The only thing more New Orleans than a dented pot of gumbo simmering on the back burner is arguing about the right way to make it. With a heritage claiming both French and West African roots, gumbo is a thick stew served over rice and made with a roux (a mixture of butter and flour) and a wide variety of ingredients such as celery, peppers, okra, onions chicken, sausage and/or seafood. With so many options, every family perfected its own treasured recipes, which leads to impassioned debate on which one is best. Even so, gumbo does more to bring us together than divide us, as queen of Creole cuisine Chef Leah Chase said, “There've been a lot of problems solved in that dining room over a bowl of gumbo.”
The late famed chef Paul Prudhomme created "Gumbo Ya-Ya" which can now be found at Mr. B's Bistro in the French Quarter and is a local favorite. Also stop in at The Gumbo Shop also in the French Quarter and try their famous seafood okra gumbo. At Liuzza's by the Track, in Mid-City near the Fairgrounds Racetrack, you can have the best of both worlds: chicken, sausage and shrimp all in one!
Make sure you have a cup or two of at least one type of gumbo while in New Orleans, then you can return home and perfect your own style. Until then, here are two recipes to help you out.
In a 12-quart stockpot melt butter over moderately low heat. Gradually add a third of the flour, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, and cook, stirring constantly, 30 seconds. Add a third more flour and sit constantly 30 seconds. Add remaining third of flour and stir constantly 30 seconds. Continue to cook roux, stirring constantly, until it is the color of dark mahogany, about 30 to 45 minutes.
Add bell peppers and stir constantly 30 seconds. Add onions and celery and stir constantly 30 seconds. Add the stock to roux, stirring constantly to prevent lumps. Add all remaining ingredients except chicken, rice, and hot sauce and bring to boil. Simmer gumbo, uncovered, 45 minutes, skimming off any fat and stirring occasionally. Add chicken and simmer 15 minutes. Adjust seasoning with hot sauce. Serve over rice.
This recipe yields about 6 quarts, but gumbo freezes well and can be thawed without losing flavor.
Peel and de-vein the shrimp, and set aside, covered in the refrigerator. Rinse the shrimp shells and heads, place in a non-reactive stock pot along with 2 quarts of water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 30-45 minutes to make a stock. Strain, discard the shells and heads and set the stock aside. Meanwhile, wash the crabs well under running water, pace in a non-reactive pot with 1 quart of water, bring to a boil and simmer for 20-30 minutes. Strain, reserving stock and crabs. When the crabs are cool enough to handle, snap both claws off then break the body in half. Set aside.
In a heavy bottomed skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of oil, add the okra and sauté over medium high heat for about 10 – 15 minutes or until all the "ropiness" is gone. The step may take a little longer if fresh okra is used.
Place the 2/3 cup oil in large (8 quart) heavy bottomed Dutch over type pot. Add the flour and, over a medium high fire make a dark brown roux. As soon as the proper color is achieved, add the onions, bell pepper, celery and garlic and sauté, stirring occasionally until tender. During this process, allow the vegetables to stick to the bottom of the pan a bit, then scrape the bottom with a metal spoon or spatula. This allows some of the natural sugars in the onions to caramelize, rendering great depth of flavor.
When the seasoning vegetables are tender, add the tomatoes, bay leaves, and the three peppers and a little salt. Cook for about 10 minutes, repeating the stick and scrape process with the tomatoes. Add the sautéed okra and cook for 10 more minutes.
Add the crab stock and half of the shrimp stock to the pot. Stirring constantly, bring the pot to a boil. Lower the heat a bit, partially cover and simmer for thirty minutes, stirring occasionally. If the gumbo appears too thick, add more stock to adjust. Add salt to taste and adjust the pepper if desired. Add the broken crabs and simmer for about 10 minutes. Add the peeled shrimp, return to a boil and simmer until the shrimp are firm and pink, about 5 minutes. Remove the pot from heat.
Serve in large bowls over steamed rice. This recipe will yield about six entrees or ten to twelve appetizers.