Monday, 28 November 2011


I decided today to end my new-recipe drought and cook something I liked the look of that I found in a colour supplement this weekend. It was a prawn and okra "gumbo" and it looked like my kind of thing. Stealth vegetables: tick. Spicy: tick. Easy: tick.

So after raiding Waitrose, I potato-sacked Kitty into her cot at 1pm, waved cheerio and thundered back to the kitchen with more enthusiasm than I've had in... months and months... to set about cooking this thing.

And it was - it still is, sitting down there greasily in its pot - DISGUSTING. It is like an orange glue-soup studded with chunks of raw onion and warmed-up red pepper. And the thing about red peppers is that they're fine raw and they're fine cooked long and hard, but anything in between is tastes like a microwaveable pizza from a service station.

Is that what gumbo is supposed to be like? Does anyone have a good gumbo recipe? I like the sound of it, mostly because the word "gumbo" is good. But this was just a travesty.

I'm racking my brains, here. I followed the recipe - from a staggeringly famous, usually terrific chef. I didn't shirk or get impatient or skip anything out. Just a bad, bad recipe. Maybe an error? A few of you may have seen it this weekend. Don't bother with it. I mean, like, FUCK I could have been asleep this afternoon! And what if I didn't have an alternative dinner?! What a waste of time and money; literally all going to go on the compost.

I'm in a simply foul mood about the whole thing. But at the very least you may as well benefit from this horrible misadventure, because I certainly haven't. 

On a lighter note these are amazing. No, they didn't send me any freebies, but if they'd like to, it would cheer me up enough to prevent me from sending Yotam Ottolenghi his gumbo back to him in the post. On fire.


  1. I had a very similar experience with a Bill Granger curry recipe. It was putrid. The worse bit was that I had made it for my husband's birthday dinner.

  2. I really think you should send it back to him. I try to like him but I find his over-reliance on lentils and enlarged couscous smug. x x

  3. I only tried gumbo once, a Chuck Williams recipe..utterly disgusing too. I think it's's an evil vegetable.

  4. I have had the world's shittest day and have slumped in front of the computer having finally frogmarched the children to bed. Thank you - this has made me smile at last and cheered me up no end so I shalln't be in a foul mood for the husband also.

  5. I read this recipe in the paper and thought: really? that's it? It all seemed a bit... blah. So I concluded that maybe the sum of the total was just alot better than the components. V glad I turned the page and got sidetracked by marmalade roly poly instead.

  6. Esther, I adore your writing. xx

  7. Badly written recipe I think. I really don't see how it could be good when the vegetables cook so briefly in roux before the liquid is added. I think if the veg went in with the chorizo at the beginning, was cooked long and slow, then the flour was added it might be OK. But why would you bother after a bad experience like that?

  8. I totally understand your frustration. You went to the effort of trying something new when you could have used the time to sit and read or write whilst your daughter was asleep......SO annoying when a recipe FAILS:(
    But, it was always going to be a risk if using okra. Peculiar veg which I adore when cooked for NO longer than 10/15 mins max to prevent the slime eruption. I have a lovely okra recipe Indian style that does work if you're ever tempted!
    Is this Ottolenghi's first ever recipe flop d'you reckon??

  9. I had this exact recipe bookmarked for dinner this week as I've got some prawns in the freezer to use up. I think I'll make a good old reliable Thai curry instead...

  10. I hate it when one gets so excited for a recipe and then it turns out to be a total letdown. I was utterly over the top about a Trinidadian curry recipe I got off the Pioneer Woman website, which I then found to be so salty as to be inedible.

    I quite liked the idea of the spicy potato cake recipe that was alongside the gumbo.

  11. Tupperware it. Take it round to him and ask him. Or send husband with Tupperware. Once was too shy to go and get a book signed by Carluccio. Sent husband who was away for ages. Turned out he got invited in to the kitchen and ate his food!! Okra is horrible. Fact.

  12. Dear Esther,

    I have been reading your blog for some time now and think you're lovely. I have never commented before, and I haven't got a gumbo recipe, but I will say that I once made some stuffed pepper thing from the same chef and it was utterly dreadful. Usually, as you say, he's terrific, but the flavours were all wrong together. I wondered at the time if my palate was just too unsophisticated.

  13. Bastardised in a somerset cottage one evening from a thirty-odd year old recipe by Robert Carrier:

    3 large onions
    3 large handfuls of whatever assorted veg you have, roughly diced - peppers, tomatoes, fennel, aubergine, etc. Okra is nearly essential.
    3 cloves garlic, squashed
    Meat: chicken, pork...crocodile, snake. As you please. About two large handfuls.
    Fish: any firm white fleshed fish - Monkfish or sustainable cod, or cod-like fish. One large handful, diced.
    Plus: roughly diced keilbasa or other Polish-style sausage, and peeled (or not) prawns, as much as you fancy.
    2 tins of chopped tomatoes
    2 tins of Baxters's or other condensed cream of chicken soup.
    Half a litre vegetable stock
    1 packet of fresh spice mix by Schwarz or whoever it is, little yellow sachet, Jamaican Jerk or other appropriate flavour (not Blackened Cajun, tho) - Robert Carrier was surprisingly forthcoming on this ingredient. Ahem.
    (If you're using chicken legs, coat them - under the skin - with half the spice mix and roast at 200 for 25 minutes or until just cooked, then shred and proceed as directed.)

