Love and Gumbo
March 21

Love and Gumbo

Aurora Rey blogs:

“First, you make a roux.”

It’s the first line of countless Cajun recipes. The phrase is so ubiquitous, it’s become a punch line. What, for example, do you really need to know when you meet a new person? In south Louisiana, the answer is: Who’s your mama, are you Catholic, and can you make a roux? 

Joking aside, roux is the base of so many dishes. So many. It lends flavor and body and, when cooked for a long time, color and the kind of savory richness we now call umami.

Perhaps no dish shows off all the dimensions of a roux better than gumbo. It’s also my absolute favorite dish from “home.” It’s not surprising, then, that when I wanted to incorporate a cooking lesson into Crescent City Confidential, gumbo was it. 

In the scene, mystery writer Sam asks native New Orleanian Tess to show her how it’s done. Sam’s loves to eat, but she’s more interested in spending time with Tess than what goes into the pot. Still, she learns a few things, including the proper way to make a roux. 

But gumbo isn’t only a vehicle for my foodie proclivities. In a way, I think gumbo is the perfect metaphor for writing romance. No, really. 

Gumbo’s ingredients are humble. There are a few must-have ingredients, but a thousand ways to make it. You can thicken it with roux, but also with okra or filé (ground sassafras leaves) or any combination of the three. I grew up with chicken and sausage, but I’ve had gumbo with turkey, shrimp, oysters, and crab. If you live in New Orleans, you might see tomatoes thrown in or even the green variation, gumbo des herbes.

Similarly, there are a thousand—or more—ways to write a romance. It might be sweet, or come with a twist of mystery. The protagonists might be doctors or teachers, farmers or nuclear physicists. Maybe they have the hots for each other right away; maybe they can barely stand each other. Like gumbo, romance can be hot and spicy or softer, more delicate. 

Like making gumbo, writing a romance comes with a few basic rules. Gumbo needs to be a thick soup-like consistency and should be served with rice. Romance has to deliver a happy ending, of course. And you have to have a pair of characters who not only fall in love, but also grow in some way. The same way you layer vegetables and spices for the most complex flavor in gumbo, creating richly textured characters and settings make for a better romance. And the more time you take to craft it, the better it will be. 

In celebration of the release of Crescent City Confidential, I spent yesterday afternoon making a gumbo. Chicken and andouille is my specialty, thickened with a dark roux and seasoned with both pepper flakes and hot sauce for a balanced heat. I added a splash of vinegar at the end to brighten the flavor. The result was delicious and satisfying. I hope the same could be said of Crescent City Confidential. It’s a sweet romance, filled with witty banter and an exploration of New Orleans’ culinary scene. I added a splash of intrigue, but only as part of the overall flavor. Readers can rest assured the story remains a romance at heart. 

If all this talk of gumbo has made you hungry, you can hop over to my personal blog where I’ve posted a recipe for my version of gumbo. If it’s made you hungry for love, I hope you’ll consider giving Crescent City Confidential a try. It’s available now from Bold Strokes Books.