Meridian Star

February 3, 2013

Stirring the gumbo

By Terri Ferguson Smith /
The Meridian Star

MERIDIAN —     Ask any cook the secret to good gumbo and you'll get the same answer.

    "The roux. If you don't get the roux right, then everything else doesn't matter," said Pearl Smith of the Back Porch Gumbo team.

    "A good roux," said  Michael Lamoreaux of the Okra Ridge Boys team."    

    You've got to start out with a good roux," said Mark McKee of the Oil Field Roux Krewe.

    All three of the aforementioned gumbo teams competed Saturday in a gumbo contest as part of Meridian Mardi Gras.

    Smith said she's been cooking gumbo for about four years. Gumbo enthusiasts know what they want, she said.

    "They want it thick. They want a lot of seafood. It's the layering of the flavors that makes the difference," Smith said. "We don't use any water. Everything in here has either some sort of stock or a base to it. They look for a lot of content, a lot of meat. They don't like it soupy."

    The Back Porch Gumbo team uses file, a spice made of ground sassafras and favored by Choctaw Indians.

    At the cooking tent just down from Back Porch was Lamoreaux and his Okra Ridge Boys team. As their team name implies, they favor the okra approach. It thickens the gumbo, he said.

    "It's a good heartwarming meal," Lamoreaux said. "It's something satisfying."

    He has cooked gumbo for many years, but Saturday was his first competition.

    "Okra is an African word for gumbo," said fellow team member Aaron Hale. "You can expect a lot of okra in it. It's inexpensive and it fills it out."

    McKee of  Oil Field Roux Krewe, explained for the uninitiated the basics of roux. Roux is a mixture of equal parts oil and flour cooked into a dark-colored, rich gravy.

    "You've got to start out with a flour and an oil base. That's what our slogan is on our team. We're the Oil Field Roux Krewe and we say, every good roux starts with a little oil."

    McKee has been cooking gumbo for about 30 years and many people enjoy his gumbo.

    "They expect a deep rich Cajun flavor with a lot of meat, a lot of vegetables and a lot of seafood in it," he said.

    McKee said he enjoys the event each year.

    "It's good clean entertainment," McKee said. "We have a great time here."

    A cancer survivor, McKee said whatever he makes from gumbo goes to the American Cancer Society's Relay for LIfe.

    "I'm a five-year cancer survivor," McKee said. "I always went to Relay for LIfe, but it means more to me now that I've seen what they do to help people."