If you’ve ever wondered how Filé (FEE-lay) Powder is made, or would like to make it yourself, check out THIS LINK! Filé powder is a NOLA Cuisine Staple, which is made from the ground, young and tender leaves of the Sassafras tree (Sassafras root is the original flavoring of root beer). The Choctaw Indians, native in Louisiana, introduced the use of Filé to thicken Gumbos and soups. Here is what the 1901 Picayune’s Creole Cookbook had to say on the subject:
First, it will be necessary to explain here, for the benefit of many, that “Filé” is a powder manufactured by the remaining tribe of Choctaw Indians in Louisiana, from the young and tender leaves of the Sassafras. The Indian squaws gather the leaves and spread them out on a stone mortar to dry. When thoroughly dried, they pound the m into a fine powder, pass them through a hair sieve, and then bring the “Filé” to New Orleans to sell, coming twice a week to the French Market, from the old reservation set aside for their home on Bayou Lacombe, near Mandeville, Louisiana. The Indians used Sassafras leaves and the Sassafras for many medicinal purposes, and still set bunches of the dried roots in the French Market for use in tea and tonics. The Creoles, quick to discover and apply, found the possibilities of the powdered Sassafras leaves or “Filé,” and originated the well-known dish “Gumbo Filé.”
One thing to remember about using Filé in a Gumbo is to never boil it. It becomes stringy and unpleasant. When I use Filé in a Gumbo, I always add it at the table to be stirred in by the guest. It has a wonderful woodsy, earthy type of flavor.
**Update – 3/26/2005** I recently found a good sized Sassafras tree in a park near my house which I harvested some leaves from. I will post soon (here is the post), with pics of my homemade Filé powder here in Michigan.
Thanks to Doug, here in Muskegon, Michigan for the email. He says his yard is loaded with Sassafras trees. I’m going to look into getting one for the yard for next spring.
Also, check out my friend Carolyn’s post Sassafras & Filé at 18thC Cuisine!