Rich, seafood gumbo spices up Mardi Gras for the less meat-atarians among us. Serves 10 - 12.
4 heaping tablespoons of roux
3 quarts of shrimp stock
4 cups smothered okra
1.5 pounds medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
2 pints raw oysters
1/2 pound lump crab meat
6 cloves garlic, minced
2 medium onions, diced
2 cups celery, diced
1 cup green bell pepper, diced
2 bay leaves
2 teaspoons Creole Seasoning or to taste
1/3 cup green onion tops, chopped
Steamed rice for serving
1. Peel and devein shrimp. Rinse oysters. Rinse crab meat and pick through for any shells. Refrigerate until ready to use.
2. Heat the roux in a large, heavy stockpot over medium-high heat. When hot, add the onions, stirring continuously until onions begin to brown. Mix in the celery and green pepper. When they begin to soften, add the garlic and cook for 1 or 2 minutes more. Add stock slowly, stirring constantly to prevent lumps.
3. When the mixture is well blended, stir in the stewed okra. Bring to a rolling boil, then reduce heat to simmer until the gumbo is reduced by a third. Cook long enough to mellow the roux flavor, dissipating any taste of flour. It's done when the okra has started to dissolve and the soup has thickened.
4. Five minutes before serving, stir in the shrimp, crab meat and oysters. Cook just until shrimp heat through and turn pink, about 5 minutes. Remove bay leaves before serving. Taste and adjust seasonings, if necessary.
Serve in soup bowls over steamed rice. White rice is traditional. Garnish each bowl with green onions. Offer gumbo file' and Tabasco sauce on the side. Accompany with a warm, crusty French bread.
Chef's Note: This is a lot of cooking for one day, so make it easy on yourself. Make the smothered okra and roux ahead. Peel the shrimp the night before and hold shells in the refrigerator to put on the shrimp stock first thing in the morning. Expect to let the soup simmer at least two hours before you add the seafood. Three hours is not unusual. It's not a dish you want to hurry.
After many years of seasoning Cajun food to my Creole taste, I have earned the right to use Tony Chachere's Creole Seasoning. (Top Chef judges, suck it.) To make your own blend, combine salt, garlic powder, onion powder, cayenne pepper, black pepper, white pepper, paprika, dried oregano, dried thyme. You know it's "right" when the bridge of your nose start to sweat when you eat it.
Gumbo File' (FEE-lay)
Gumbo file' is the powdered leaves of the sassafras tree. It was widely used by the Choctaw tribe of Native Americans to thicken stews and soup. It adds a distinctive flavor. Only add file' after the gumbo is cooked, as it is served.
Some people say that you don't use okra, roux and file' in one gumbo since they are all thickening agents. Other people say okra in seafood gumbo, file' in chicken gumbo. One thing's certain about gumbo - everybody has a favorite recipe. But its diversity - and the complex layering of textures and flavor that make it so delicious - is based in one root philosophy: never too much of a good thing, cher.
Here's a little gumbo myth and mystery if you're interested.
Laissez les bon temps rouler!