May 14, 2011

Seafood Gumbo

Our May hostess, Denise of There’s a Newf in My Soup!, challenged The Daring Cooks to make Gumbo! She provided us with all the recipes we’d need from creole spices, homemade stock and Louisiana white rice, to Drew’s Chicken & Smoked Sausage Gumbo and Seafood Gumbo from My New Orleans:  The Cookbook, by John Besh.

Daring Cooks is an online community of enthusiastic cooks from all over the world. Once a month we are challenged to cook a particular dish or type of dish, usually one that forces us to get out of our comfort zones. Then we all reveal the dish on our blogs on the same day. This was my very first Daring Cooks Challenge, and gumbo was quite an initiation!

Gumbo is a stew that originates in the Cajun Creole area of southern Louisiana. Gumbo is made up of a base of onions, celery and bell peppers (the so-called “holy trinity”), stock, and seafood or meat. There are many variation of gumbo, from seafood to chicken or duck. You can even make a vegetarian version known as Gumbo Z’herbes.

Then there’s the thickener, which is what often sets one gumbo apart from another. To thicken your gumbo you can use okra (a vegetable), roux (a combination of fat and flour), or file powder (ground up sassafras leaves).

I decided to make a seafood gumbo based on a recipe from a cookbook by John Besh called My New Orleans: The Cookbook. Besh’s recipe for seafood gumbo calls for both okra and roux as thickeners. The thickener is where gumbo gets tricky and it was my biggest worry when making the gumbo.

Okra, also called lady fingers, is a green vegetable. It’s used a lot in Indian cooking, so I’d eaten it many times, but I’d never cooked it before. The problem with okra is that if you don’t cook it properly, it turns into a slimy mess. 

The other thickener, the roux, is also tricky. To make it, you heat a fat (in this case, canola oil) and add flour to it. A proper roux is crucial to good gumbo. Made properly, the roux gives the gumbo its characteristic flavor and thickens the stew. But it’s a balancing act. For gumbo, you have to get your roux to a point where it’s a really deep, dark brown color — just this side of a burnt, black roux that will ruin the entire dish.

Aside from the okra and roux, the recipe was fairly straightforward. That’s not to say it wasn’t involved. On first (and second and third) glance, it seemed intimidatingly long and complex. So I broke it down into steps. The first was to make the Creole spice mix. Next was to make the shrimp stock. Finally, once the spice blend and stock were prepared, it would be time to make the gumbo itself.

I stuck to the recipe as closely as I could. The main changes I made were to the types of seafood I used. I left out the blue crabs and shucked oysters, because neither were available in my area. I added lump crabmeat in place of the whole crabs, and substituted quartered sea scallops for the oysters. The scallops were fabulous in the stew, silky and perfectly cooked.

The recipe for the shrimp stock called for using the shells and heads of the shrimp. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any head-on shrimp. I think if I had, the stock would have been much richer and tastier, and probably would have enhanced the final gumbo.

Gumbo is the perfect dish to share with friends and family, so I threw a little Gumbo Party. Everyone enjoyed the deep, rich flavor of the gumbo. It was flavorful and spicy with a heat that settled on the tongue over time. A few spice-lovers at the table added extra Tabasco to the gumbo but I didn’t think it was necessary. The Andouille sausage provided a tasty, substantive bite. And the seafood, added during the final minutes of cooking, was perfectly cooked.  

As they say in New Orleans, “Laissez les bons temps rouler” – Let the Good Times Roll!

First make the Creole spice blend, a mix of savory and spicy flavors.

Then on to the shrimp stock. First, peel the shrimp. The shells (and heads if you’re lucky enough to have them) form the basis of the stock.

Prep the other vegetables and spices. These add their own flavors to the stock.

Saute the shrimp shells with the Creole spice blend until they turn pink.

Then add the onion, celery, carrots, bay leaves, peppercorns, thyme, and rosemary to the pot.

Add wine and reduce it down for a few minutes. Then add the water and simmer for about an hour.

Strain the stock through a sieve into a large bowl. Press down on the shells and vegetables to get all the bits of flavor.

Now you have a flavorful shrimp stock.

Before you begin making the gumbo, you should have all of your ingredients prepped and ready. This includes the holy trinity of onions, celery and bell pepper (there’s some garlic there too)...

