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Gumbo time

There are few dishes that make you appreciate a dark roux better than a nice scratch-made batch of seafood gumbo. The “holy trinity” of Creole cuisine—onion, green bell pepper, and celery—are all in evidence, as is spicy Andouille sausage (or tasso ham), crab, shrimp, and briny oysters. But the true star of gumbo is always the element that holds them all together: artfully burnt flour. All of the different ingredients in gumbo can each be picked out and thought of in relation to the intoxicating nutty flavor of this magical reddish-brown sludge.

For too many people, the prospect of failure makes gumbo a risky proposition: it is very easy to burn a roux if you are using high heat. We find it much easier to gauge the progress of our roux by working over medium heat. It takes a little longer, but we aren't cooking on a busy restaurant range, and a well-executed gumbo (especially one with good shrimp and shellfish in it) is well worth the bit of extra time it takes to get the roux perfect. To be honest, slowing down the roux-making turns it into a wonderfully contemplative activity... try appreciating the zen of roux for yourself.

As for the type of seafood to use, make this gumbo with the best, freshest stuff you can find. If you can’t find decent shrimp, focus more on oysters and crab (or vice versa). If Andouille or Tasso cannot be found, any decent smoked sausage and an extra pinch of cayenne will do.

If you plan to use a lot of shrimp, we prefer making shrimp stock from the shells (and heads… if we can get them!). Just simmer any heads and shells you have for 30 minutes in 6 cups of water (or to cover) with a few peppercorns, a bay leaf, garlic, one chopped onion, and the celery trimmings.

Seafood Gumbo
serves 6

In a Dutch oven over medium-high heat, brown:
     8 ounces Andouille sausage or Tasso ham, cut into ½-inch slices or chunks
Remove the sausage to a paper-towel-lined plate and set aside.  Drain rendered fat from the pan, reduce the heat to medium, and add:
     4 tablespoons butter
     4 tablespoons vegetable oil
Whisk in a little at a time:
     1/2 cup all-purpose flour
Cook, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon or flat whisk (pictured above) over medium heat until the roux turns dark mahogany brown, about 20 minutes. Add and cook, stirring, until softened, about 10 minutes:
     2 onions, chopped
     3 stalks of celery, chopped
     1 large bell pepper, cored and chopped
Add and continue to cook and stir for another 3 minutes:
     4-6 cloves garlic, minced
     1-2 jalapeño or Serrano peppers, seeded and minced
     1 bay leaf
     1 teaspoon salt
     1 teaspoon ground black pepper
     1 teaspoon dried thyme
     1 teaspoon dried oregano
     1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

     5 cups Shrimp Stock, Fish Stock, Poultry Stock, or Chicken Broth

Bring to a boil, add the reserved browned sausage and simmer for 20 minutes. Add:
     8 ounces peeled shrimp
     8 ounces lump crabmeat, picked over for shells and cartilage
     (10 ounces sliced okra)
Bring back to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for another 10 minutes. Add:
     12 shucked oysters
     Salt and black pepper to taste
Heat just until the oysters are plump. Serve over:
     Cooked jasmine rice
Sprinkle with:
     Chopped parsley or celery leaves
     Chopped green onion
Have on the table:
     Filé powder
     Louisiana-style hot sauce


Shana's picture

This makes me so hungry! When the weather cools off a bit, I'll be doing this for sure. My great-grandmother-in-law, Enola Dufrene of Westwego, Louisiana, distinguished between 6 gradations of roux: pale, blonde (pronounced with the French "-duh" at the end), petit, brown, dark, and brick. Each one had it's own special applications. Her gumbo required brick roux and was beyond tasty. She was kind enough to give me her chicken and sausage gumbo recipe, and I've made it to rave reviews for years. My one shortcut is to start the roux on the stovetop and then finish it in a 350° oven. It takes a bit longer, about an hour, and there is not that great zen opportunity you talk about, but I'm guaranteed the perfect color without burning and I can use the time to chop my vegetables. Either method, gumbo is work doing. Thanks again!
john's picture

Wow... Pale, blonde, petit, brown, dark, and brick? Amazing... Would've liked to have spent some time in her kitchen! I remember looking over a "community" cookbook from bayou country that had a bulk recipe for roux that was done in the oven and frozen into portions suitable for one recipe... Though I'm partial to zen experiences, we are all very passionate about finding the best, most useful shortcuts... Or the anything that makes a chore easier, even if it takes a little longer. Your absolutely right though: either way, gumbo is definitely worth it!
Bill's picture

Looks great. But gumbo without okra?
john's picture

I know... Gumbo's always supposed to have okra. Some gumbos have no roux and are thickened only with okra slices and file powder. I made the okra optional in the recipe (added toward the end since it's thickening powers are not needed), but roux-based gumbos don't necessarily need the okra... Honestly, I'd rather eat mine raw (if they're young) or fried in cornmeal batter as an appetizer.

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