• Mike Sula
  • Paul Fehribach’s gumbo z’herbes

Continuing our series of recipes from local cookbooks, today we address Paul Fehribach’s outstanding Big Jones Cookbook. Since the book’s publication, Fehribach’s talked quite a bit about its origin, and his role as researcher and keeper of Southern foodways. Broken into chapters by region—low country, south Louisiana, the Appalachian highlands, Kentuckiana, and the delta and deep south—with additional chapters on bread, cocktails, pantry staples, and charcuterie, it’s packed with unusual and tempting recipes and the stories behind them (salty sorghum pie, five-pepper jelly, benne oyster stew, reezy peezy, Antebellum rice waffles).

I’ve made a few nice things from the book, but the most successful and interesting so far has been the gumbo z’herbes, essentially a vegan gumbo made from an assortment of field greens. I initially assumed that this was in the Cajun tradition of throwing whatever you had on hand in the pot, but Fehribach states in his introduction that it’s actually a Lenten dish he offered for his Catholic guests at Big Jones. Counterintuitively, many recipes incorporate ham hocks, so I took that as permission to use chicken broth and smoked pork necks. It was terrific: brick colored from the smoked paprika, meaty tasting from a preponderance of vegetal, umami-loaded ingredients, and as thick and substantial as any gumbo you’ll find. Don’t be worried about the seeming paucity of stock for this recipe. The greens contribute their own liquid and as Fehribach told me, you can always add more if you need it later—but if it’s too thin up front you’re stuck with it.

Paul Fehribach’s Gumbo z’Herbes

Makes approximately three quarts, enough for a small party or several meals for a small family.
Prep time: 2 hours
Equipment needed: 6-8 quart heavy-bottomed stock pot, long-handled wooden spoon, small ladle
1 cup vegetable oil
1 cup all-purpose flour
3 cups yellow onion, finely diced
1 cup green bell pepper, finely diced
2 ribs celery, finely diced
6 cloves garlic, mashed and minced
1 bottle (6 ounces) Louisiana-style hot sauce
1 tablespoon granulated garlic
2 tablespoons granulated onion
1 tablespoon ground black pepper
2 tablespoons smoked paprika
1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
1 quart mushroom stock, unsalted
1 cup shiitake mushroom caps, thinly sliced
4 packed cups finely chopped greens, including mostly collards, turnip greens, and/or mustard greens, you can also use some parsley, radish, or carrot tops. More greens is better.
2 bay leaves
1 small can (6 ounces) tomato paste
2 tablespoons kosher salt
A few dashes Worcestershire is optional, or you can use a good quality soy sauce

In an eight-quart, heavy-bottomed stock pot, heat the vegetable oil over medium-high heat until just smoking. Immediately turn off heat and add flour to the hot fat, sprinkling it in gradually to avoid splatter, and stir with a wooden spoon. Turn the heat back up to medium, and continue cooking and stirring. Once flour starts to brown in four to five minutes, gradually turn heat down to medium-low but continue browning the flour, stirring constantly, until dark brown, the color of milk chocolate, another 45 minutes. Stir constantly to avoid burning. If you burn the roux you’ll know by the awful smell and you’ll have to start over.

Once you have the color you want, it’s time to add the vegetables. Turn off the heat, and using a long-handled wooden spoon, stand back to avoid splatter and carefully add the onions, celery, and bell peppers to the pot and stir well. Return heat to medium and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the vegetables sweat well and turn soft, six to eight minutes. Add the garlic, hot sauce, and spices, turn off the heat, and stir for a minute or two. Allow the roux to rest off the heat for ten minutes to infuse. Add half the stock and turn heat back to high. Stir to incorporate the roux to the stock, and bring to a low boil, stirring constantly, at which point the mixture will be very thick. Add the rest of the stock and return to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer.

Add the greens and mushrooms a cup at a time, adding the next cup after the previous is wilted and soft, stirring well before and after each addition. Once all greens are added and have wilted, add the bay, tomato paste, and one tablespoon of the salt, stir the pot well, reduce to a simmer, and simmer one hour uncovered, stirring regularly. Skim off and discard any fat that rises to the top, using a small ladle. After an hour, add the rest of the salt to your taste and Worcestershire or soy if desired. Serve over hot boiled rice.

Reprinted with permission from The Big Jones Cookbook, University of Chicago Press, 2015