A Pot of Possibilities
There aren’t too many dishes that are more captivating and polarizing than gumbo. It’s a dish with roots running deep throughout our region and spanning across nationalities, continents, and communities. Just like its flavor, gumbo’s origins and histories are rich with influences from African, Native American, and European cultures. And just like its ingredients, gumbo’s flavor is diverse, instinctive, and intentional.
There’s something special about gumbo that will invoke a passion in an individual unrivaled by anything else. Perhaps it’s the story of how gumbo came to be. Chronicles of gumbo history have been read and dissected in search of that catchall answer. And while general philosophies were born pronouncing the birth of this beloved dish, the one constant is that everyone’s recipe of gumbo is different. A different method. A different story. A different element that makes it so very special.
Ask anyone you know to tell you who makes the best gumbo and you will almost always receive a quick and very confident response. It’s instinctual. Ask them what ingredients make up the best gumbo and again, with little hesitation, they’ll answer. But be prepared when you ask the next person in line the same set of questions because you will likely receive an entirely different answer. Sometimes one that scoffs at the beliefs previously adored by another. You see, opinions are like gumbo. No two are truly the same, yet everyone seems to know best.
Off the Hook in Pascagoula is an easy choice when it comes to gumbo. Chef Josh Walczak draws inspiration from his time growing up in Louisiana where he recalls there always being someone’s grandmother dicing “The Trinity,” stirring a roux, or adding that most coveted ingredient – okra – for the finishing touch. To Walczak, gumbo was and is a family affair. It was a time to come together, often cooking what you had available and turning it into something spectacular. Off the Hook’s Seafood Gumbo is timeless, featuring a light brown roux and just the right amount of shrimp and crab. Second to the gumbo, my favorite meal at Off the Hook is Fried Green Tomatoes. It’s an absolutely perfect combination.
Field’s Steak and Oyster Bar is making its mark on the coastal culinary scene showcasing inventive dishes presented with elegance and a dash of opulence. General Manager Robert O’Maoiriain and Chef Ethan Boutwell are quite the collaborative pair, holding nothing back with their current cuisine – a direct reflection of their flair for the dramatics.
The Nickelbeer Gumbo Float is enough to make any gumbo purest clutch their pearls, but one bite and you will totally get it. This decadent seafood and sausage gumbo is served in a tall sundae glass, featuring layer upon layer of gumbo goodness. Cherry tomatoes are followed by shrimp, crab, crawfish, and sausage in a rich, dark roux. An arancini, or Italian rice ball, is stuffed with fresh crabmeat and floats atop the glass. As a tribute to its namesake, a Barq’s root beer reduction tops this decadent treat adding just the perfect amount of sweetness to balance the savory of this very inventive dish. Pair it with a fresh summer salad for an incredibly delightful meal.
Perhaps one of the most iconic of all coastal gumbos is the one served at Mary Mahoney’s Old French House. Celebrating 59 years this month, Mary Mahoney’s has a tradition of serving gumbo locally, regionally, and across the US. Owner Bobby Mahoney is proud of the longstanding tradition that Mary Mahoney’s has brought to the gumbo trade. Since its doors opened, only four chefs have cooked Mary Mahoney’s gumbo. Just four. And the recipe hasn’t changed since its original inception.
Mahoney believes that amidst the number of variables which can alter any gumbo, consistency is key. It’s this consistency that keeps people coming back to Mary Mahoney’s year after year. Mahoney recommends a bowl of gumbo and fried or broiled crab claws for a classic, coastal dish.
Off the Hook
707 Krebs Ave., Pascagoula
Facebook @ OffTheHookGoula
Field’s Steak and Oyster Bar
111 Main St., Ste. A, Bay St Louis
Mary Mahoney’s Old French House
110 Rue Magnolia, Biloxi