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So far, this may be my crowning achievement in attempting to mimic foods from home with Korean ingredients. It’s also funny that foods I didn’t eat much at home I crave badly over here.

Specifically, gumbo.

Wikipedia has a good article on gumbo, if you are interested.

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Now, I grew up on seafood gumbo. I specifically remember my grandmother spending all day making a pot of it. She put whole blue crabs in there with shrimp and oysters. I figured that seafood is so readily available in Korea that it would be a sin not to attempt it.

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Yet when one thing becomes available, another is hard to find, specifically celery and okra. Okra is a slimy vegetable when cooked and is used to thicken gumbo. In fact, the word gumbo comes from the Central Bantu word kigombo, which means okra. Purists say that gumbo is not gumbo without okra.

But I have no okra, and I don’t like okra.

The slimy consistency of okra is used as a thickening agent anyway. I took care of that with a roux. (I also don’t have the other thickening agent, filé, but it also isn’t necessary unless you’re going completely authentic.)

I had attempted gumbo only once back in the States with miserable results. Too many thickening agents. My little sister had made a really good gumbo before I came to Korea. I asked her what her recipe was.

“Um, I just bought some gumbo from the store and added stuff to it.”

I researched books I had on hand, specifically Food, Fun, and Fable: Recipes and tales the river country (from Meme’s on Bon Secour River) and Bay Seasons Cookbook from the Junior Auxiliary of the Eastern Shore of Mobile Bay. I also checked on recipes from Emeril and Tyler Florence.

So, this really was a crap shoot. I had no idea where I was going.

Now, even though I could do without the okra and filé, I needed celery. It’s part of the basic mirepoix. Celery is obviously found at Costco, but the rules I follow for the Food For Foreigners is to do it without cheating at Costco. The larger stores, such as E-Mart and Home Plus, sometimes carry celery.

If that is too hard to find, well, the ssam bag usually has celery. It’s a bag that’s with all the lettuce on display. This is a great product to buy when you’re making western food. It’s various lettuce leaves for the purpose of wrapping Korean BBQ, and it’s cheap. But it is also the interesting lettuces that are used in nice restaurant salads in the west. Look closely at the ssam bag at the local grocery store. There are some celery tips in there, just enough to make a mirepoix.

The first step is to make sure you have time to do all this. It takes a while. It was a strange experience for Eun Jeong. She’s used to Korean soups that are instantly thrown together per order at the local shikdang.

“Is it ready yet?”

“Not yet.”

“It takes too long.”

“It’s worth it. Trust me.”

I melted a stick of butter in a pan over medium heat and added a cup of flour to make the roux and stirred…

And stirred…

And stirred. They say that making the proper gumbo roux takes as much time as it does to drink a beer. Okay, half done.

There. It’s supposed to be the color of chocolate.

While it was turning color, Eun Jeong helped me finish chopping and crushing in the mortar and pestle (what I call the “Wesley Crusher”) the mirepoix of celery, two onions, a package of Korean peppers, and a handful of garlic.


I added the mirepoix to the roux. (Why do the French add so many x’s that they don’t pronounce?.) Cooked that a bit.

Now, here is where we diverge and get to our own little creativities. If you’re making a chicken gumbo, use chicken stock. If you’re making seafood gumbo, use some dashi.

Since indecision runs in the family, I made chicken seafood gumbo.

I added the roux to some boiling chicken stock.

Eun Jeong and I removed the meat from the chicken used in the stock. I let the stew simmer for thirty minutes.

I then added a package of frozen seafood I found at E-Mart, which included crab, mussels, shrimp, fish, and calamari. At the end, I added some fresh oysters.

I adjusted the flavors a bit with some salt. I also cheated a bit by adding some Old Bay seasoning and Tony Cachere’s Cajun Seasoning. But really, the mirepoix and the dark roux are the heart of the gumbo flavor.

Served over rice, it was an amazing reminder of home. Eun Jeong loved it, but she said chicken without the seafood would have been better. I sort of agree. Calamari and mussels don’t seem right. But served with a crusty baguette and a cold beer, it’s a great relaxer for a lazy Sunday afternoon.

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