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I'm new to new to New Orleans style of cooking. I heard that gumbo spoils while still cooking. Is this true. I'm confused. Any answer would help.

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    Do they really mean "spoil" as in "go rotten" or do they mean something else? Can you cite a source for this statement? Lots of the stuff people "hear" isn't true. – Catija Jan 23 '16 at 20:43
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I believe in this context, spoil is not referring to food safety issues such as dangerous pathogens, but rather that the dish does not fulfill its culinary promise.

For example, any soup or stew that is cooked on too high a heat will become burnt on the bottom. You won't get sick from eating it, but from a flavor aspect, it's spoiled.

Not being an expert in cooking gumbo, I can't cite all the specifics, but there surely is an optimum heat and time that it should be cooked. Stray too far from the base recipe and technique, and you may spoil the gumbo.

From your comments, it sounds like the recipe calls for cooking the gumbo to a point of "doneness", and then turning down the heat so that it stays below the boiling point. In other words, if the fully cooked gumbo continues cooking at a full boil, the recipe will be spoiled.

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"Spoiled" is a common term used for judging whether food is fit to eat. It is supposed to apply to food which is full of potentially pathogenic bacterial colonies, but of course, it is impossible to see bacteria.

However, there is one quite sure sign of bacteria: slime. Bacterial colonies tend to produce slime on usually-dry food items. So, people have learned to associate slime with bacteria. If somebody is not very discriminating, he or she may decide that every slimy food must be spoiled.

Gumbo frequently contains okra, one of the rare foods which releases slime when cooked. This has nothing to do with bacteria, the compounds which create the slime are produced by the vegetable itself. But as a result, you can have slimy gumbo.

Now, if you have a person for whom "slimy" is equivalent to "spoiled", either because they think that "spoiled" is the same as "dangerous" and that "slimy" is always "dangerous", or because they know the difference, but dislike the texture and feel that any slimy food is unfit for eating, it is very probable that this person will call a slimy gumbo "spoiled". Is this correct or not? For some definitions of "spoiled", it is correct, for others, it isn't.

In any case, gumbo does not become infested with dangerous levels of pathogenic microorganisms while cooked.

  • I was told that from someone from new Orleans that when it starts to boil after it's done cooking, that it is starting to spoil. I thought this was something that someone said that didn't make any sense. Thank you for clearing that up for me!!! – Paul Jan 23 '16 at 21:53
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    "starts to boil after it's done cooking" sounds very differently from "spoils while cooking". Could that person have meant that they are leaving their gumbo on the counter, and if they see bubbles (a sign of fermentation) a few hours later, that it's spoiled then? In that case, it's not "spoil" which is used with an uncommon definition, but "boil". – rumtscho Jan 23 '16 at 22:39
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    It sounds more like the recipe calls for cooking the gumbo to a point of "doneness", and then turning down the heat so that it stays below the boiling point. In other words, if the fully cooked gumbo continues cooking at a full boil, the recipe will be spoiled. – ElmerCat Jan 23 '16 at 22:50
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    Perhaps it might be recommended to use the term "ruined" instead. – Catija Jan 24 '16 at 0:21
  • At this point, it is really impossible to say what exactly that person meant. A misunderstanding could have occurred at one of many points. I still stand by the "does not become infested with bacteria while it cooks" part. Anything else is more of a conjecture. – rumtscho Jan 24 '16 at 21:43
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To answer the question in the purest sense of the possibility of it happening, I can say that gumbo will indeed be legitimately spoiled when the pot is turned off if: a) you may have used stock that was already spoiled or b) one of your seafood ingredients may have already been spoiled. By spoiled I mean stock that had been prepared ahead of time but left out over night and refrigerated 16 hours after the time it was prepared or seafood that was stored in the fridge after it had spoiled. Both have happened to me at different times unfortunately. Very expensive lessons learned.

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