...the Andouille sausage, which is a spicy, smoked, Cajun-style sausage...

...and the okra (make sure you dry each pod carefully before you cut it to avoid having it turn into a sticky mess).

The roux for this recipe consists of equal parts canola oil and flour. Heat the oil in the pot and then add the flour. Whisk it continuously for the next 15 minutes as it progressively darkens from light yellow to dark, chocolately brown. If you stop whisking, you run the risk of the burning the roux and ruining the entire dish.

you can see how my roux progressed from pale yellow to deep, dark brown

Once the roux is dark brown, add the onions.

Next add the Andouille sausage and crabs (if you’re using them). And then the celery, bell peppers, garlic and okra.

Add the thyme, bay leaves and shrimp stock. Simmer for 45 minutes.

I made the dish up to this point and then held it until we were ready to eat. The seafood only takes about 15 minutes to cook, and you don’t want it to overcook sitting in the hot liquid. So, about 30 minutes before you’re ready to eat, reheat the gumbo base and get your seafood ready.

When the gumbo is hot, add your seafood and cook for 15 minutes. Finally, have a taste and adjust your seasonings. This is an important step, so don’t skip it. I added quite a bit of salt and Creole spice at this point, as well as some Worcestershire sauce and Tabasco.

I served the gumbo with Louisiana white rice, which is long-grain rice cooked with sautéed onions in chicken broth.

Laissez les bons temps rouler, indeed!

Seafood Gumbo

Adapted from My New Orleans: The Cookbook, by John Besh

To Make the Gumbo
1 cup (240 ml) canola oil
1 cup (240 ml) (140 gm) (5 oz) flour
2 large onions, diced
6 jumbo blue crabs, each cut into four pieces (if unavailable, omit, or substitute another type of crab)
1 lb spicy smoked sausage links (like Andouille), sliced ½ inch thick
1 stalk celery, diced
1 green bell pepper, seeded and diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup sliced fresh okra, sliced ½ -inch thick (or frozen, if fresh is not available).
Leaves from sprig of fresh thyme
3 qt shrimp stock (see recipe below)
2 bay leaves
1 lb peeled and deveined medium shrimp. (Note: If you are buying whole, head-on shrimp, which you will need in order to use the heads and peels for stock, you will then need approximately 4 pounds of shrimp to yield enough heads/shells for the stock. Although the recipe only calls for 1 pound of shrimp, you will end up with a little over 2 pounds of cleaned shrimp, which I found was perfect for this size pot of gumbo)
1 lb shucked oysters (I substituted 1 lb of sea scallops, which I cut into quarters)
1 lb lump crabmeat
1 cup minced green onions
Freshly ground black pepper
Basic Creole Spices, to taste (see recipe below)
Worcestershire, to taste
Tabasco, to taste
8 cups cooked Basic Louisiana White Rice (recipe follows)
1.      Prepare shrimp stock, if using (recipe below).
2.      Prepare homemade Basic Creole Spices, if using (recipe below).
3.      Make sure all of your vegetables are cut, diced, chopped, minced and ready to go before beginning the roux. You must stand at the stove and stir the roux continuously to prevent it from burning.
4.      In a large cast-iron or heavy-bottomed pan, heat the canola oil over high heat. Whisk the flour into the hot oil – it will start to sizzle. Reduce the heat to moderate, and continue whisking until the roux becomes deep brown in color, about 15 minutes.
5.      Add the onions. Switch to a wooden spoon and stir the onions into the roux. Reduce the heat to medium-low, and continue stirring until the roux becomes a glossy dark brown, about 10 minutes.
6.      Add the blue crabs and smoked sausage and stir for a minute before adding the celery, bell peppers, garlic, and okra. Increase the heat to moderate and cook, stirring, for about 3 minutes.
7.      Add the thyme, shellfish stock, and bay leaves. Bring the gumbo to a boil, stirring occasionally.
8.      Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, uncovered, for 45 minutes. Stir occasionally, skimming off the fat from the surface of the gumbo every so often.
9.      Add the shrimp, oysters, crabmeat and green onions to the pot and cook for 15 minutes. Make sure everything is ready to serve before adding the shellfish to the gumbo. DO NOT OVERCOOK your shellfish.
10.  Season with salt and pepper, Creole Spices, Worcestershire, and Tabasco.
11.  Serve in bowls over rice.
Storage/Freezing Information: Store gumbo in the refrigerator for up to three days and then reheat gently before serving. As with many stews and braises, gumbo tastes better the second day. You can also freeze it for up to eight months. Simply transfer to freezer-safe containers.

