Although it was not an event officially sanctioned by the Association for the Promulgation of Gumbo, dinner at my house last night owed a lot to the founding spirit of that organization. Call it the fraternity of consumption. Never having invited twenty people to dine at once before, I was typically concerned that there wouldn't be enough food. While at this point I pretty much grasp what dinner for eight should look like when laid out on the chopping board, were two and half pounds of okra, two chickens, and my last few sticks of Laplace, Louisiana andouille going to be enough for the gathering hordes? The affirmative RSVP rate was running at about 96%.
Not to worry. Despite my protestations that I had everything under control, "although a bottle of wine would be welcome, if you feel like bringing one," everyone bought food, and dessert, and wine, and I probably could have fed forty.
Roux, along with okra, is one of the defining, character-bestowing ingredients in gumbo. White flour, slow-fried in bubbling oil, must be whisked constantly to avoid it carbonizing and infecting your gumbo with the acrid taste of arson. Donald Link, of the brilliant Cochon Restaurant, in New Orleans, whose gumbo recipe I was following, writes that "the process of making roux can be hypnotic.... Watching the oil and flour mixture slowly change color and begin to take on its unique aroma gives you plenty of time to be alone with your thoughts."
Indeed, with the narcotic swirling of the whisk, I began almost to hallucinate. The surface of bubbling roux has the quality of primeval swamp, as if, ultimately, life may emerge from it, the product of some wondrous accident of science and heat. The world and my thoughts, reflected in this toasting caramel lake, put me in mind of that film school classic, Jean-Luc Godard's cosmos as experienced in the swirling bubbles on the surface of a cup of coffee. It's from "2 ou 3 Choses que je Sais d'elle," and while sort of fun, it is almost staggering in its pretentiousness:
It is now time to admit the artistic debt the Association for the Promulgation of Gumbo owes to Godard in its own cinematic debut from early 2011, even if our version is perhaps too minimalist to reach the same heights of pretension: