Gumbo is one of the most popular and captivating dishes in all of South Louisiana cuisine. What the natives know that others don’t is that there is no one way to make a Gumbo, even while they argue that their way is the only way. The origins of Gumbo go deep into the South Louisiana cultural roots and the variations are as diverse as the culture itself. Usually, it's a roux-based soup-like concoction centered around a protein, either seafood or meat and served over rice, but all of that is variable. Maybe no roux, maybe no meat or seafood, maybe thick, maybe thin...the possibilities are endless. Here’s a look at Sweet Daddy D’s Shrimp and Okra Gumbo, a no-angst approach to a traditional seafood-based Gumbo that's easier to make than it may appear.
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Here’s what you need
The term Gumbo is synonymous with everything mixed together and this recipe is no exception. You’ll need some fresh or frozen Gulf shrimp and some fresh or frozen okra. I usually end up using medium shrimp but small shrimp are fine. Check out the Hints and Tips below for more about sizing shrimp. When purchasing fresh heads-on shrimp, make sure to buy more than the recipe calls for, that way you are accounting for the weight of the shells and heads and you won't be short in the recipe. The okra, along with the roux, will help thicken the Gumbo. If using fresh okra, buy smaller ones with few or no blemishes-when the okra is too long it has the tendency to be a little tough; if it's frozen, make sure its cut, not whole.
The other main ingredient is the stock. Using a homemade shrimp stock is absolutely the best option but substituting commercial chicken stock or seafood stock works very well. Check out how to make a homemade shrimp stock right here. Adding some crab meat is a great option, but sometimes this can get a little pricey, but if you really want to make this special, add some fresh lump or backfin crab meat. If you decide to skip the crab meat, it will still be great. While the shrimp, okra and crab define this Gumbo, most Gumbos start with a roux made with all-purpose flour and vegetable oil (or you could substitute just about any fat for the oil) and the Holy Trinity-that's yellow onions, green peppers, and celery. Add some green onions, garlic, and some chopped parsley to round out the seasoning vegetables. We’ll spice it up with the Herb and Spice Blend of Oregano, Basil, Thyme, White Pepper, ground black pepper, kosher salt, bay leaves, creole seasoning and some cayenne pepper for a little kick.
Here’s what you do
First...you have a beer. Making Gumbo is really pretty simple, just spend a little time preparing yourself and the ingredients and you’ll see how simple it is. The mise en place starts with a beer and a thorough reading of the recipe.
Mise En Place
If you’re using fresh shrimp, peel, devein and rinse them. For frozen shrimp, thaw and rinse. Pat the shrimp dry with a paper towel and sprinkle with Creole seasoning, then set them aside while you get everything else ready. If using the crab meat, break it apart gently and set it in a small bowl.
Measure the oil and flour, chop the Trinity and place it in one bowl-you can chop the green onions and place them in the same bowl as the Trinity because they will all go in the pot together. If using fresh okra, cut the stem end off and chop into about ¼ inch long coins. Fresh okra can be a little sticky on the fingers and the knife, but that will cook out. If you use frozen okra, place it in a bowl to thaw. Chop the garlic and place it in a separate ramekin. Finally, combine the Herb and Spice Blend in a small ramekin and set it aside.
Make the roux and smother the vegetables
Set the dutch oven over medium-high heat, when it's hot add the oil. When that's simmering, add the flour and make a dark roux.
Keep the flour moving constantly using a whisk as it browns. If it's browning too fast for you, just turn the heat down. (See Hints and Tips for more about the roux). When the roux is starting to look between milk chocolate and dark chocolate, add the Trinity and green onions and stir often until cooked down and coated with the roux, this will take 10 to 15 minutes.
Next, add the garlic and stir until aromatic-about 2 minutes, then hit it with about ⅔ of the Herb and Spice Blend (reserving the rest for later). Stir that all together for another couple of minutes.
Now, add the okra and combine it well with the roux/veggie mixture until everything is coated with the roux.
Let this simmer for at least 10 to 15 minutes, stirring often. Sometimes the fresh okra will become very gooey. If that happens, just continue to simmer until that goes away-maybe a total of 30 minutes or so.
