Seafood Okra Gumbo    

Every household in Louisiana has their family’s “handed down” recipe for making all sorts of gumbo. In our home we had this ritual of going down to the riverfront to the old French Market to purchase the seafood that came fresh from the fisherman’s boats. There we found live blue lake crabs, fresh caught shrimp and freshly shucked Louisiana oysters! The open market is no longer there, but the memories will never leave me! The Cajuns, better known as the country or bayou folks would take anything that crawled, swam or flew to make their gumbo. The Creoles, better known as the city folks mostly used basic seafood (shrimp, crab and oysters), duck, chicken or turkey for their gumbo. What both cultures have in common is a roux, celery, onion, garlic, bell pepper and a rich stock. Some use okra and other use file powder (pronounced fee-lay…..accent over the “e”.) Tomatoes are typically used for the seafood version, but not for the other kinds. Here’s how I make mine.

2 pounds medium raw shrimp, peeled & deveined (reserve peels and heads for stock)
4-6 blue lake crabs, live or boiled. Cleaned and cut in quarters (reserve shells for stock)
8 cups water
2 pounds okra, sliced
6 tablespoons bacon drippings
2 cooking spoons (approx. 3/4 cup) bacon drippings
3/4 cup all purpose flour
1 medium bell pepper, chopped
1 bunch green onions and tops, sliced
1 large onion, chopped
4 large ribs celery, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 bunch flat leaf parsley, minced (leaves only)
1 can whole tomatoes, crushed by hand
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon lemon-pepper
3 bay leaves
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
Cayenne pepper to taste
1 pound smoked country sausage* (optional)
1 pound fresh lump crabmeat
2 pints fresh shucked oysters and their water
Tabasco to taste
1 bunch green onions and tops, thinly sliced
1/2 bunch flat leaf parsley, chopped (leaves only)
3 cups cooked Uncle Ben’s Rice

Place shrimp peels, heads and crab shells in a large pot with the 8 cups of water. Bring to the boil and cook for about 15 minutes. Cover and let stand while you prepare the roux.

In a heavy skillet, preferably non-stick, heat the 6 tablespoons of bacon drippings and sauté the okra for about 30 minutes until the okra ceases to “rope”. Set aside.

In an iron skillet, heat the remaining bacon drippings and whisk in the flour. Stir constantly over a medium high heat until the roux reaches a chocolate color. This will take approximately 30 – 40 minutes and it cannot be left unattended!! This is very important as the flour can burn easily. You MUST stir this constantly. If the roux burns, throw it out and start over…this will ruin the entire pot of gumbo!!

When the roux reaches the desired color, stir in the bell pepper, green onions, regular onion, garlic, celery and parsley. Cook for about 5-7 minutes to soften the vegetables. Add the thinly sliced smoked sausage. Cook about 10 minutes on low heat, stirring constantly.

Transfer the roux/vegetable mixture to a large soup pot. Add the strained stock, crushed tomatoes and the cooked okra. Stir well to dissolve the roux. Simmer for 10 minutes. Add the boiled or raw quartered crabs and all the remaining seasonings. Simmer another 40 minutes. Stir in the shrimp, oysters and oyster water and the lump crabmeat. Cover and gently simmer for an additional 10 minutes. Taste and correct the seasoning. Gumbo is a thick soup...not a thick stew. You may want to add more broth if it seems too thick.

To serve: Place a scoop of cooked rice in the center of a soup bowl. Spoon the gumbo around the rice. Sprinkle each serving with some additional sliced green onions and chopped parsley. Pass the Tabasco around the table! We love our gumbo served with hot French Crusty French Bread and sweet butter. Enjoy. Serves 8-12

Note: If you should have any gumbo leftover....it can be frozen. I suggest you remove the oysters before freezing as they can get rubbery when reheated. Gumbo, like Red Beans or Spaghetti Sauce, is always best served the next day.

* I buy my sausage from Jacob’s in LaPlace, Louisiana…it is the Andouille capitol of the world. They just recently got a website where you can order on-line.

Source of recipe: Chiqui