During the majority of my 20's, I lived in southern Mississippi where I was only an hour and a half drive from New Orleans. I fell head over heels in love with the city and all of the wonderful cuisine. I cannot say that I have a favorite Cajun or Creole dish because they are all near and dear to my heart, but gumbo is probably the most well known. Over the years, I have experimented with different gumbo recipes and tried to reach that authentic Louisiana gumbo goodness. After some trial and error, this is where I landed and it hasn't let me down!
Now, I will warn you... Gumbo takes a bit of a time commitment, but it isn't hard to make and is so worth it. There are corners you can cut like using beef bouillon cubes, packaged stock, and pre-shelled and deveined shrimp and/or crawfish. I really like making my own stock, especially if I have fresh seafood. I have made stock with crawfish shells from a crawfish boil the day before.
- One yellow or white onion
- Half a bundle of celery
- Shrimp shells and/or crawfish shells
- Water, chicken stock, or vegetable stock
Quarter the onion and give the celery sticks a couple chops so that they will fit into your stock pot. Throw in shellfish hulls and add enough liquid to just cover the contents. Bring to a boil and reduce heat slightly so that you will not get an overflow, but continue to boil for 30 minutes. Do not go past 30 from the start of the boiling point or you can risk a bitter taste. Strain and discard the veggies and shells.
Next, you will want to make a roux. This is the base of the gumbo and is an important step. Roux is made by cooking flour and a fat together. You can use many different kinds of fat from lard to bacon drippings, but I have found that olive oil works just fine! You will have the opportunity to take some of this oil back out of the gumbo at the very end, so don't fret too much about the fat you are putting in now.
- 1 cup flour
- 3/4 cup fat (oil, butter, bacon drippings, or lard)
Heat fat in a skillet and start whisking flour in a little at a time. Continue to whisk until the mixture turns a nice brown color. Whisking or stirring consistently is very important because the roux can burn very easily. This process will take anywhere from 10-20 minutes.
Now that you have your stock and roux, you are ready to rock and roll! I recommend turning on some New Orleans brass jazz music to set the tone :-)
New Orleans Style Gumbo
- 3 quarts of seafood stock (see above)
- Roux (see above)
- 2 medium bell peppers
- 1 large yellow or white onion
- 1-2 cups chopped celery
- 4 cloves garlic (minced)
- 2-3 cups chopped okra
- 3 (14.5oz) cans diced tomatoes
- 1 (6oz) can tomato sauce
- 3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
- 1-2 pounds Andouille sausage
- 2 pounds shrimp (raw, peeled, and deveined)
- 1 pound crawfish tails
- 4 teaspoons gumbo filé (ground sassafras leaves)
- 1 teaspoon thyme
- 6 bay leaves
- 1 teaspoon cayenne
- 1-3 teaspoons salt
- 1 tablespoon cracked black pepper
Fresh shrimp is always ideal, but I use frozen often since fresh shrimp can be pretty pricy if you don't live near saltwater. Just make sure it isn't pre-cooked. I use left over crawfish tails the day after a boil, or you can actually find them in the frozen seafood section at Walmart. Cooked crawfish will do fine in gumbo, but they will shrink up a good bit. You can also just double up on the shrimp or crawfish one instead of using both.
In New Orleans, most dishes start with what they call the "holy trinity" - bell peppers, onion, and celery! Throw your holy trinity into a stock pot with some oil and sauté until the onions start to turn translucent.
Stir in your roux, thyme, bay leaves, cayenne, salt, pepper, and garlic, then simmer for about 5 minutes. Add tomatoes, tomato sauce, and seafood stock, stir well, and let this cook on medium heat for 30 minutes.
While that is doing its thing, slice the sausage and set aside until it is time to throw in the pot. You can brown the sausage before throwing it in if you prefer, but I really don't see the point other than for visual purposes.
At the 30 minute point, add sausage and 2 of the 4 teaspoons of the gumbo filé. Mix well and let cook for 1 hour, stirring occasionally and making sure nothing is sticking to the bottom. If your okra needs chopping, do that at this point and then throw it in. Frozen okra is completely fine - no need to thaw beforehand. Bring back to a boil and reduce to medium low for another 30 minutes.
Add the shrimp, crawfish tails, and Worcestershire sauce (after the sausage has been in for around 1 and a half hours). Turn down to low and let this continue to cook for 30 minutes. Make sure to still stir occasionally.
Stir in the other 2 teaspoons of gumbo filé and turn off the heat. Let it cool a bit, then stir once more. Serve with rice, top with green onions or parsley and enjoy!