During Acadiana’s winter gumbo season, it’s not uncommon to get party invitations that sound something like: “Come on over Saturday. I’m making a gumbo.” Making a gumbo, in this sense, is less about simmering seafood, chicken, or sausage in a roux-thickened stock, as it is spending an evening with loved ones. The warm company of close friends and an ice chest of cold beer are essential ingredients to these gumbo recipes, as folks gather while the gumbo is still bubbling away gently in the pot, hours from being ladled into eager bowls.
For some locals, like self-described “Freelance Cajun” Jo Vidrine, the gumbo communion begins long before the onions, bell peppers, and celery are chopped into the trinity. Jo and his comrades begin their gumbos with a 3:30 AM wake-up call to hunt wood duck around the village of Estherwood, thirty-five miles due west of Lafayette. You could look at it as the first in a five-step recipe for a twenty-four hour duck and sausage gumbo. First, hunt your limit of wild wood duck. Second, pluck and clean the fowl. Third, nap. Fourth, cook gumbo. Fifth, dance the night away.
Wild wood duck, Jo muses, is what separates his duck and sausage gumbo from the sort you find in Lafayette’s restaurants. It’s something you literally can’t buy in stores, and that experience is essential to the earthiness of the recipe. “I know who shot it. I know who cleaned it. I know what went into making it,” he says. The flavor base of the gumbo is essentially a duck gravy: whole birds browned in a cast iron pot, their fat rendered into flavor and deglazed with water, stock, or even beer, if it’s the only liquid in grabbing distance. He thins the duck gravy with boiling stock, dollops of roux dissolving into a dark cloud, and simmers the mixture with homemade smoked pork sausage. The recipe is inexact, but it’s never complete without adding a few friends around to chat while waiting for the duck to fall off the bone.
If gumbo is a social dish, then Jo’s is a fais-do-do that is equal parts supper club, ad hoc dance hall, and celebration of the hunt. When he’s making a gumbo, he’s not just cooking food, he’s cooking up a party. “Cooking is a social event for me. Even if there was no food or music, the people would have a good time,” he says. He spends so much time hunting, prepping, cooking, and entertaining that he and his chief partner in crime Jay Miller are newlyweds on their wedding day: around for the party, but never getting to eat.
Eating gumbo is beside the point, however. With great company the gumbo lasts all night, long after every last morsel is eaten. Food may have been the bait, but the party balloons well into the evening, often into the crisp and dim winter mornings. When Jo makes gumbo, he is making time for his friends and family. His is not just the duck and sausage in savory juice. It’s fiddles on the front porch harmonizing traditional Cajun melodies. It’s dancing till dawn. Making a gumbo is just another way of passing a good time.
Click on the image below to download the recipe.