Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Robert St. John: Gumbo!

 Check out this week's recipe below. 

Last week I was in New Orleans enjoying a bowl of gumbo by Lake Pontchartrain— at my go-to place for gumbo— Station 6. They also have some mighty fine smoked fish dip. Actually, they probably have the best two examples of those starters in the city. 

Station 6 gumbo. Credit: Eater New Orleans

 “Best gumbo” is a bold statement in a city that invented the dish. But I feel like I have eaten my share of gumbo all around town and the gumbo at Station 6 may not be your favorite, but it is most certainly my favorite.

Station 6 gumbo is served with the darkest of dark rouxs, never an easy task, as many places who try to get rouxs that dark go over the edge and burn it. And as any gumbo cooker knows, once the roux is burned that process is over, the flour and fat need to be thrown out, and the recipe should be started back at square one.

The station 6 gumbo, in addition to be very dark, comes out very hot. I'm not talking about spicy hot. I'm talking about “temperature hot” out of the kitchen. I have never eaten gumbo in Station 6 that wasn’t burn-the-roof-of-your-mouth hot on the first bite, andn that’s a good thing. Pro tip: blow.

The smoked fish dip served at Station 6 is probably the best example of that appetizer served in the city as well. My all-time favorite smoked fish dip is served at Harbor Docks restaurant in Destin FL, though there is also a strong contender, though a little less flavorful, at Vessel in Mid-City, New Orleans.

Sitting there eating gumbo I thought to myself, “ his is the absolute best gumbo I have ever eaten in my life. I can think of none better.” I have most certainly eaten thousands of bowls of gumbo over the course of the past 60 years but none have been more satisfying as the first time— and every time since— at Station 6.

My mother made great gumbo, and I've bragged on it for years. But my memory of her gumbo— as good as it was— doesn't come close to Station 6 gumbo. I'm also a fan of the gumbo made at Herbsaint, and Frank Brigtsen has forgotten more about gumbo than any chef in New Orleans will ever know. But he agrees with me on the Station 6 gumbo. Years ago, when K-Paul’s was open, I felt like that gumbo was the gold standard. But I had yet to taste the gumbo at Station 6.

The Station 6 gumbo made me reflect back to the best things I've ever eaten. I keep running journal when dining out. It serves two purposes, I list my restaurant experiences, and whether I want to return, or why I would return, and I always list a highlight or two of the meal (if there was one). I will take extra notes in the journal if a special item was noteworthy. When I come across a gumbo as strong as the one at Station 6, it immediately goes on to the best-of all-time list. I enjoy pulling up the list and reflecting on my dining career.

“What was the best dish you’ve ever eaten?” It’s a question I answer often. Typically, I can remember certain dishes off of the top of my head, but sometimes— for an obscure item— I have to consult the journal which is kept in the notes feature on my phone.

Sometimes my favorite was not an item, but an entire meal. That has happened only three times. The first time I ate at Thomas Keller's restaurant Per Se in New York, then six weeks later on my first visit to the French Laundry in Yountville, and at Paul Bocuse’s Sud in Lyon. Almost every item that came from the Keller experiences was stellar and perfect, but I prefer to think of those two meals as the best meals I have ever eaten, and not break out any since single individual item. Return trips have confirmed that opinion.

I can tell you that the absolute best applesauce I ever ate was in Rothenburg ob der Tauber in a German restaurant that made it fresh and brought it to the table at the beginning of the meal. I'm not sure what I ate the rest of the meal, but I do know I ordered more applesauce. When one is in the presence of perfection— and one doesn't know if he or she will be in that place again— one must order seconds and sometimes skip entrees altogether.

The list is simple and can be as basic as the best orange I ever ate, which was on my father-in-law's sailboat just South of ship island. It had been sitting in an ice chest mixed with ice slush and water. It was of the Naval variety (no pun intended), and it was perfectly cold and perfectly ripe. Certainly the hot weather had something to do with the experience, but that's no different than when dining in a restaurant and the environment— whether beautifully appointed or a dive joint— has and influence on how and overall meal is experienced. It was perfect.

The best French fries I ever ate were in Aspen Co. It was over 30 years ago and they were the first fried potatoes I had ever eaten that had been sprinkled with truffle oil, kosher salt, and freshly shaved parmesan cheese. I have eaten that side dish many times since, but none can compare to that first experience at the base of Aspen Mountain.

