I have been struggling to come up with something interesting for Thanksgiving this year. It’s a little extra memorable holiday because it is also my birthday, so an ordinary Thanksgiving table won’t do.
I thought about jambalaya or even making my mother’s recipe for cornbread (made with Original Grit Girl cornmeal, of course) and collard greens made with a delicious, fatty ham stock, or what about fried chicken, my all-time favorite? But no, nothing seemed right.
After a lot of false starts, I decided to make gumbo, but not my regular recipe of sausage and chicken. Remember, gumbo is the Coastal South’s most emblematic dish, representing many of the cultures that have passed thru here, from African to Spanish and French influence.
I love to tell the story of the lonely Frenchman who was missing his home in Marseille, where his father was a fisherman. He decided to make bouillabaisse, the famous seafood stew the fisherman made on the beach after the catch was sold, using the smaller fish no one wanted. He did the best he could, using what local ingredients he could find, and the result was the prototype gumbo.
I have taught many gumbo classes, and I always start by saying gumbo is not a recipe; it’s an opinion. There are so many different ways to make gumbo, and so many people are sure their recipe is right. Many of these recipes have been passed down from generation to generation, so according to many gumbo makers, no variation in the recipe is allowed. I say, give it a break! If the recipe calls for the holy trinity, has an excellent dark roux, and a bit of sausage, chicken, or seafood, it’s a gumbo.
So, my special Thanksgiving gumbo will be made with ham and turkey, the most popular main course of Thanksgiving. Four Bulls butcher shop in Ocean Springs has some beautiful smoked pork chops that I will use, and for the turkey, I will roast a thigh and leg or two. I’ve never made this gumbo recipe before, but I have my fingers crossed that it will be pretty darn good.
If you don’t have any place to go for Thanksgiving, bring a dish to the Ohr Museum around 4 pm on Thursday. It’s an entertaining crowd, to be sure!