    Dice one onion finely and slice the other two in half rings. Fry gently in a large heavy based saucepan, casserole dish or stock pot. Let them get golden, but not brown. Set aside.

    Over a medium heat, fry your assorted veg for about 20 minutes, then add the chicken, prawns and sausage (or your substitutes). Add the spice mix and cook with a lid on for a further 10 minutes. Set aside with the lonely onions.

    Make a roux with a walnut-sized lump of butter, and slowly add the stock to thin it down. Let it cook for five minutes or so, then add back the meat, veg and whatnot. Stir in the tins of soup, followed by the tomatoes and the fish. Poke it about a bit, then bring it to the boil and let it sit at a rolling simmer for about 45mins-1hr, or until you can't stand it any longer.

    Things to add: wine, other spices (not very imaginative, I know, but I had a budget and only the resources of the Minehead Co-op at my disposal), fresh parsley or coriander as a garnish. Possibly crab, or lobster chunks if your tastes run that way. Paprika.

    Serve with rice, cornbread or in a big fucking bowl with an enormous clay tankard of cider, for some reason.

  14. Esther,

    I love your blog and also enjoy a good gumbo. It is not your fault. I think it is just a bad gumbo recipe. The secret to good gumbo is a dark roux. You also need a long slow simmer to marry the flavors. The timing given in that recipe does not allow for either.

    I think you need to get one from an American (preferably one from Louisiana). Andouille sausage is authentic, but probably hard to get in the UK. So, here is a relatively straight-forward chorizo and seafood gumbo recipe from a New Orleans chef. I have had good luck with it.

    You will also want to have some hot sauce on hand to add to the bowl while eating.

    Good luck.

  15. I have to say that it looks revolting and nothing like my gumbo. I make it regularly and everyone who tries it wants the recipe off me so it must be OK. I don’t think it is a particularly authentic gumbo but it is very tasty. This is how I make it (serves 4) –

    2 tbsp olive oil
    1 onion, chopped
    2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
    1.5 tbsp plain flour
    1.2 litres chicken stock
    2 green peppers, seeded & chopped
    200g okra, trimmed & cut into 5-10mm slices
    400g tin of chopped tomatoes
    2 tbsp tomato puree
    1 tsp fresh thyme
    1 tsp cayenne pepper
    200g cooked skinless chicken cut into bite size pieces
    200g small peeled prawns
    115g sweetcorn
    Salt & ground black pepper
    Tabasco sauce, to taste (I use a lot!)
    Boiled rice

    Heat the oil in a large saucepan. Add onion & garlic and cook gently for about 4 minutes. Stir in the flour and cook for a further minute. Gradually stir in the chicken stock, followed by the peppers, okra, tomatoes, tomato puree, thyme and cayenne pepper. Bring the soup to the boil, then reduce the heat, cover & simmer for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

    Stir in the chicken, corn & prawns and cook for a futher 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add salt & pepper and tabasco sauce to taste. Serve the soup ladled over boiled rice.

  16. Gumbo?! No wonder, it's a hideous invention. NO-ONE'S recipe is a success, it's a dud concept. Ottolenghi was obvs on the hoochy koochy when he wrote that one.

  17. Love your blog! And glad you warned me off making this recipe, as had it earmarked for later this week. I did however try H F-W's butternut squash curry recipe on the previous page, and it was delish, and - once you get over the hassle of peeling the damn butternut squash - pretty damn easy.

    Thanks for the blogs.

  18. Dear oh dear! Jamie Oliver's Spicy Meat Gumbo recipe is an absolute winner and there's no okra in it. x

  19. I agree with what Foody Cat says, longer cooking of the veg and if you are adding okra it is not necessary to have flour in the dish as okra will thicken it.

  20. Dom you creep!! You just want to be his best friend, you do...

  21. The thing that struck me as wrong in the recipe was the adding of flour before the sauteing of the veg. The veg can't express their liquid and cook nicely if introduced into a gooey flour/liquid. I think Yotam got this one wrong and I can understand your fury, especially after buying all those expensive prawns.

  22. So true; Indian Korma Savouries are spot on. I discovered them on a British Airways flight recently... they've replaced cheesey triangles as the in-flight drink accompaniment of choice.

  23. Gumbo is troubling. I've made it twice, about five years apart. I wanted to like it. I didn't. It took ages, tasted like pants. As someone earlier said, you probably need a recipe from someone who was born with gumbo in their veins or something.

  24. Maybe the strapline of the blog needs to be changed to "Getting wrong recipes so you don't have to"

  25. It's definitely the okra - makes everything gluey and bleh.

  26. Noooo! I made this and it turned out to be one of the best new things I've cooked in ages. Maybe I didn't quite follow the recipe, I don't normally (sadly because of impatience not creativity) - but it was LUSH!

    Love, love, love the blog by the way. Just had a massive soup-guffaw at your retro-laugh comment.

  27. Perfect meal in this cold winter night. Thanks for posting this one. I have been running out of ideas of what to serve for dinner these past few days.