Not that Governor John Bel Edwards doesn’t already have enough to worry about, but each year around this time as the weather teases us with a slight chill a person, even a Governor, can be forgiven if his thoughts stray for a moment to what is steaming from a pot on the stove. In Louisiana, that is likely gumbo. According to an article by staff writer Karen Martin in The Advocate last week, the Governor reached out on social media to gauge which do his constituents prefer, gumbo with rice or gumbo with potato salad.
Always one to sniff a good story The Advocate asked its readers to vote. (I will reveal the result in a moment.)
But first, gumbo is a something that always inspires debate, i.e., seafood vs. chicken and sausage, okra vs. filet and now potato salad vs. rice.
I assume the Governor’s question surprised many people. There are residents of this state who never heard of putting potato salad in gumbo, primarily people in the cities who have been deprived of country cooking. The potato salad’s stronghold has been St. Martin Parish and was influenced by German settlers who added a bit of their own heritage to this Creole, Cajun, African roux. Done properly, the potato salad is not a mere side dish but is plopped right into the bowl where it can be spooned for an alternate tangy taste to complement the spicy soup. What surprises me about the Governor’s question is that he presented it as though there should be one or the other, rice or potato salad. Perhaps that is what happens to people who spend too much time near legislatures, where the house is often divided and the votes split. For gumbo, the correct answer should be rice and potato salad. That, however, is not how The Advocate’s readers saw it. Out of 748 responses, only 37 percent voted for both rice and potato salad; 50 percent said rice only. A respectable 12 percent said potato salad only; and one percent said neither. (Those people, I am confident, don’t suck crawfish heads either.)
What surprises me the most about this debate is that it totally misses the true issue. Folks, the relevant question is not potato salad vs. rice but, crucially, potato salad vs. sweet potato.
Here we enter the true realm of gumbo eating. The orange tuber always trumps potato salad as the cosmos’ preferred accompaniment for gumbo. To do it right, simply drop a fully cooked sweet potato (peeled or unpeeled, it doesn’t matter) in the bowl where the juices will permeate the fiber and in turn the tuber, when spooned, will provide a sweet counter-balance as nature intended. (There is also a patriotic advantage, while the potato in the salad most likely was picked from a field in Idaho; the sweet potato assuredly came from nearby in Louisiana.)
Perhaps the Governor can help clarify the discussion by issuing some sort of proclamation. The key points could be: Sweet potato, first choice; Potato salad, second choice; Rice, always. He might add that if the gumbo is made with meat, there should always be a chicken in every pot.
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