The Gumbo Debate

Potato Salad or Rice

“Sooner or later Southerners all come home, not to die, but to eat gumbo.”

—Eugene Walter, bard of Mobile, Alabama

Just as the culinary debate with regard to the making of gumbo continues — seafood vs. meat vs. poultry, lighter or darker roux, tomato vs. no tomato — another debate has surfaced … should gumbo be served with rice or potato salad, or possibly both?

Chef Johnny Blancher of Ye Olde College Inn serves his award-winning turkey and andouille sausage gumbo with rice. Potato salad either as a side or a base is not even in consideration. The restaurant and neighboring legendary bowling alley/music space, Rock ‘N’ Bowl, owned by the Blancher family, serves his mother’s recipe.

Deborah Couvillon Blancher hails from Vermilion Parish in the heart of Louisiana’s Cajun Country, where it is said the tradition of serving potato salad with gumbo was born. “It was always and only rice for my family, but then again, we were rice farmers,” says Deborah. “In fact, we had some form of a rice dish with every meal — boiled rice, dirty rice, jambalaya, rice and gravy. Maybe if we grew potatoes it would have been different. But then as an adult, I heard one of my aunts say she served her gumbo with dirty rice. And that is the beauty of gumbo in general. Everyone has a preference and can serve it how they like it, and that is just great.”

If you’re dining at Prejean’s restaurant in Lafayette and you order gumbo, the wait staff will likely ask, “Would you like potato salad with that?” There, it is common for diners to not only ask for a side of potato salad, but to stir the salad directly into the gumbo. Prejean’s recipe calls for not only mayonnaise, but a bit of mustard as well, and hard-boiled eggs — another source of debate. Prejean’s serves the potato salad cold; hence, when you put it in the gumbo, it adds a cooling creaminess.