Those that have read any of my New Orleans short stories know that Bertram Picou is the owner of an eclectic little bar on Chartres Street, in the French Quarter. He cooks some of the world’s best gumbo and always has a pot simmering in back for his regular customers.
Everyone in New Orleans makes gumbo, some tasting better than others. The best gumbo is like ambrosia, a gift from heaven itself. It’s now made all over the world but one thing is sure. You’ll never find better gumbo anywhere in the world that tastes as good as the worst gumbo from New Orleans.
Some say that Bertram’s gumbo is the best in the Big Easy. Don’t believe me? Next time you’re in the French Quarter, stop by his place and give it a try. The bar’s a little hard to find, but keep looking. Below is Bertram’s recipe, told in his own words.
Bertram Picou’s Mama's Gumbo
"First thing is make the roux. Pour some oil in your big cast iron skillet and put it on the fire, medium heat. Add some flour and start stirring. Whatever you do, don’t leave the stove, even to chase Ol’ Shep, until the roux cooks to a pleasing shade of brown, maybe a little darker if you’re taste buds are more Cajun than most. Be careful now. Don’t burn that roux cause it’s the most important part of the gumbo! If it starts to smoke and curdle up, you done screwed up! Throw it out and start over.
Once you got the roux done, its time to make the gumbo. My Mama throws in crawfish, shrimp, chicken, sausage, squirrel, deer, or even fish. "Whatever floats your boat," she used to say.
Fill up your big stock pot with water and set it on the stove. Get it to boiling then add the roux. Mama always uses four tablespoons, more or less, depending on the weather, how dark she had let it cook, and how she feels that particular day. Good cooks don’t read recipes. They just sense how something ought to taste. However many tablespoons she used, her gumbo always tasted damn good!
Keep stirring until the roux and water are mixed, then add a couple of chopped onions, a chopped bell pepper, six minced garlic cloves and your chicken, seafood, or whatever. This is where it gets tricky. You need to add salt, cayenne and black pepper and this must be done to taste. Using too much, or not enough, can make or break the gumbo and, unfortunately, practice is the only way to learn how. You’ll have to do this yourself cause Mama can’t go to everyone’s house.
Cook the gumbo on a medium hot flame and keep stirring until everything starts getting tender. Don’t put a lid on the pot.
Finally, boil up your rice to perfection (just about the hardest thing in the world to get right, but that’s another story). Add parsley and scallions to the gumbo, and, if you like, a little file, then ladle it on the rice and enjoy!"