At our breakfast joint we serve excellent sausage. It comes from a small country store called Hines Grocery just North of Yazoo City, Ms and is delivered to us every other week. Though the best breakfast sausage I ever ate was in a small cabin in Franklin TN on top of a mountain near the mouth of the Natchez trace when my friend Jim Leeson served a batch of spicy breakfast sausage that John Egerton, the legendary southern writer, had gifted him.

The best shrimp creole I ever ate was at K-Paul’s. Prudhomme was a master of stocks and whatever stock he put into his creole was excellent. It wasn't always a menu item, you had to catch it on just the right day. I made the request several times and a few times they complied.

The best biscuit I ever ate was at my grandmother's house growing up. But the Carriage House in Natchez serves some that taste exactly the same. So, we'll give the best biscuits to the Carriage House and my grandmother will retain the title of best leg of lamb.

The absolute best soup I ever ate was at Paul Bocuse's restaurant Sud in Lyon. It was a mushroom bisque, and it was so good that everyone in the family ordered seconds. My second favorite soup, and one that is served in America— actually one that is served in New Orleans— is Frank Brigtsen’s Butternut Squash and Shrimp Bisque. It is culinary perfection.

The best antipasto I have ever seen or eaten was in Santo Stefano di Sessanio, a small hill town of 113 people in a remote spot in Central Italy. It was a thing of beauty and prepared in an old-world kitchen with no electricity.

My favorite barbecue shrimp are served at Susan Spicer's restaurant Rosedale. The best paella I ever ate— and it isn't even close—was at 7 Portes restaurant in Barcelona. It gets to the point on this list where I can tell you the best yeast roll ever ate was at Barbara's Home Cooking in Franklin, TN, and best pizza I have ever eaten is served in the Tuscan town of Barbarino Tavarnelle at Vecchia Piazza. I don't have to go too far from home to eat the best ribs I've ever enjoyed which come from a dive bar South of my hometown called Donanelle’s. When in Florence I always try to eat at the birth place of penne alla vodka, La Vecchia Bettola, and the best polenta I have ever tried is at Doris Metropolitan in New Orleans.

You may, or may not, be foodie. The fact that you're still reading this column though likely puts you in that category. If you're not keeping a culinary journal, then it may be time to start. It's easy. Just open the notes feature on your phone, title it “The Best Thing I Ever Ate,” and anytime you're eating— whether at your house, a friend’s house, a relative’s house, or restaurant— and something strikes you as memorable, and especially something you would like to reflect on one day, just write it down.

I get a lot of joy out of my food journal. And I look forward to adding many new items as the years progress, but I especially like referring back to the old items and returning to those places that are still open so I can taste perfection once again.




The World’s Last Meatloaf

2 pounds    Ground beef

1 Tbl          Bacon grease (or canola oil)

1 cup                   Onion, minced

3 /4 cup      Celery, minced

3 /4 cup      Bell pepper, minced

1 tsp           Garlic, minced

1 /8 tsp                Thyme, dry

1 /4 tsp            Oregano, dry

2 tsp                 Steak Seasoning    

1 Tbl          Salt

1 cup                   Milk

1 /2 cup      Ketchup

1 Tbl          Worcestershire sauce

3                 Eggs

1 cup                   Bread crumbs, course

 Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Heat the bacon grease in a large skillet over medium heat. Sauté vegetables with salt and dry herbs until tender. Allow to cool.

Combine milk, eggs, Worcestershire and ketchup and mix well. Place ground beef, cooled vegetables and egg mixture into a large mixing bowl. Using your hands, squish the meatloaf until you have mixed everything together and all is well incorporated. Fold in the breadcrumbs last.

Shape the meat mixture into the form of a loaf on a baking sheet. Using your hand, make an indentation down the center of the loaf (This is where the glaze goes). Bake 50 minutes.

