On the list of dishes i want to make (and yes, there is such a list, currently approximately 200 recipes long) gumbo was nowhere close to top. That was until fresh okra arrived in our CSA box and suddenly gumbo seemed not only to be a logical choice but something I could not live without. Maybe it’s the onslaught of fall, or the slightly cooler nights, but no cook tomato pastas are out and a veggie heavy, hearty gumbo was on the menu.
I could have heard it on some cooking show from Emril Lagasse or maybe it was that season of top chef set in New Orleans but I knew that a dark-as-night hued roux was the fundamental base from which all good gumbos come. My previous attempts were fails. For context this is coming from a girl who actually enjoys the process of making risotto, the constant stirring and attention required to make the perfect roux was beyond me. Look away for one second and my cappuccino colored roux was flecked with dark spots and smelled bitter and burnt. Alton Brown to the rescue, if the consistent steady heat of an oven works for beans, why not use it on a roux as well?
I made a few adjustments starting mine on the stove, while it was still easy to manage and moving it the oven for 30-40 minutes to reach that perfect shade. That gave me time to chop all the veggies, brown the okra to remove the slime factor, and even pour myself a glass of wine. No stress, no acrid burnt smells, and weeknight gumbo happened.
This recipe takes sometime but with the oven method it is pretty fool proof. Also, I’m of the opinion that gumbo is more of a home cook thing then a restaurant thing. I can get oyster po’ boys and good fried chicken elsewhere but when it comes to gumbo I want to make and eat that at home on a cool fall night. Every cook, even those north of the Mason-Dixon line should have a recipe in their arsenal. I hope you make this one yours.
A quick word on ingredients. If you can find shrimp with the head and shells on then you can make a quick seafood broth. Otherwise chicken broth can be substituted and a wee bit of clam juice wouldn’t be a bad idea either (though I haven’t tried it). Fresh okra is difficult to find so if you can’t locate it use frozen. Gumbos without okra often use file powder, but I skipped it because mine had enough flavor with everything else going on. If you have file powder or can find it easily maybe consider adding it at the end. And although not pictured, I skipped the boring cayenne pepper in favor of a couple dashes of Crystal or Tobasco hot sauce in my bowl at the end. This is how I recommend you do it too if you like spicy food.
- 4 ounces flour
- 4 ounces oil
- 8 ounces okra, fresh or defrosted if frozen
- 2 cups diced celery
- 2 cups diced onion
- 2 cups diced green pepper
- 2 tablespoons (3-4 cloves) diced garlic
- 1.5 cups chopped tomatoes
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 tablespoon fresh oregano or thyme
- 1 quart seafood or chicken broth (see note)
- 12 ounces sliced greens (beet, turnip, chard, kale will all work)
- 8 ounces lump crab meet
- 12 ounces andouille sausage, cut into ¼ inch slices, browned in a bit of oil (optional)
- 1 lb shrimp, preferably with heads and shells on (see note on stock)
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Heat oil over medium heat and then whisk in flour to form a roux. Continue to cook stirring frequently until the roux has reached a "cappuccino" colored shade, approximately 10-15 minutes.
- Move to the oven at this point to avoid burning your roux. Continue cooking until it reaches the color of dark chocolate or coffee approximately 40-45 minutes. Alternatively you can continue to cook on the stove, but beware, rouxs will burn easily.
- Meanwhile, prep all your vegetables. To remove the "slime" from okra, add it to a dry skillet and cook over medium high heat until beginning to brown in spots. Remove the okra and slice into a ¼" dice. You can use the same skillet to brown your sausage in a bit of oil if using.
- Carefully remove pot from the oven and place back on the stove top over medium heat. Add celery, onion, pepper and garlic and cook, stirring until vegetables are softened, about 8 minutes. Add tomatoes, bay leaves and herbs and cook 1-2 minutes for the flavors to combine.
- Add the stock in a stream while you stir the pot. The roux may seize up but have faith it will relax into a rich, thick broth. Add greens, bring to a simmer and cook for 10-20 minutes until greens are beginning to fall apart. Stir in crab, shrimp and sausage and cook 3-5 minutes more until shrimp turns pink and is done. Remove from heat and serve over rice and with Tobasco or Crystal hot sauce on the side.