Gumbo! Gumbo! Gumbo!
Sing it with me people….
“Jambalaya and a crawfish pie and file’ gumbo…’Cause tonight I’m gonna see my ma cher amio”
Did you know that Hank Williams wrote that song? Me neither. Behold the power of the google.
I love Gumbo. However it seems to be one of those weird things that people order at restaurants but never seem to make at home. To that I have to say, Why the heck not?
It’s easy – really it’s just a fish and sausage stew – and totally delicious. When you make it at home you can customize it to your own tastes. Add a little of this…a dash of that.
Come on. Time to get your Cajun on!
Here’s what you need:
Shrimp, Andouille Sausage, Crab Claw Meat, Okra, Carrot, Celery, Onion, Green Bell Pepper, Red Bell Pepper, Green Onions, Garlic, Canola Oil, Flour, White Wine, Oregano, Thyme, Bay Leaves, Cayenne Pepper, Salt & Pepper. File’ Powder pictured below. (*Shrimp Shells & Water for stock not pictured.)
Sometimes you’ll see gumbo called File’ Gumbo (please pretend that the accent is over the e…I haven’t figured out how to do that in a post yet) because it has the addition of File’ Powder. File’ Powder is found in the spice section and is the ground up leaves of the Sassafras plant. It smells a little like tea and adds a nice little bit of oomph to the flavor of the gumbo. If you can’t find File’ powder, don’t sweat it…your gumbo will taste great either way.
Hey, remember when I told you to save your shrimp shells? Did you do it? Do you have a bag like this somewhere in the freezer?
Grab your shells – we’re going to make shrimp stock! Now is also a good time to shell the shrimp that you’re going to put in the gumbo. We will use those shells too. Go ahead and put the shrimp back in the refrigerator to stay fresh.
If you haven’t been saving shrimp shells like me (a weirdo), don’t worry. You can still use the shells from the shrimp that will go in the gumbo. If you have the option of buying extra shrimp (say 3 pounds) and shelling them all now, use the shells for the stock and 1/2 of the shrimp for the gumbo. You can save or even freeze the extra 1.5 pounds of shrimp for another meal.
Grab a large soup or stock pot and pour about 2 Tablespoons of canola oil in the bottom. Add the shrimp shells to the pot and cook the shells over medium high heat until they turn pink.
Yes, you read that correctly. We are cooking the empty shrimp shells. They will get a little stinky as they roast but that is good flavor coming out for our gumbo. Stir them all around until they are all pink and toasty.
Add 1/2 cup of dry white wine to the shells. NOW it smells good!
The wine will cook away fairly quickly. Time to add some other flavors.
Just like when we made Homemade Chicken Stock, we need some onion, carrot and celery to flavor the shrimp stock.
Peel and chop up one small onion, 1 carrot (no need to peel the carrot) and 1 rib of celery.
Add them to the pot of shrimp shells. Also toss in a couple of dried bay leaves.
Pour in 10 – 12 cups of water to cover the shells and vegetables and fill your pot. Bring the shrimp stock to a boil over medium high heat and then turn the heat to LOW and simmer for 45 minutes to 1 hour.
Look at the difference in color after the stock has cooked. Golden and flavorful!
I just want to say a word here about this recipe. If you’ve gotten this far and have decided that making your own shrimp stock might not be worth it, I urge you…no I PLEAD with you to reconsider. I’ve made some pretty good gumbo in my day but I didn’t make GREAT gumbo until I started making shrimp stock. It is really very easy and makes a HUGE difference in the flavor. As often as I use cans of prepared stock from the store, I think you owe it to yourself and to your gumbo to make your own shrimp stock. I promise you won’t be sorry. End of sermon.
Use a strainer or large spoon to remove as many of the veggies and shrimp shells as you can from the stock pot. You can toss these – we don’t need them anymore.
CAREFULLY pour the stock through a strainer to remove any remaining shells and little bits. Good idea to pour this over the sink.
