Gumbo Secrets From the "Queen of Creole Cuisine"

"I went to Dooky Chase

To get me something to eat

The waitress looked at me and said

Ray, you sure look beat,
Now it’s early in the morning
And I ain't got nothing but the blues"
—Ray Charles, "Early in the Morning Blues"

For anyone traveling to New Orleans on a food pilgrimage, Dooky Chase's Restaurant is a must-stop. Thanks for the tip, Ray!

Leah Chase, co-owner and star chef at Dooky Chase, was just about the coolest person I have ever met.  I don't just mean that in the sense of nice or friendly; cool is a much more suitable word.  Even better, she had moves in the kitchen and makes a mean shrimp gumbo.

I could rave more about Leah, but accolades don’t matter to her. She is truly just in the business of making people feel good.  Her greatest joy is that people leave Dooky Chase happy and full.  Though Leah Chase will never wear chef whites,  she can out-cook just about anyone who steps into the kitchen.  It was an honor and a privilege to spend time with her and to get a little glimpse at the gumbo secrets of the "Queen of Creole Cuisine."

Top 5 Secrets to Perfect Gumbo (or, What I Learned From Leah Chase):

  • Never stop stirring your roux.  Perfect gumbo starts with a roux that's nice and smooth.  If you let up on a steady speed, you run the risk of ending up with a clumpy mess.
  • Never start with grease, oil or butter in the pot.  Start by browning some nice, spicy sausage and you will have plenty of grease to properly sauté your vegetables in later.
  • Make sure your roux gets dark enough in color.  Maintain medium-low heat until your roux is a rich red-brown, almost like milk chocolate in color.
  • Dice up your celery nice and small. It's a key ingredient that shines best in a more subtle form.  Leah says, "We don't like big chunks of celery here."
  • Shrimp only need a few minutes to cook on their own. They should be added to the gumbo pot immediately after you have turned off the heat so they don't get overcooked and tough.

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