stirring the pot February 26, 2012

Anything I know about Cajun food – and specifically gumbo – I’ve learned through Mike & his family in Louisiana. Before they were in my life, I only knew about gumbo from the version my mom made. As a lady from North Dakota, I’m not sure what got in her head that made her think she knew how to take a stab at it but, bless her heart, she did. Many times. While she could make just about any other kind of soup on earth, this wasn’t one of them. This strange concoction of chicken and shrimp and sausage in a broth that, even before I knew better, didn’t seem right.

Three years ago, on my first trip to Louisiana with the boy to see his family, we ate at a place Mike couldn’t stop talking about – Herby K’s. The shrimp buster, he said. You have to try the shrimp buster – with an extra shrimp on it. So I did…and it was great. On the next visit, I thought I’d branch out and try the etouffé – also delicious. As it usually is, the third time was the charm and my menu exploration paid off. Alongside the obligatory cold beer in the frostiest goblet you’ve ever seen came a bowl of seafood gumbo. It was kinda inauspicious, honestly. Thick broth the color of rusty chocolate, seafood bits the same color from steeping in the sauce with a few crab claws peeking out and not a bit of green in sight.

I can’t really even remember what I said when I tried that first bite. Picking out the crab claws with my fingers and messily eating them without a care in the world. I remember ordering more french bread to sop up the liquid – something I still do every time I go there. The depth of flavor. The gumbo tasting like it had been made in the oldest, most seasoned cast iron on earth. A million stirs of a pot resonating in each spoonful. It was at that exact moment that I knew why mom’s gumbo was never quite right.

There was no roux.

The first time I tried to make seafood gumbo at home, I followed a John Besh recipe. In addition to not loving the inclusion of okra – which is a whole ‘nother post -  I was dead set on getting a roux the color of the one I had experienced at Herby K’s. For a first timer, this is all but panic inducing. I called Mike’s mom (yes, really) and asked her in as calm as voice as I could…”is it SUPPOSED to be doing this!?” It was…and while it was good, it just didn’t compare. I’ve made seafood gumbo about a half dozen times since then springboarding off several different recipes that has now sort of just become a recipe of my own. Fresh ingredients and a good balance of the trinity are important but, as I realized that day at Herby K’s, it’s all about that beginnings of flour with a little fat.

I can’t express to you enough the importance of the roux. If there was ever a dish that was an analogy about life, it’s gumbo. The roux should be treated with a balance of careful tending to and I’m-gonna-see-how-far-this-can-go-before-it-burns. Constant stirring bordering on obsession. Hovering over it and thinking that you’re just not doing it right until, magically, it’s there and your hard work pays off in an instant. Use the oldest, heaviest pot you have. Leave lots of room for the seafood and the broth – despite my prattling on about the roux, they’re important, too. Oh yeah, have some crusty French bread on hand for licking the bowl – rice is nice but having both is better.

Seafood Gumbo – serves 6 to 8 people as an entree

  • 3/4 cup vegetable or canola oil
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 large yellow onion, diced
  • 1 large green bell pepper, seeded and diced
  • 4 stalks celery, ends trimmed (save them for stock!) and diced
  • 2 large cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 bottle Shiner Bock, Abita Amber or your preferred amber beer
  • 3 cups vegetable stock
  • 3 cups seafood stock – clam stock or shrimp stock are best here
  • 3 large bay leaves
  • 3 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 1 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • a pinch red chili flakes
  • 1/4 cup Worcestershire Sauce
  • 1 tbsp. Tabasco or other hot sauce
  • 1 pound cocktail crab claws
  • 1 pound catfish or grouper – skinless and cut into small chunks
  • 1 1/2 pounds of 36-40 shrimp – peeled and deveined
  • 1 cup small fresh shucked raw oysters (and their liquor)
  • kosher salt & fresh ground black pepper, to taste
  • chopped green onions or parsley and white rice, for serving
  • gumbo filé to sprinkle on at the end (optional – if using, add at the end not during the cooking process as filé is a natural thickener)

- The first step – and the most important one – is the roux. You need a large, heavy bottomed stock pot or large cast iron pot for this task. You also need a good bit of patience. Taking the time to get the roux darkened is well worth it. Heat up the oil over medium heat for 3-4 minutes until it is good and shimmering. Add in the flour and start stirring with a wooden spoon. Keep stirring every minute or so to ensure the roux isn’t burning and is browning evenly. Don’t be fooled – this should take between 30-45 minutes. You’re looking for the roux to be smooth and be a dark milk chocolate color.

