This year for the Whole Foods communications team holiday party, we did a gumbo cookoff with three categories - seafood, vegetarian and combo (i.e., anything goes!). The prize for each category? A trip for two to New Orleans!
I enjoy gumbo but had never tackled it myself, but I wasn't about to let me shy away from competition (and a potential free trip)! After doing tons of research and enlisting the help of my old roommate Rachel, a cajun to boot, I started testing. After the fourth try, I found my perfect gumbo. Did I win? Sadly no, but my second place gumbo was delicious and many loved it. Give it a try!
~ 1 pound shrimp shells, unrinsed (I asked my seafood counter to set some aside for me since I didn't care to peel that many shrimp myself!)
2 onions, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
3 carrots, chopped
2 tablespoons garlic cloves, minced
1 lemon, sliced
handful of black peppercorns
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 tablespoon coarse salt
1 gallon water
1 cup diced onion (1/4 inch dice)
1 cup celery, thinly sliced
1/2 cup green bell pepper (1/4 inch dice)
2 tablespoons minced garlic (5-6 cloves)
1 cup vegetable oil
1 cup flour
3 quarts shellfish stock
1 heaping tablespoon Tony Chacheret's (or Cajun seasoning of your choice)
1 teaspoon cayenne
1 teaspoon chipotle chile powder
2 pounds peeled and deveined shrimp (I like 30 count)
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 pound lump crab meat
1/2 - 1 teaspoon Tabasco
Salt and pepper to taste
parsley, to garnish
For the stock, combine all in a large dutch oven or stock pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer an hour or more. Strain out solids through a mesh sieve and place broth in a container and refrigerate. This should make about 3 quarts. I prefer to make this at least one day before just to break up the gumbo process.
For the gumbo, prechop the onion, celery, bell pepper and garlic and set next to your pot. This might be a good time to grab a beer or pour yourself some wine, since you're about to camp out at the skillet and not leave for a good long time.
To make the roux, heat a large cast iron pot or dutch oven on high heat. Add oil and bring to a high temp, almost smoking. Turn heat to medium high (or medium if it's your first time making roux!) and add the flour, 1/3 cup at a time, whisking constantly to combine. Once all the flour is added, get into a good rhythm of constantly whisking the pan, covering the middle and going around the edges to prevent scorching. If black flecks appear, you've scorched it and it's time to start again :( Continue whisking for 25 - 30 minutes to obtain a dark caramel color. If you're cooking at a lower heat, this could take 45 minutes to an hour.
Turn off heat and add the vegetables and stir to combine well. Turn heat back on medium and let vegetables cook in the roux for about 10 to 15 minutes, stirring constantly.
Now add the refrigerated broth (don't warm it first!) and whisk well to combine. Bring to a boil, stirring often, then reduce heat to maintain a simmer. Now's the time to add the spices and let it simmer for at least an hour, stirring often and skimming as needed to remove the excess oil.
After an hour, toss the shrimp in paprika then add it to the gumbo and let it cook about 5 minutes until done. Stir in the lump crab and bring it up to temp, about 2 minutes. Add Tabasco to taste and season with salt and pepper.
Serve gumbo over steamed white rice and garnish with parsley. Note that if you're making gumbo in advance of eating it, wait to add the seafood until when you reheat it so that it doesn't get tough. You'll thank me later!