Just look at all that lovely shrimp stock! I’m telling you, it is the key to gumbo happiness.
You can see from the photo above, that while the stock was cooking, I took the time to cut up some of the veggies for the gumbo. Here’s what you need:
Chop up one large onion
Chop up one large Green Bell Pepper
And because I like the flavor and the color, I chop up one large Red Bell Pepper.
Chop up 3 or 4 ribs of celery and you have the “Holy Trinity” of Cajun cooking – onions, peppers, and celery.
Put all of your chopped vegetables in a bowl so they are ready to go in the gumbo.
Chop up 4 or 5 cloves of garlic and add them to the bowl of veggies.
Now for the gumbo! One of the things that distinguishes gumbo from other fish soups is that it is made with a dark roux. That means that we are going to cook the flour and oil used to thicken the gumbo until it is very dark and toasty.
This is the most important step for the gumbo. You MUST stir the roux the ENTIRE time it cooks. Cook it over medium low heat and stir, stir, stir. Grab your beverage of choice because you (or someone who loves gumbo and is willing to stir) will be stirring for about 20 minutes.
Pour 3/4 cup of Canola oil in a very large pot over medium heat.
Stir in 3/4 cup of flour to make the roux.
Using a whisk or a wooden spoon (I use both) stir the flour into the oil until it has combined and is lump-free.
Monitor the heat carefully and turn the heat down if the roux starts to brown. We want to cook this slowly over LOW heat for the best, toasty flavor.
Stir, stir, stir…don’t stop stirring. If it sticks and burns, you will have to throw it out and start over. Stir, stir, stir.
After about 5 minutes, you’ll smell a very nutty, toasty fragrance. This is the flour slowly cooking. This is a good smell.
After about 10 minutes of stirring, the roux will be the color of caramel or peanut butter. Keep stirring!
At 20 minutes the roux should be a medium brown almost chocolate color. This is exactly what you want for good gumbo!
When the roux is nice and brown, add the chopped vegetables to the pot and stir them all around to absorb the flour and oil mixture.
Cook the vegetables in the roux, stirring of course, for about 5 minutes until they are starting to get tender and the roux looks quite sticky.
Pour in 10 cups of your wonderful shrimp stock and stir the soup all together.
Cut up the Andouille Sausage into 1/2 rounds and add it to the gumbo. If you can’t find Andouille Sausage, any kind of smoked sausage will work. I have 3/4 of a pound of Andouille sausage.
For some spiciness and flavor, add 1 teaspoon of oregano, 1 teaspoon of thyme, 1 Tablespoon (more or less depending on who bold/whimpy you are) of Cayenne Pepper and a couple of bay leaves. Salt & Pepper to taste.
Bring the gumbo to a boil over medium high heat and then reduce the heat to low and simmer, covered with a lid for 45-60 minutes.
If you want to serve this with rice now is a good time to start cooking it so it’s ready to go when the gumbo is done.
It wouldn’t be gumbo without the okra! 30 minutes into the cooking time, drop about 2 heaping cups of okra into the pot.
I’m using frozen okra because it’s easy and I know I can always find it. If you want to use fresh, and can deal with the sliminess, go right ahead.
I have 1 1/2 pounds of extra large shrimp so I’m cutting my shrimp in half to make them more bite sized. If you have medium shrimp, you can skip this step and put them in whole.
Put the shrimp into the gumbo at the very end of the cooking time. They only need about 5 minutes to cook up nice and pink.
If you have some crab meat, pick through to make sure there are no wayward shell bits and toss it in the pot.
The crab meat is a nice little extra to the shrimp and sausage. Claw crab meat is very affordable and it adds so much extra flavor and texture to the gumbo that I think it’s a worthy addition.
Remember the File’ Powder?
If you have it, add a couple of spoonfuls (about 2 teaspoons) to the gumbo.
Taste the broth and adjust the salt and pepper to your liking.
Serve the gumbo in a bowl with some white rice, a few green onions, and some good Zydeco music.
Here’s the recipe!