACKED into the pot.  I have no idea how she does the full recipe!  Bring to a boil.  I have to admit, when I first looked at this recipe I had my doubts — the ingredients list looked great, the Holy Trinity of seasoning vegetables is there … but then you don’t make a roux?  You boil everything, vegetables, meats, everything?  But you don’t argue with the queen … she has a plaque in her honor in the New Orleans airport!

While the water is coming up to temperature, chop your onion, celery, green pepper, garlic (you have to love a recipe that measures garlic not by the clove or teaspoon-full but by the cup) — and I threw in a couple of jalapenos because the were hanging around and why not?  I just cut back on the cayenne at seasoning time.

Add the seasoning vegetables to the greens — if the water is starting toward boiling, it will have collapsed the greens enough that you can shove the rest of the vegetables in.  Simmer the whole thing for 30 minutes, stirring to distribute bottom to top.

This is where the recipe gets more Louisiana and less California — add a couple pounds of meat!  Cut the meats into bite-sized chunks.  I used country pork ribs in place of pork butt, and went with 12 ounces of smoked sausage because that’s what gumbo is about, for me.

Ms. Chase now has you strain the greens, reserving the cooking water.  That seemed a bit cumbersome for my little galley, so I improvised, lifting them out with a slotted spoon into a colander in a bowl and dumping the liquid that accumulated in the bowl back into the pot.  Add the meats to the pot, return to a boil, then simmer for 30 minutes.

Get your hand-cranked food processor out and get to work in batches, pureeing the greens as best you can.  This probably doesn’t meet the definition of “puree” but it turned out delicious, so I wouldn’t work any harder!

Once all the greens are pureed, sprinkle with the flour and stir it in well.

Drain the meats, reserving the cooking liquid.  This is where I started to understand how Ms. Chase’s boiling method might work — look at the color of the “water” we started with.  First the greens and then the meat have turned it into a luscious broth with layers of flavor.

Return the greens and meats to the empty pot and add enough of the broth to make a soupy consistency.  Season with thyme, and salt and cayenne pepper to taste.  Simmer for about 45 minutes, adding more liquid to maintain the consistency and volume, and stirring occasionally to keep the greens from sticking.  Add the file powder and adjust the salt and pepper, then serve over rice or with french bread.  What Superbowl?  I was busy stripping collards….

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