In my family, it was my Auntie Janelle who set the stage for how real New Orleans style gumbo is made. Not going to hold you, her gumbo never missed. And that’s on who? And while she never got her flowers for having some of the “best” gumbo east or west of the Mississippi, this is my tribute to her and all the incredible bowls of gumbo I ingested over the years.
Gumbo or “Beaux” is a time honored tradition in nearly every household in New Orleans. To add some context, the word “gumbo” derives from a West African word “ki ngombo” for “okra.” The okra was used as thickening agent for their version of the dish. While some still use okra, others have departed from that version probably due to the shift from okra as a thickener to roux, which is made from flour and oil and browned until you reach your desired color. (More on how to make the roux below)
Like most Black families (at least the ones I grew up around), no one seems to have this go-to recipe black book of some sort to reference all these traditional New Orleans dishes. It’s all done by word of mouth while sitting, standing, and chatting in the kitchen. It’s how my Auntie Janelle taught my mother, and it’s how my mother taught me. Now, I’ll be lying to you if I said the way my mother makes her gumbo is the exact same way Auntie Janelle made hers. But if I’m going by taste, smell, look, and feels, the two versions are pretty much the same.
It’s quite obvious that gumbo is more than a dish to eat. When I make my gumbo or any dish from the crib, it connects me and grounds me to my roots and ancestors. It allows me to create a sense of home without even being there. I guess that’s why traditions are so important. It’s a reference point that makes time stand still. No matter where you are at in the world or period of life you may be in, you have the power to halt time. Over the course of time and having mastered the original version, you can begin to make it into your own without ever forgetting your roots. All in all, this is my attempt to capture the essence of New Orleans style gumbo and pay homage to those who laid the groundwork for me to stand at the stove and create magic.
Let me say this, I don’t know and may never know the exact amounts of anything. So, have fun with it. If you mess up, make it again until you get it how you like it. Then, pass it down to your family. Take the #DESCENDANTchallenge by passing on a traditional recipe your family has in their “book of recipes.”
- Peel and devein your 12-15 count Gulf Coast shrimp
- Save all the shells, including the shrimp heads (you about to put them to work)
- Thinly coat your a large skillet with some canola oil on medium high heat.
- Add left over shrimp shell to the skillet.
- Add salt and pepper
- Cook down for about 10 minutes, constantly stirring them every 2 minutes or so.
- In a large stock pot, boil water.
- Add sprigs of thyme, garlic cloves, black peppercorns, celery leaves, white onions (halved), citrus peels (I use oranges and lemons), and salt to taste.
- Periodically, be sure to press down on the shrimp to get as much of the flavor as possible.
- Boil for about 30 minutes or until desired flavor. You’ll know it when you taste it.
- Strain out the everything and then set stock aside.
Roux (For a 8 QT pot) – This is about a 30 minute process
- In a skillet on medium heat, mix together about a cup of flour and about a half of cup of vegetable oil.
- The consistency of your roux should be like cake batter, not too thick but not too runny.
- You’re going to stir and stir and stir until your shoulder feels like its about to fall off and then you probably will have to stir some more.
- The desired color is slightly darker than a brown paper bag. (The reason for this is because when you add in your seafood stock and chicken stock the roux will lighten up. You want end up with a pecan color roux. Some people like theirs a bit darker, almost like a Caribbean dish and that’s okay. But do not have light colored roux.
- Once you’ve reached the desired color, set it aside.
- Lightly sear your chopped smoked sausage to render down some of the fat from that. The fat juices are going to be added to your roux for added flavor)
- Set aside.
Ingredient Preparation (Seasonings) (Make sure you have everything prepped and ready to go before you begin boiling your stock and making your roux)
These seasonings will eventually cook down and you won’t even really see them because they’ll be incorporated into the roux.
- 4 large white onions – diced
- 2 bushels of flat parsley – finely chopped
- Sprigs of thyme
- Bay leaves (I use about 4-5)
- Celery – finely chopped (don’t use too much because it can overpower your roux)
- 1-2 bell pepper(s)
- Finely chopped fresh garlic (the more the merrier because I love garlic)
- 1lb Hillshire smoked sausage (cut 1/2 in thickness)
- 3-4 halved Blue crabs
- 2lbs of gulf coast 12-15 count shrimp, peeled and deveined
- Keep a few cartons of 32 oz chicken stock on hand to add because the stock will cook down a bit as it’s boiling.
- Gumbo file
Prepping the stock pot
- Add enough water to the pot to cover your crabs (I prefer blue crabs) – You can buy these pre-boiled and cracked in half already)
- Add about a tablespoon of crab boil. (Do not add too much because it’ll spicy spicy. This is just for a little depth of flavor)
- Bring it to a boil. Let it cook for about 7-10 minutes. (“bring it to a boil” is about to become a theme)
- Add the seafood stock you set aside. (Note: Seafood stock can last in the fridge for up to 3-4 days)
- Let that come back to boil. Add your roux. Let it come back to a boil.
Making the gumbo
- Add your veggies (all of them, including thyme, bay leaves, etc)
- Bring it back to boil and let that cook until the seasonings have been fully incorporated. (I really don’t know how long but it’s longer than an hour. Never put your lid all the way on because you’ll boil all of your seasonings out of the roux. Crack the lid.)
- Once the seasonings have been incorporated, add your sausage and bring back to a slight boil. Let that cook for about 20 minutes or so. (You want to be tasting your gumbo as your adding ingredients, before and after)
- Then bring it down to a low fire and add your shrimp. It will only take a few minutes for the shrimp to cook. (You don’t want to overcook your shrimp because they’ll be mushy)
- Add a two or three tsp of gumbo file (do not add too much because it’ll thicken up your roux too much)
- I add a little Tony’s here and there, if I really need it.
- Serve on top of a bowl of white rice.
- Enjoy. Have fun with it!
- All leftovers can be frozen and reheated at a later date.
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