Remember when you were a little kid and you would wake up early on Christmas morning feeling super-excited? That’s how I feel on Super Bowl Sunday. I jump out of bed, start my day with a cold beer, and begin making this seafood gumbo recipe. This particular gumbo, brimming with Louisiana bounty, is my favorite dish to make. In fact, you might say that this gumbo was the dish that made me want to become a chef. My mother always made seafood gumbo on Super Bowl Sunday, and I started doing the same when I moved out, going to Chinatown to shop for my ingredients. Spare no expense for this recipe. Get the freshest seafood you can find, and plenty of it, to extract all the sweet, briny flavors. The stock is key—it should be rich and full of flavor. (For an even richer stock, double the amount of shrimp shells, or add 3 to 4 pounds of fish bones. If you use fish bones, add them after you toast the shrimp shells.)–Donald Link
Author's Reflections on Making Roux Note
According to author and Cajun cook Donald Link, the process of making roux can be hypnotic. It takes about an hour, and you can’t stop stirring or walk away from it. Watching the oil and flour mixture slowly change color and begin to take on its unique aroma gives you plenty of time to be alone with your thoughts. My roux is made with vegetable oil, not butter, because its neutral flavor really lets the seafood shine. Once the roux has reached its proper color, the chopped vegetables are added, which creates a near volcanic reaction of bubbling, steaming, and sizzling. The roux at this point is around 400°F (204°C) and the addition of cold vegetables causes an explosion of flavors and smells. Once I had to run to the store right after making roux and the lady at the checkout said, “Wow, something sure smells good.” I replied, “That would be me.” She laughed and I said, “No, really, I’ve been making seafood gumbo—it’s me you’re smelling.” “You’re right,” she said. “It is gumbo I smell.” That’s how powerful the aroma is.
Seafood Gumbo Recipe
Hands-On Time: 1 hour, 45 minutes | Total Time: 5 hours, 15 minutes | Serves 12 to 16
- For the seafood stock
- At least 6 cold beers for the chef
- 4 pounds medium (16 to 20 count) shrimp, shell-on and preferably head-on
- 6 blue crabs
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1 small onion, coarsely chopped
- 1 celery stalk, coarsely chopped
- 2 garlic cloves
- 2 teaspoons paprika
- 1 4-inch fresh rosemary sprig or 2 tablespoons dried
- 13 bay leaves
- 9 quarts (36 cups) water
- For the seafood gumbo
- 3 cups vegetable oil
- 4 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 large onion
- 2 medium green bell peppers, diced
- 3 celery stalks, diced
- 2 jalapeño peppers, stemmed, seeded, and finely chopped
- 6 garlic cloves, minced
- 2 tablespoons salt
- 2 teaspoons paprika
- 2 teaspoons filé powder
- 2 teaspoons chile powder
- 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1 teaspoon white pepper
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 2 teaspoons red pepper flakes
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme
- Several dashes of hot sauce
- 2 pints shucked oysters, liquor strained and reserved
- 1 pound crab claw meat, carefully picked over for shells
- Make the seafood stock
- 1. Crack open a beer and start sipping while you peel the shrimp. Set the shells and heads aside in a bowl. Set aside the bodies for the gumbo.
- 2. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the crabs and a generous amount of salt, cover the pot, and boil for 5 to 7 minutes. Drain immediately and set the crabs aside to cool. (Yes, after just 5 to 7 minutes. If you were going to fully cook the crabs, you would boil them for 10 to 15 minutes, but you want to leave most of the flavor in the crab to cook in the gumbo, so here you’re heating them just enough to take them apart and salvage the shells and sweet meat.)
- 3. Peel the front flaps and tops off the crabs and place in a large bowl with the shrimp heads and shells. Use your fingers to scoop out the orange back fat from the middle of the crab and set aside in a small bowl. Break the crab bodies into four pieces and set aside for the gumbo, but in a different bowl as the shrimp bodies.
- 4. Heat the oil in a large pot over high heat. Add the reserved crab and shrimp shells and shrimp heads, if using. Cook, stirring until the shells turn pink, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the onion, celery, garlic, paprika, rosemary, bay leaves, and water and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and gently simmer for 1 hour.
- 5. Remove the stock from the heat and strain, discarding the solids.
- Make the seafood gumbo
- 6. Heat the 3 cups vegetable oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot but not smoking, whisk in the flour and reduce the heat to medium. Cook, whisking slowly but constantly, until the roux has thickened and is the color of a dark copper penny, 45 minutes to an hour. You’ll want to reduce the heat gradually as you go. When the roux first begins to take on color, for instance, reduce the heat to medium. Continue in this fashion, gradually lowering the heat as the color of the roux deepens. By the end of the cooking, when the roux is appropriately dark, the heat should be on low. It’s essential to whisk the roux constantly as it cooks (but not so vigorously that you splatter the roux and burn yourself!), because if even a small bit of flour sticks to the pot, it will become spotty, scorch quickly, and burn the entire roux.
- 7. Carefully add the onion, bell pepper, celery, jalapeños, and the reserved crab back fat. (I say “carefully” because this will create a near volcanic reaction of bubbling, steaming, and sizzling.) Stir until the vegetables are well coated. Stir in the garlic, salt, paprika, filé powder, chile powder, black pepper, cayenne, white pepper, oregano, red pepper flakes, thyme, and hot sauce and continue to cook, stirring, for a few minutes. Add two-thirds of the strained stock and the oyster liquor, bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer, stirring frequently and scraping the bottom of the pot to ensure nothing clumps and burns, until the mixture returns to a simmer.
- 8. Start skimming the oil from the top of the gumbo almost instantly (by the end of the cooking process, the gumbo will have released almost all of the oil from the roux). Continue to simmer and skim for about 1 hour. Taste it. If it still has a strong roux flavor, gradually add the remaining one-third of the stock, tasting as you go, until the flavor tastes more like the stock than the roux. If your seafood gumbo doesn’t have a strong roux flavor, freeze the remaining stock for another use.
- 9. When the flavor of the liquid has developed and its appearance is clearer (that is to say, with fewer dots of oil), add the oysters and crab meat. Bring the gumbo back to a simmer and cook gently for 15 to 20 minutes. Skim once more and add the shrimp, and simmer for 1 more hour. Ladle the seafood gumbo into bowls and crack open another beer.
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Seafood Gumbo Recipe © 2009 Donald Link. Photo © 2009 Chris Granger. All rights reserved.