While meatloaf is cooking make the glaze. Remove from the oven and spoon glaze down the center of the meatloaf and spread over the sides. Return meatloaf to oven, lower heat to 300 degrees and bake 30 minutes more. Allow meatloaf to rest 15 minutes before serving. Yield: 8-10 servings

Tomato Glaze


1 tsp.          Bacon fat

1 tsp.          Garlic, minced

1 Tbl.                  Onion, minced

¼ cup                  Brown sugar

2 Tbl.                  Yellow mustard

1 Tbl.                  Worcestershire Sauce

1 cup                   Ketchup

Heat the bacon fat in a small skillet over a low heat. Cook the onions and garlic for 2-3 minutes. Add the brown sugar and allow it to melt. Stir in remaining ingredients.


Anonymous said...

Article praising best gumbo = recipe for meatloaf. I feel duped. lulz

Anonymous said...

This makes me want gumbo based meatloaf.

Anonymous said...

Navel. Not naval.

This guy works around food? Good grief.

Anonymous said...

10:49 maybe you should get a job as an English teacher and live out your fantasy of correcting (and judging) others and fulfill your miserable life's mission.

Anonymous said...

Someone said: Article praising best gumbo = recipe for meatloaf. I feel duped. lulz

Same here. I started reading and thought "who the hell puts ground beef in seafood gumbo?" I should have remembered most of his photos don't match the recipe.

Anonymous said...

Lol listen to you pathetic haters. You people wouldn’t know culture and fine cuisine if it saved your life!
Go back to your microwaved Applebee’s leftovers, you swine!

Kingfish said...

I added the photo. Column was about gumbo

Heavy Catsup said...

I'm with 10:11 a.m., an article about the best Gumbo and then a recipe for meatloaf? My Mom made meatloaf. I never did enjoy meatloaf, so since I never was crazy about my own Mom's meatloaf I made it a point to pass on it elsewhere. Like they say, "Nobody's cooking is as good as mom's".....have you ever noticed the neckline/top of blouse/pendant of the Wendy's logo? What do YOU see? Hehe.

Anonymous said...

Now I’m starving, and also disappointed at the lack of a gumbo recipe, but who am I trying to fool? I always burn the roux just like he said, or I lose patience and quit before it’s dark enough. Good gumbo is an art but it’s also hard labor. Enjoyed the read!

Anonymous said...

Well, I doubt I will ever be able to try mushroom bisque in
Lyon,France ... or antipasto in Santo Stefano di Sessanio,Italy.

But I can converse about the best gas station fried chicken in all parts of Mississippi.

Anonymous said...

As if any of you would actually take the time to make authentic gumbo even if you had RSJ's recipe?

Anonymous said...

Attention morans!

The best recipe for gumbo isn't his recipe, it's the gumbo recipe Station 6 uses.

Did you really expect him to obtain the recipe from Station 6 and the post the recipe online?

Station 6 might have a problem with that.

Better yet why not send send Station 6 an email asking for their recipe so you can post it her in the comments. That way you can fix the internet 'cause it's wrong again!

Be sure to let us know how that goes.

Anonymous said...

All the recipes in the world are not gonna help y'all, good gumbo comes from the soul.

If you want to skip burning the roux, try cooking it in the oven. I'm going to try the gumbo there, I appreciate these posts more than you can imagine. Thanks, Kingfish.

Anonymous said...

Mary Mahoney’s gumbo recipe is posted for all to enjoy. Better than station 6

Anonymous said...

Speaking of culture and gumbo, do y'all know what the coonasses call that brown/grey stinky water in the holes and curbs on the side of Bourbon St? Da' Gravy.

Think about that the next time you're down there or making gravy.

Anonymous said...

"Attention morans! The best recipe for gumbo isn't his recipe, it's the gumbo recipe Station 6 uses

Morans ????

Hell, they are one of the original French Canadian families on our Gulf Coast ... they arrived during the 1700's.

They probably have some of the most authentic gumbo recipes between Beaumont and Mobile.

Anonymous said...

“Morans” is an ancient internet meme that originated from an image of a redneck holding a protest sign that exclaimed “GET A BRAIN MORANS!”

Anonymous said...

Yet more drivel about expensive restaurants to which he has taken his entire family. In a column about gumbo and meatloaf no less. Let me say it like this: anyone who has taken their children to the French Laundry AND asked for taxpayer money ought to be elected to some public office. I can think of no other way to impeach and convict them.

