Saturday, May 1, 2010

Gumbo Filé

One of the most exciting things about cooking with my mom is that many of the fruits and vegetables we cook are homegrown. If it grows in Florida, she probably has it. Cooking in her kitchen is like being in a dream wonderland. Need a bay leaf? Handful of basil? Some key limes? Perhaps an ear of corn? Just step outside!

My mom's mother's family was from Louisiana, while her father's family was from the Florida Keys. She grew up as a "Cajun Conch", and picked up both styles of cooking which she later passed on to my sister, brother, and me. My mom would tell us stories of driving to Louisiana with her three sisters all crammed in the back of a hot car, eating bread and gravy from KFC, and battling giant mosquitoes and sweltering heat. While she taught me to make gumbo, she would tell me about the different types of gumbo she would eat, how you were supposed to eat them, and how each family member made gumbo differently.

This brings us to today's post- Homemade Gumbo Filé. Filé is dried and ground leaves from the sassafras tree, of which my mother has two. It acts as a thickener in gumbo and gives it the traditional green hue. It can be added directly to the gumbo at the end of cooking, and is also an excellent garnish sprinkled on top of each serving. Gumbo recipes are coming soon! :)

After collecting the sassafras leaves, you will want to wash off any debris and remove the large stems.

If you are feeling ambitious, you can also remove the petiole and midrib of the leaves. Depending on the quality of your dehydrator and chopper, these may not grind down to a fine powder and will have to be removed later.

If you do not have a dehydrator, you can arrange the leaves on a tray and dry them at very low heat in the oven. I used the dehydrator at medium heat for about 5 hours- it all depends on your machine.

The leaves should be extremely dry before grinding them. Be careful on a humid day- even a few moments between the dehydrator and food processor will add enough moisture to keep them from becoming a fine powder.

Thundercats are GO!

I used a food processor to grind the sassafras leaves into a fine powder, but a mortar and pestle should work as well.

Remove the petiole and midrib if they will not pulverize.

Filé should be a fine powder, which is sometimes difficult to achieve with household appliances. I like to sieve the ground sassafras and re-grind any large pieces.

Making homemade gumbo filé powder is a lengthy process, but is also truly rewarding! Enjoy!

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