Growing up I always loved soup, and I always loved seafood, so I ordered lots of seafood gumbo at many restaurants while on vacation with my parents. I've never not been a food critic, so I judged very bowl by flavor, thickness, and whether or not it contained generous chunks of seafood (good), or token slivers (not good).
I also remember my Uncle Hal making duck gumbo and chicken gumbo for family when we'd come to Gray, Georgia to visit.
My exposure to gumbo continues because my boyfriend is somewhat of a gumbo connoisseur. That's to say, he has never made it but having lived in New Orleans he has eaten lots of it and he continues to order it at every restaurant where it appears on the menu. I've put off making it, because a) we weren't eating seafood for almost a year and b) his standards are high; it would have to be perfect, and we all know what perfectionism becomes in the hands of a procrastinator.
But one night, I bit the bullet. And as insurance, I warned Chris that this gumbo was not going to be that great, that I was using a bag of Trader Joe's frozen seafood, not fresh, that I'd "give it a whirl" but that I wasn't putting much effort into it aka he should adjust his expectations accordingly.
Ahh. Pressure off. Then, I proceeded to read recipes and watch gumbo how-to videos on YouTube until I understood the process. Beyond the basic ingredients, I figured I had enough cooking judgement to season and measure how I saw fit.
The result: gumbo that stands up to any gumbo I've ever had. Gumbo that you'll want to dip your garlic toast into to sop up every drop, like you would a good mussels dish (and I definitely recommend garlic toast as a side. This was Chris's excited recommendation, and I love when he gets excited about dinner!).
*Two things. I used vegetable broth and it worked wonderfully. Homemade seafood/shrimp stock would be even better I'm sure. If you have fresh seafood, simmer the shells of your seafood in water with anything else you'd like to flavor the broth, like garlic, herbs, and vegetables until the broth becomes fragrant and nicely flavored. Also, traditionally gumbo contains crab in its shell, but I don't like this because I find a gumbo with chunks of seafood and no shells much more enjoyable to eat. Besides, as far as I can tell, the only reasons for keeping the shells on are a)flavor and b)quicker. You can get the flavor from the shells by making stock; you don't have to serve soup with shells hanging out of it. Personally, I used a bag of frozen seafood and guess what - it tasted great.
¼ c oil/butter mix
6 Tbsp flour
1 onion, diced
1 green bell pepper, diced
3 stalks celery, diced
4 cups fresh okra, sliced into thin rounds
3 cloves garlic, minced
6 cups stock
2 bay leaves
thyme, 1 generous pinches
oregano, 2 generous pinches
chili powder, 1 Tbsp or more
generous sprinkle cayenne
salt & pepper
3 6-in andouille sausages, sliced (here's an excellent vegetarian option)
1 can diced tomatoes
seafood of choice (I used a bag of frozen shrimp, scallops & calamari via Trader Joes)
1. chop all ingredients and measure spices, warm stock in a separate pan, so all is ready to go
2. Stir oil and flour over medium (or med low, depending on your stove). It will become thick like a paste, but keep stirring constantly and it will thin out and become more liquid. Stir constantly until the color of chocolate or mahogany.
3. Add onions and kosher salt, and continue to stir for about 5 minutes. Mixture will seem very thick; that’s okay as long as you keep stirring. If it starts to stick you can add a little hot stock.
4. Add bell pepper, celery, garlic, more kosher salt, and continue to stir the thick paste until the vegetables soften. You may need to add a little hot stock again to loosen it up.
5. Add okra. Mixture will become very slimy. Stir, stir, stir until the slime starts to cook out. This will keep your gumbo from being slimy. It will take 5-10 minutes. Add some stock if you need to.
6. Add spices and sausage and stir a couple minutes to combine.
7. Add tomatoes, remaining stock, and S&P to the pot. Stir and simmer for at least an hour. If your gumbo already seems thick, you can cover the pot. If you want it to reduce some, simmer uncovered (I simmered uncovered).
8. Add seafood and simmer a few minutes until cooked through.
9. Garnish individual bowls with file powder if desired. Don’t add the file to the pot, because the gumbo will become too thick.
10. Serve over a little brown rice with toasted garlic bread on the side for dipping (you’ll want to soak up all the juice)!