I understand financial reverses as I have been through the ups and downs of the last 40 years. I have never even considered asking for a bailout or handout. I didn't need to because I never spent literally thousands-plus at a pop doing stupid (and inconsiderate) things like taking our children to places like the French Laundry, Per Se, etc. The funny thing is, in those 40 years, there was never a time when we could not have afforded to do so. Nor have we come remotely close to losing a home, not being able to pay for educations, etc. To quote Eddie Murphy, "Aha!"

Clearly, neither Mr. St. John nor his restaurants need a penny of our money so we'll be happy to accommodate him. Apparently an increasing number of others feel the very same way.

Anonymous said...

I'm happy that Robert can be wined and dined while the rest of us work our asses off to provide his bailouts.

Anonymous said...

As if any of you would actually take the time to make authentic gumbo even if you had RSJ's recipe?

I would. I've made Paul Prudhomme's gumbo recipe a number of times. Now, I don't make it RIGHT, because it never comes out as good as his was... but I try.

Y'all quit hating on RSJ, his articles are much more interesting and well written than the crap Sid Salter puts out these days.

Anonymous said...

Great post. I added some restaurants and dishes to check out. An indelible food memory is an awesome thing. I too was hoping for a knock em dead gumbo recipe or at least some tips. Developing a dark roux is tricky to do with perfection. Best hush puppies- penns- onion rings - crechales; yeast rolls - the White House buffet. I’d put an 80’s Inez burger up there too

Anonymous said...

That Mary Mahoney recipe doesn't have bell pepper. Can't be great gumbo without 1/3 of the trinity.

Anonymous said...

@7:33 PM - Agreed. After reading your post, I looked up what each restaurant that St. John owns or partially owns received in PPP money and was very surprised. That doesn't include the "restaurant rescue funds" that those restaurants might be receiving.

Anonymous said...

Please keep posting Robert's columns. Haters and jealous people do not have to read them. I, personally, skip over anything written by Daniel Gardner.

I usually make Paul Prudhomme's okra and seafood gumbo. The roux is made with okra, not fat and flour. I also make his chicken and sausage gumbo recipe sometimes. Heck, if hubby would get me some rabbit and squirrel, I'd make his wild game gumbo recipe, too.

The Paper Plate Dude said...

Why do chefs feel obligated to always, always stick things in food presentations that have to be removed by hand and laid aside. Of course I realize it's all about presentation. I saw a bloody mary with a mini-hamburger, a chicken wing, some skrimps and a fried crab all on a skewer. Could these things not be plated to the side? And damned greenery never belongs in an edible dish. Or an umbrella. Or a plastic palm tree.

Anonymous said...

And cornbread never has and never will go with gumbo.

Anonymous said...

@9:35 - Agree. Cornbread goes with chili. French bread goes with gumbo.

Anonymous said...

Dammit.....I wanted a really good recipe for gumbo. And I agree! I serve garlic bread with gumbo! My family LOVES it!

Anonymous said...

All these comments about not getting a gumbo recipe...perhaps he didn’t want to be repetitive and redundant. He just linked a gumbo recipe back on April 28. Use Kingfish’s search button.

Anonymous said...

My introduction to gumbo was 55 years ago when there were dozens of boarding houses on St Charles that opened there dining rooms for dinner and usually $1.25 would buy a meal. The daily offering was scribbled on chalk boards posted at the sidewalk and I ate at more than a dozen of them in a 2 week period and gumbo was a common dish that was never the same from one house to the next or even the same house from one day to another. Someone said that gumbo was made with Okra and whatever was else that was laying around the kitchen at the time.

Anonymous said...

6:23PM, responding to 8:08AM -

In response to your comments, I did a similar thing and cannot decide whether "shocked" or "horrified" is the better term for my reaction to the situation. The number and amount of loans given to multiple-location restaurants in Mississippi alone is, well, shocking or horrifying (or perhaps more accurately, both).

As to Mr. St. John specifically, I only went as far as the loans for "Purple Parrot." I do not know the structure of his business(es) so I cannot say whether that entity is an umbrella for all his interests or it is just the now-closed Purple Parrot, but that entity shows nearly a million in forgiven loans, all reported to have gone to payroll.