Remember, the okra is a thickening agent, so this is all good. Just stir often so it doesn't stick. Let this sit while you bring the stock to a rolling boil in the stockpot.
Mix the roux/veggies into the stock
Once the stock is at a high boil, add the roux/veggie mixture into the stock. Using a slotted spoon, add the veggie mix one spoonful at a time, stirring well until each spoonful is dissolved. Bringing the stock back to a rolling boil between each spoonful, repeat this process until all the veggies are mixed into the stock.
Make sure to get every bit of goodness out of the dutch oven, if anything has stuck to the bottom deglaze it with a little stock or water and add that to the stock pot. Bring it back to a rolling boil and let it go uncovered for about 10 minutes.
Then lower the heat to a slow but steady simmer, cover the pot and let it simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally so it does not stick.
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Add the shrimp
After 30 minutes, uncover the stock pot and bring back to a boil. Add the shrimp a few at a time by hand, stirring in between each addition. Add the rest of the Herbs and Spice Blend and the parsley.
When all shrimp have been added, stir well and lower to a simmer. Cover and cook about 5 minutes. If using the crab meat add it after the 5 minutes-stir it in well and return the stockpot to a simmer for another 5 minutes. Now, turn off heat, taste for seasoning and adjust as needed. Let the Gumbo sit covered for about 10 minutes. Skim any grease off the top and it's ready to be served over rice.
That’s it, all there is to it.
Hints and Tips
- The roux is the base for this Gumbo and helps thicken it. You want the roux fairly dark even though the darker the roux the less thickening ability it has. That's fine because the okra will also help thicken the Gumbo.
- Making a roux is simply browning flour in fat, usually in a 1 to 1 ratio. In this case, we are using vegetable oil, but you could use butter, lard, bacon grease or other fats and these all influence the flavor of the final dish.
- When making the roux, don’t get in a hurry. If you burn the roux, the only remedy is to throw it out and start again-a burned roux will make the entire dish taste bad, but its all good-you haven't added anything else to it yet. You may see some instructions that say make the heat screaming hot, and you can do that but be aware the roux will cook very quickly and if you're new to making a roux that may not be the best approach. It’s fine to start with a lower heat...it just takes a little longer but its easier to control and the final product is the same. As you get more comfortable making a roux, you can determine for yourself how hot you want the fire. I usually stop the roux a little lighter in color than I’m aiming for because it will continue to cook after you add the veggies, albeit a little slower. No-angst, remember? Take your time, if you screw it up, have another swig of beer (or two) and start over.
- If the veggies start to stick to the bottom while you are cooking them in the roux, sometimes it helps to cover the pot for a little while. This will help to trap some steam which will serve to deglaze the bottom. Make sure to scrape all that goodness off the bottom and mix it in well with the vegetables. That's called fond and really adds to the depth of flavor.
- Fresh okra is available generally from May through September, but frozen okra is available year round. It is a great source for important minerals, Vitamin C and fiber.
- Filé is ground sassafras leaves and is often used in Gumbo as a thickener. Generally, filé is not used in okra gumbo because the thickening is done by the okra. However, if you love the distinct flavor of filé, feel free to sprinkle a little on top of your bowl of Gumbo.
- Some people don’t like okra because it has the tendency to be somewhat slimy, but this is why it’s great in Gumbos and soups. It's a natural thickener containing mucilage. Some ways to reduce the stickiness is to allow the okra to reach room temperature, then wash it just before cooking, making sure to dry it off completely. Don’t slice it too small, as the more cut-surfaces, the more it will secrete the mucilage. Also, cooking it at a higher temperature for 15 to 30 minutes will serve to reduce the sliminess.
- Shrimp don't always come labeled small, medium or large. Rather, it's common to see the various sizes of shrimp grouped by count per pound, that is a range of how many shrimp you would get in one pound. A designation of 21/25 means that the shrimp are of a size that 21 to 25 shrimp would make up a pound. These would be larger than 36/40s which would yield about 36 to 40 shrimp per pound-still a pound, just smaller shrimp. You get the picture. Of course, it's not uncommon for seafood purveyors to label their offerings medium, large or even jumbo in addition to the count. Large and Jumbo shrimp are beautiful, but for Gumbo, I prefer shrimp to be small or mediums.
