Lenten Fridays: Creole Seafood Gumbo

freestyle fridays
notes from maggie's farm

We share a combination of cultural and religious traditions around here, and that means that on Fridays during the Lenten season we abstain from red meat, pork, and poultry.  We eat fish. Catfish, redfish, tuna fish...you name it.  This Friday, we're revisiting Mardi Gras with the best leftovers, EVER--Seafood Gumbo, 'cause everyone knows that Gumbo's better the next day(s).

Every well-seasoned cook of South Louisiana, it seems, has their own perfect recipe for gumbo.  Some add okra, others swear it off.  Some add tomatoes, some scoff.  Some serve it over rice, some over potato salad (Yes.  You read that right.  Potato Salad!).  Some demand a dark roux, some a tad lighter, and thinner. Some with garlic bread, some with crackers. And there are as many eater requirements as there are recipes.

Below, is just ONE version of Seafood Gumbo, and, in fact, it's one of several versions we prepare, and enjoy. I have a few personal preferences:  dark roux, no okra, no tomatoes, file powder (only on individual bowls), rice-but just a little, lots of dark stock, and it's just not right if it doesn't have oysters.  But, I repeat, these are just MY preferences.  Feel free to add, delete, substitute to make this your own.  You'll be on your way to a simmering pot of magic.

I find the secret to successful preparation of gumbo is the in the mise en place.  Chop, press, crush, peel, shuck, and mince all ingredients prior to beginning anything.  Collect seasonings, stocks, and other ingredients, and pre-measure.  Have cooking utensils you'll need at the ready. Be completely prepared before you even step foot up to the stove.  And, by all means, don't try to do anything while you're stirring that roux!  Well, okay, you can sing, dance, count your blessings or pray.  But that's about it.

So, prepare the following:  (refer to Tuesday's post, here, for hints and helps.)

2 chopped onions
5 ribs celery, chopped
1 large bell pepper, seeded and chopped (I use a red sweet bell pepper.  Green one's don't really 'agree' with me. This will be my first diversion from the norm.  There will be a few more before the gumbo's done, rest assured.)
1 head of garlic, loose papery skin removed, top sliced off, left whole (see below.  This is diversion #2.)
Approximately 1 to 1 1/2 pounds (before shelling, peeling,), each of
small shrimp, peeled and deveined
boiled crawfish tails, peeled
2 dozen oysters, scrubbed, shucked, and juices reserved, or one pint of shucked oysters with juice (reserved)
4-6 blue gumbo crabs, shelled, cleaned of gills, legs and claws removed (reserve legs for stock, and claws for da gumbo), and bodies broken in half.  (Note: the website referenced suggests only preparing live crab.  I just don't have the heart.  I buy quick frozen, half-cleaned gumbo crabs, which have been cleaned of carapace (outer top shell), the 'face', and often the gills, removed.  And they are dead.  If all of this sounds like more trouble than you want to go to, pick up a pint of lump crab meat and add it at the end of cooking.  You'll lose some of the slow-cooking crabby goodness, but, yes, you'll save mess and time.  And forevermore, don't use krab (artificial crab meat usually made of pollock, or another similar fish).  Just skip crab altogether before you go and do something considered absolutely vulgar in proper gumbo circles.

(Yet Another Note: Save all peels, shells, and heads to make seafood stock for future use.)

1 pound andouille, if not abstaining from meat, sliced 1/4-1/2" thick, on the diagonal.  (or if a good andouille is unavailable, try a well-seasoned beef smoked sausage, diversion #3)

And gather:
2 quarts seafood stock (I used home-prepared shrimp stock), or chicken, beef, vegetable stocks, or water, or any combination of all, in a pinch.
3T butter
1/4 c lard (or butter)
1/4 c vegetable oil
1/2 cup all purpose flour

Seasonings, suggested measurements with which to begin.  Adjust, to taste, in last thirty minutes of cooking:
2 bay leaves
2 sprigs fresh thyme (or 1 tsp dried)
1T dried basil
1 tsp black pepper
1 tsp cayenne pepper
2 tsp salt

one bunch scallions, green ends sliced, divided
one bunch parsley, chopped, divided
gumbo file' powder
prepared rice, or potato salad (see below)

In 3T butter, brown onion, celery and bell pepper over medium heat until limp, and liquid has been reabsorbed.  Remove from heat.

Prepare roux by whisking flour into 1/4 cup lard (or butter) and 1/4 cup vegetable oil, in a heavy-bottomed dutch oven (preferably cast iron) a little at a time, until all has been assimilated and is smooth.  Continue whisking or stirring, constantly, over medium heat, until roux is the color of dark chocolate.  Make sure to keep the temperature at medium, to avoid scorching.  This can take from 40 minutes to over an hour of stirring.  Get yourself a stool, put on some music, and hunker down.  If you get impatient and turn up the heat, it will likely burn the roux, and then it's ruined.  Throw it out and start over.  Never use scorched roux.  It's a waste of product and effort.  When color is achieved, remove from heat and add cooked vegetables, stirring well.  Return to medium low heat, and add stock and whole head of garlic (do not separate into cloves).  Increase heat to bring to a low, rolling boil and cook, uncovered, for 45 minutes.  Add crab (along with claws) and andouille, if using, cook for 15 minutes.  Add oyster liquid, parsley, and green onions, cook 15 minutes longer.  Add shrimp, cooking an additional 15 minutes, or until pink and fully opaque.  Add crawfish tails, oysters and remove from heat.  Allow to sit, covered, thirty minutes, and stir well just before plating.  Serve over rice or potato salad with a few pinches of gumbo file stirred in well, and garnish with parsley and green onions.

In some areas of Southern Louisiana, Cajun's often eat gumbo over potato salad, instead, or even in addition to, rice.  It's a unique flavor combination, and on occasion, we eat it that way, ourselves.  A quick and simple potato salad is best, and we prefer it without the sweet pickle, yellow mustard base of which many southern potato salads consist.  For this potato salad, we boiled 2 pounds of small red potatoes in water, to cover, seasoned with 1 tablespoon liquid crab boil, 1 T salt, and one half of a whole lemon.  Boil until tender, transfer potatoes to a bowl and mash.  Add 1/4 cup mayonnaise, or until your desired consistency, 2T chopped parsley, 2T chopped scallions, black pepper to taste.  Correct seasonings and serve warm, under gumbo.

As we discussed earlier in the week, creole and cajun foods differ in ingredients, cooking methods, and presentation.  Here, the creole style, served over rice, with toasted garlic bread is popular in the more urban, urbane areas (la-ti-da), while the cajun style, served over potato salad, with crackers, is popular among Cajuns in the more rural settings.  These, naturally, are generalizations, and in reality, trying to pin down, exactly, either of the styles is a lesson in futility. They each borrow, peacefully, from the other.  

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