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"The Frugal Gourmet" Jeff Smith's Backwoods Gumbo

Compiled by Vicki McClure Davidson


Frugal Celebrities' Recipes

Jeff Smith was a highly acclaimed 1980s TV celebrity and chef known as "The Frugal Gourmet" and the shortened nickname "The Frug." He was the owner of Chaplain's Pantry in Tacoma, Washington in the 1970s, and was an ordained Protestant minister. Smith's national television career took off when he appeared on the Phil Donahue Show; his popular TV show on PBS was the most watched cooking show in the US at the time. He was the author of a dozen successful cookbooks, including The Frugal Gourmet, The Frugal Gourmet Cooks Three Ancient Cuisines: China, Greece, and Rome, The Frugal Gourmet's Culinary Handbook, The Frugal Gourmet Cooks with Wine, and The Frugal Gourmet Cooks American. Smith would close each of his cooking shows by saying, "Until I see you again, this is The Frugal Gourmet. I bid you peace. Bye-bye."

Scandal hit Smith in 1997 — he was never found guilty of the sexual abuse charges since the lawsuits were settled, but the charges ruined his reputation nonetheless. Summary from Wikipedia:

In 1997, seven men filed suit against Smith alleging that he sexually abused them when they were teens. Six of the plaintiffs alleged that the abuse occurred in the 1970s while they were working for Smith at the Chaplain's Pantry, a deli and catering service in Tacoma, Washington. The seventh plaintiff alleged that he was sexually assaulted in 1992 at age 14 while hitchhiking. Smith denied the accusations, and the suit was settled out of court for an undisclosed amount in 1998.

Smith had been a generous philanthropist, donating both his time and money to a number of charitable causes and helping others get started in the food industry, even after his retirement. He died at age 65 in Seattle, Washington of heart disease in 2004.

Gumbo is a rich, flavorful, and hearty stew, usually stuffed with a variety of seafood or meats and vegetables (always with the "holy trinity" of onions, celery, and bell or sweet peppers). It evolved from African cuisine to Cajun-style and originated in southern Louisiana during the 18th century. My daughter and I couldn't get enough of it when we took an autumn trip to New Orleans.

Cheap to make and comforting to eat, especially when the nights are cold, it's surprising that it is pretty much limited to family kitchens and restaurants in the Southern US. This novel twist on the better-known okra-based gumbo is from Smith's fabulous 1987 cookbook The Frugal Gourmet Cooks American. Gumbo is typically thickened with the gooey, gelatinous insides of okra pods — in Smith's recipe, flour and filé powder do the thickening. It is usually spooned over cooked rice like a gravy, or served in a separate bowl as a stew with the rice to the side (I've also had it served in a very large bowl, with gumbo on one half of the bowl and rice on the other side). However, there's no reason why you couldn't spoon gumbo over biscuits, cornbread, or toast or serve it as a stand-alone stew without any starch side dish.

About this backwoods gumbo recipe (which feeds up to 10 people), Smith wrote this background information: "A fellow from the bayous of Louisiana came running up to me in an airport and shouted out a set of ingredients. He then explained it was a backwoods gumbo, the kind his grandma made for him when he was a boy. This is not as complex as a normal gumbo and therefore, is easy to make. It is a good and frugal meal."


"The Frugal Gourmet" Jeff Smith's Backwoods Gumbo

Place the gizzards and necks in a 12-quart stockpot and add 3 to 4 quarts of water. Cover and simmer until tender, about 2 hours. Set aside to cool.

Heat a large black frying pan and add the oil and flour. Stir over medium heat until the mixture becomes a peanut-butter-colored roux, about 10 to 15 minutes. Add the celery, onion, green pepper, garlic, and tomatoes and cook, stirring all the time, until almost tender. Stir in the remaining ingredients except the sausage and the rice and simmer a few minutes until thickened.

Strain the necks and gizzards from the kettle, reserving the broth. Place the poultry pieces and the vegetable mixture in the kettle, along with 2 quarts of the reserved broth. Stir over medium heat until the mixture thickens. Simmer for 30 minutes. Add the sausage and cook for an additional 15 minutes.

Serve over 1/4 cup of cooked rice in each bowl.

Serves 8 to 10.


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Smith, Jeff. The Frugal Gourmet Cooks American, William Morrow and Company, Inc., NY, 1987.
Wikipedia website, Smith, Jeff (