When I was growing up, my mother made gumbo every week, usually twice. She made chicken filé gumbo on Wednesdays, and seafood okra gumbo on Fridays. They tasted utterly different. Her special touch was that she sauteed the okra before adding it to the pot, thereby avoiding the texture problems that some people have with the innards of okra.
The great truth about gumbo is that no two chefs make it alike. Anybody who tells you that there’s only one “right” way to make gumbo is nuts. If you have an idea that you think might make your version better, you should feel free to use it. I’ve seen just about every imaginable foodstuff in gumbo.
Here’s my version. A few points. Not all recipes for seafood gumbo call for making a stock, but I always do, using either the little gumbo crabs that you can buy frozen year round, or the remnants of big boiled crabs. Or shrimp shells or crawfish shells. Or oyster water. It depends on what I have around.
Also, following the technique of restaurant chefs, I make the roux separately and add it to the broth well into the process, not at the beginning. This would have been thought of as crazy by my mother, but I think it give you more control over the amount of roux in the soup. My way or hers, this will make a gumbo with a light texture. The very thick gumbos that came into vogue in the last twenty years never seemed as good to me as this one. But cooks can argue about that until the shrimp come home.
- 6 gumbo crabs and/or
- 4 cups shrimp or crawfish shells and/or
- 1/2 gallon oyster water, strained
- 1 small onion, cut up
- 2 ribs celery, cut up
- Stems from one bunch of parsley
- 1 Tbs. black peppercorns
- 2 bay leaves
- 1/2 tsp. thyme
- 3 Tbs. vegetable oil
- 2 lbs. okra
- 2 medium onions, chopped
- 1 very ripe (turning red) green bell pepper, seeds and membrane removed, chopped
- 2 ribs celery, chopped
- 2 bay leaves
- 1/2 tsp. thyme
- 1 tsp. oregano
- 1 Tbs. Creole seasoning
- Hot sauce
- 1/4 cup finely snipped green onions
- Pick any two (or pick more, using less of each)
- 2 lbs. peeled large shrimp and/or
- 1 lb. claw crabmeat and/or
- 2 cups crawfish tails and/or
- 3-4 dozen oysters
- 1/2 cup olive oil (not extra-virgin)
- 2/3 cup flour
1. Make the stock by bringing about a gallon of water (including oyster water, if available) to a light boil. Add all the remaining stock ingredients. Return to a bare simmer and cook for about 30 minutes. Strain the stock and discard all the solids.
2. In a large pot, heat the vegetable oil until it shimmers. Add the okra and cook, stirring, for about three minutes. Remove the okra and drain the pot, but leave a film of oil in it.
3. Add the onions, bell pepper, and celery. Cook until the vegetables are soft. Then add the stock to the pot, and bring to a simmer. Add the bay leaves, thyme, oregano, and Creole seasoning.
4. While the gumbo simmers, make the roux. Heat the I olive oil in a small saucepan over medium heat until it shimmers. Add the flour and whisk until it changes texture. Then shift to a wooden spoon (preferably one with a flat end)and stir until the roux reaches the color of pecans. Remove the roux pan from the heat.
5. Add a cup of hot gumbo to the roux and whisk it in. Then add about two-thirds of the roux mixture back into the gumbo and whisk it in. Add more warm roux, a little at a time, until the soup is the color and texture that seem right to you. (You might not use all the roux.)
6. Simmer the gumbo for about an hour. Taste and add salt, pepper, and hot sauce to taste. Just before serving, add the shrimp, crabmeat, crawfish tails, and/or oysters. Simmer until the seafoods are heated through–about two or three minutes. Serve with long-grain rice, garnished with the chopped green onions.
Serves eight to twelve.