- As with the shrimp, if you buy fresh okra, get about 1 ¼ pound because you’ll be chopping off the stem end and don’t want to end up short.
- Gumbo can be kept in the fridge for a couple of days if stored in an airtight container. It will last about 6 to 8 months in the freezer, again in a proper freezer container.
- Gumbo is served over rice. The amount of rice you use is a personal preference, but I don’t recommend using too much rice. Remember, its Gumbo, not rice and gravy. You can always add a little more rice if you desire, so start off with about 3 parts Gumbo to one part rice and go from there.
- Gumbo is different than Jambalaya and Etouffee, although all can contain seafood or chicken and sausage depending on the style. While Gumbo is (usually) a thick soup-like dish made with a roux and served over rice, in Jambalaya the raw rice is cooked in the stock with the proteins and seasonings so that the rice absorbs all the wonderful flavors of the dish. If anyone tries to serve you something served OVER rice and calls it Jambalaya, run away! Etouffee is crawfish, shrimp or chicken smothered in a rich sauce (also made from a roux) and served over rice, similar to a stew. All three are wonderful and come in many different versions and should be tried at your first opportunity.
Here are some other Gumbo recipes from Sweet Daddy D that you will love:
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Here's a good cast iron Dutch oven and stockpot perfect for making any kind of Gumbo-and they are just like the ones I have been using for years:
Yeah You Right!
Shrimp and Okra Gumbo
Here's What You Need
- 2 pounds medium shrimp
- 1 pound crab meat-lump or back fin optional
- 8 cups Shrimp Stock `
- 1 cup vegetable oil
- 1 cup all purpose flour
- 2 to 3 Yellow Onions chopped
- 1 to 2 Green Peppers chopped
- 3 to 4 stalks Celery chopped
- 2 or 3 bunches green onions chopped
- 5 cloves garlic-chopped
- 1 pound cut okra
- 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
Herb and Spice Blend
- 1 tablespoon Oregano
- 1 tablespoon Basil
- 1 ½ teaspoons Thyme
- 1 teaspoon White Pepper
- 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 tablespoon creole seasoning plus some for shrimp
- 1 teaspoon cayanne pepper optional
Here's What You Do
- Peel, devein and rinse shrimp. Pat dry with paper towel, sprinkle with creole seasoning and set aside.
- Heat oil in a cast iron or other heavy dutch oven. When nearly smoking, add flour and make a dark roux.
- Add yellow onions, green peppers, celery and green onions, stirring often until cooked down and coated with the roux, this will take 10 to 15 minutes.
- Add the garlic and stir until aromatic-about 2 minutes.
- Add about ⅔s of the Herb and Spice Blend, reserve the remainder.
- Add the okra and combine well with the roux/veggie mixture.
- Simmer about 10 to 15 minutes, add parsley and a little more of the seasoning mix. (Continue to simmer an additional 10 to 15 minutes if the okra is excessively slimy) Let this sit until the stock is at a rolling boil.
- In a separate stock pot, bring the stock to a rolling boil.
- Using a slotted spoon, add the veggie mix one spoonful at a time, stirring well until each spoonful is dissolved. Bringing the stock back to a rolling boil between each spoonful, repeat this process until all the veggies are mixed in the stock. Once all the veggies/roux have been mixed into the stock, bring it to a rolling boil for 10 minutes
- Lower heat, cover pot and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally so it does not stick
- Uncover pot and bring back to a boil. Add the shrimp a few at a time by hand. When all shrimp have been added, stir well and lower to a simmer, cover and cook about 5 minutes.
- Add the remainder of the Herb and Spice Blend and the parsley. Add the crab meat (if using), stir well, return to a simmer for about 5 minutes, covered.
- Turn off heat, taste for seasoning and adjust as needed. Let the gumbo sit covered for about 10 minutes then skim any grease off the top and serve over rice.