Shrimp Stock
Adapted from My New Orleans: The Cookbook, by John Besh and Real Cajun, by Donald Link
Servings: About 3 quarts
¼ cup (120 ml) canola oil
Shells and heads (about 1 ½ pounds (700 gm)) from 4 pounds (2 kg) shrimp (prawns)
1 tablespoon Basic Creole Spices (recipe below) or paprika
1 large onion coarsely chopped
2 stalks celery, coarsely chopped
2 carrots, peeled and coarsely chopped
6 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
6 bay leaves
2 sprigs fresh thyme
1 sprig fresh rosemary
2 teaspoons (10 ml) (5 gm) black peppercorns
2 cups (480 ml) dry white wine (optional)
3 ½ quarts (3⅓ liters) water
1.      Heat the canola oil in a large stockpot over moderate heat. When the oil begins to smoke slightly, add the shells and Creole spice blend (or paprika). Stir continuously, for 2 minutes, until the shells crisp up and turn pink.
2.      Add the onion, celery, carrot, garlic, rosemary, thyme, bay leaves, and peppercorns. Cook, stirring, for 5 minutes. 3. Add the white wine (skip this step if not using wine) and bring to a boil. Allow the wine to reduce for an additional 5 minutes.
3.      Add the water and return to a boil. Reduce heat to low, and simmer, uncovered, skimming off any foam or oil that rises to the surface, for 45 minutes to 1 hour.
4.      Strain through a fine sieve into a large bowl. Discard all the solids. Allow the stock to cool, cover and refrigerate, then skim off the fat. Use immediately, or freeze for later use.

Creole Spice Blend
From My New Orleans: The Cookbook, by John Besh
Makes ½ cup
2 Tbsp celery salt
1 Tbsp sweet paprika
1 Tbsp coarse sea salt
1 Tbsp freshly ground black pepper
1 Tbsp garlic powder
1 Tbsp onion powder
2 tsp cayenne pepper
½ tsp ground allspice
1.      Mix together all spices in a bowl.
2.      Transfer the spices to a clean container with a tight-fitting lid. Store up to six months.

Louisiana White Rice
Adapted from My New Orleans: The Cookbook, by John Besh
Servings: About 8 cups
2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, or butter
2 small onions, minced
3 cups long-grain white rice
6 cups chicken stock
2 bay leaves
2 pinches salt
1.      Put the fat, oil, or butter and the onions into a medium saucepan and sweat the onions over moderate heat until they are translucent, about 5 minutes.
2.      Pour the rice into the pan and stir for 2 minutes.
3.      Add the chicken stock and bring to a boil.
4.      Add the bay leaf and salt.
5.      Cover the pan with a lid, reduce the heat to low, and cook for 18 minutes.
6.      Remove the pan from the heat, fluff the rice with a fork, and serve.

Gumbo serves 10


  1. Great post and fabulous pictures!!

  2. Welcome!! Looks like your first challenge was a success!

  3. This was amazing! I think it could be enjoyed year-round!

  4. Welcome to the Daring Cooks! Your first challege was absolutely a success, and I am glad that you were able to let the good times roll with it! Your roux with the veggies mixed in looks fabulous. And with the home-made stock I am sure your end result was amazing. Great work!!

  5. Hello and welcome to the Daring Cooks' and congratulations on your first successful challenge. I love that last photo the gumbo's liquid looks so dark and flavoursome well done and great to hear that the gumbo party well down so well. Kudos to you.

    Cheers from Audax in Sydney Australia.

  6. hello fellow first-timer! :)
    oh yum, your seafood gumbo looks great! you totally rocked this first challenge!! i think when i try to make a seafood gumbo my goal will be to make it as rich as yours!
    awesome job :D

  7. Welcome to the Daring Cooks, I hope you have fun! Looks like you're off to a terrific start, your gumbo looks pitch-perfect!

  8. I can smell the richness of this Gumbo by just looking at the fantastic pictures. Chilled Semi-sweet and sligtly fruity Sauvignon Blanc (New Zealand) or cold Dry Rose from Provance would be my choice of wine with this preparation.


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