Ask G&G

What’s in Your Gumbo?

A Southern take on some of life’s thornier food issues

Photo: Britt Spencer

Q. We were making gumbo and had a big kitchen argument about gumbo filé, which then became an argument about okra. The G&G position, please, on both ingredients.

First off, you could lose limbs in a gumbo debate around certain parts of Mobile Bay and South Louisiana, so be careful where and with whom you are arguing and cooking. I have a running decades-long argument with my mother about it. In recent years we’ve ceased the wordplay and now just carry out the argument at the stove. Whoever gets to the kitchen first gets his or her recipe in the pot, declares primacy, and forces the other to eat it for several days. Which is not a very nice way to act in your momma’s kitchen, but this supersedes blood ties.

You hit on two of the  schools of gumbo thought. But! There are actually three schools. Gumbo filé, or powdered sassafras, is a thickening spice that the French picked up from the Mobile tribes in the late 1600s. My momma has a big box of filé in her cabinet. I eschew it. Okra arrived on the slave ships  and is the calling card of the second gumbo school. My momma likes that, too, but it’s a little too much masking of flavor for me. The third, somewhat heretical, school of thought is: neither. The better Gulf chefs of my acquaintance intensify the stock and let the roux perform as the thickening agent. There is a glorious clarity to a non-filé, non-okra-ridden gumbo. It lets the duck, or the crawfish, or  the crab shine through.


Q. We need a good gin recipe from what we’re sure is the deep bartender’s compendium at Ask G&G.

Summertime screams for citrus, and the best quaffable summer citrus is lime, hands down. We’re currently rocking the cool/retro gin gimlet at our parties, five (or six) parts gin to one part Rose’s lime juice, plus half a fresh lime to cut the sugar in the Rose’s down to size. Rose’s is fundamentally a simple syrup, so no heavy hand. You want your palate chasing the Rose’s, not being poleaxed by it.


Q. Quail: breaded, dusted, sauced to death—basically, what the hell?

We shouldn’t hide what we shoot from ourselves, especially not after we bring it into the kitchen. I think our mid-twentieth-century chefs secretly bore the noble little beast some ill will, with their resolute practice of “un-gaming” the taste by applying thick blankets of flour and/or cream. We ate quail in a sort of milky glue. More recently, our better trailblazing game chefs—Fergus “Nose-to-Tail” Henderson in London, Frank Stitt in Birmingham—revived the older practice of placing the dark, rich flavors of the game to the fore. Hence the application of wine, rosemary, even citrus in the roasting pan. Try stuffing a dozen quail with lemon slices and rosemary, or greengage plums, then drop some wine on them. When the breasts are pink, pull them out and deglaze on the stove top. Toss the birds back into the sauce, and garnish with some fresh rosemary. Henderson serves his woodcock rare, an amazing treat.