I understand a restaurant business has large charges against its revenue stream - when operational. But many of those charges are absent when not operational and proportionally reduced when operations are ceased or reduced - food costs, supplies cost, labor costs, as examples. Others are fixed, sunk costs - "housing costs" (leases, leasehold improvement, property loan financing and amortization, etc.), equipment and fixture financing, etc. But this program was not called "The Businessperson's Pocketbook Protection Program," it is called _Paycheck_ Protection. It would be useless to hope, much less expect, that all businesspeople who received these funds would be strictly audited and those who took a dime for themselves rather than use the funds for worker paychecks be prosecuted, just it would be useless to hope that any who did would feel shame or remorse for doing so. And that such hopes are useless is and will be a problem for many years to come.

And in response to 8:17AM, I neither "hate" nor am I "jealous" of Mr. St. John's culinary tourism. My wife and I, along with many (adult) friends have eaten with varying degrees of regularity at many of the places St. John has mentioned, in the US and abroad. One big difference is that since neither my wife or I received or even requested any "bailouts" from anyone, ever, all the while subsidizing at least our fair share of any number of these "free money" schemes, I am entitled to an opinion about that very subsidization. Some will make vague accusations of privilege or fortune. I agree to a large extent - fortune favors the prepared. I'd add that one must have the ability to make preparations. I don't see any working stiffs bragging about regularly and repeatedly taking the family to $300+ per person restaurants all over the world and then asking for handouts when the inability to prepare impacts "living the dream," but Mr. St. John has done that very thing. Lastly, lest anyone defend Mr. St. John's culinary tourism as "research" or "scouting the competition," as mentioned above we have also dined at Thomas Keller's places, etc. I can assure those that have not that it would be like someone running a coastal fishing charter claiming that multiple Cunard world voyages, in suites, was research or scouting the competition.

Anonymous said...

"...perhaps he didn’t want to be repetitive and redundant."

While pointing that out, you managed a special measure of both.

Anonymous said...

We do have some great gas-station fried chicken joints throughout the Sip'.

Perhaps instead of flying around Europe for a summer, RSJ can give us his opinion of the best local gas-station chicken within the Magnolia State. I hope he also might review the sides as well. ( Tater logs & such )

Just a thought.

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Trollfest '07 was such a success that Jackson Jambalaya will once again host Trollfest '09. Catch this great event which will leave NE Jackson & Fondren in flames. Othor Cain and his band, The Black Power Structure headline the night while Sonjay Poontang returns for an encore performance. Former Frank Melton bodyguard Marcus Wright makes his premier appearance at Trollfest singing "I'm a Sweet Transvestite" from "The Rocky Horror Picture Show." Kamikaze will sing his new hit, “How I sold out to da Man.” Robbie Bell again performs: “Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to be Bells” and “Any friend of Ed Peters is a friend of mine”. After the show, Ms. Bell will autograph copies of her mug shot photos. In a salute to “Dancing with the Stars”, Ms. Bell and Hinds County District Attorney Robert Smith will dance the Wango Tango.

Wrestling returns, except this time it will be a Battle Royal with Othor Cain, Ben Allen, Kim Wade, Haley Fisackerly, Alan Lange, and “Big Cat” Donna Ladd all in the ring at the same time. The Battle Royal will be in a steel cage, no time limit, no referee, and the losers must leave town. Marshand Crisler will be the honorary referee (as it gives him a title without actually having to do anything).

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In the spirit of helping those who are less fortunate, Trollfest '09 adopts a cause for which a portion of the proceeds and donations will be donated: Keeping Frank Melton in his home. The “Keep Frank Melton From Being Homeless” booth will sell chances for five dollars to pin the tail on the jackass. John Reeves has graciously volunteered to be the jackass for this honorable excursion into saving Frank's ass. What's an ass between two friends after all? If Mr. Reeves is unable to um, perform, Speaker Billy McCoy has also volunteered as when the word “jackass” was mentioned he immediately ran as fast as he could to sign up.

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If you get tired come relax at the Fox News Tent. To gain admittance to the VIP section, bring either your Republican Party ID card or a Rebel Flag. Bringing both will entitle you to free drinks.Get your tickets now. Since this is an event for trolls, no ID is required, just bring the hate. Bring the family, Trollfest '07 is for EVERYONE!!!

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