- Once the roux is to the desired color, add in the celery, onions and green bell peppers. Stir to combine and allow to cook for 5-6 minutes. Add in the garlic and saute for another 1-2 minutes. Pour in the beer, seafood stock and vegetable stock – stir to combine, as well. To the pot, add the thyme sprigs, bay leaves, cayenne pepper, red chili flakes, Worcestershire sauce and Tabasco. Bring to a boil then reduce heat to medium low and allow it to simmer for 45 minutes to an hour – if you can, periodically skim off the foamy stuff that’s going to develop on the top.

- To finish the gumbo, add the crab claws, catfish, shrimp and oysters to the pot. Stir to get everyone swimming in the liquid and allow to cook for another 10 minutes. You want the seafood just cooked through but not tough. Remove the bay leaves & thyme stems if you see them. Taste the gumbo and season accordingly with salt, pepper and additional hot sauce if needed. To serve, spoon some white rice into a bowl, pour the gumbo on top and sprinkle with parsley or chopped green onions for garnish. Serve immediately.

Editor’s Note: The gumbo crowd is about as passionate as the chili and the BBQ crowds. This recipe is my attempt to approximate the gumbo at Herby K’s. Gumbo is like snowflakes – everyone has their own recipe and none of them are the same. I’m just sayin’.

Comments

Tracy Feb 26, 2012 10:02 am

Looks so good! Beautiful photos and story :)

Joi Feb 26, 2012 10:02 am

I would say, you have got a good version of Herby K’s gumbo, although I’ve never been there…looks really good. I had the same issue with my mom trying to make gumbo a couple of times. Ugh memories. Last year I made gumbo for the first time for New Years…and it turned out wonderful. Don’t ask me what I did, I actually followed two home Lousiana online video versions and now can’t remember the name of them. My roux turned out perfect…again first timer…and yes, pouring over it and wondering if you messed it up is disheartening, only to realize it’s about to be perfect. I’ve been wanting to try making it again, but was reluctant, first time so perfect, 2nd time bound to be a disaster in my book. But, thanks to your post here, I’m going to try it again! 2nd time around just may be magnificent! lol I’ll let you know.

Winnie Feb 26, 2012 12:02 pm

Looks SO tasty…and I love the snowflake analogy ;)

Snippets of Thyme (Sarah) Feb 26, 2012 06:02 pm

Oh, I enjoyed your post on gumbo. We are both running “gumbo” articles right now. Gumbo is at the heart and soul of most cajun families. Your mother’s attempts sound utterly cute!

EggrollStan Feb 26, 2012 07:02 pm

Looks great! I agree that the simplest thing is to just start with the flour and fat, and you can start making your own take on it. I’ve use the concept of roux to thicken my Asian stews too.

Epicurea Feb 27, 2012 04:02 am

wow, this isn’t cooking, it’s art!

Sheila Feb 27, 2012 09:02 am

My family would love this soup. Sounds mouthwateringly delicious…the perfect thing for a cold winter day in the mitten.

Katia Feb 27, 2012 10:02 am

This looks AMAZING. And I am rather excited about a recipe that doesn’t use special ingredients (other than the gumbo filé) that I can’t get hold of here in France. It’s always been what’s stopped me from making gumbo before – I can’t wait to try this. Thankyou for sharing!

Kankana Feb 27, 2012 12:02 pm

I never ate gumbo but the way you explained made me drool! ‘Thick broth the color of rusty chocolate’ was enough to convince me to give this a try.

Nicole Franzen Feb 27, 2012 09:02 pm

I want to make this, but I really want you to come make this for me :) Sooo will you? Looks so yum and I know nothing about Southern food, teach me.

Kasey Feb 28, 2012 01:02 am

I haven’t heard of roux being compared to life, but it’s a brilliant observation. I’ve only barely scratched the surface of Southern cooking. It would be lovely to have a little guidance from a pro! I’m a huge fan of anything made with tons of seafood and a flavorful broth…This sounds and looks amazing! I hope to try it soon.

Tracee Feb 28, 2012 06:02 am

All hail the power of the roux. My first attempt a few years ago resulted in a trip to the hospital because of 3rd degree burns on my hand and wrist from the roux. I was in a zone stirring my heart into that roux…trying to get it nice and dark…my husband walked into the kitchen and startled me.

I’m just now up my nerve to try it again because I can no longer afford to have gumbo shipped to me in PA! I prefer Chicken and Sausage…but won’t object to the addition of shrimp. Rice is nice, but I prefer a big pile of potato salad plopped in the middle. I know, sounded strange to me too but that is the way they eat it!

Sandy D. Feb 28, 2012 11:02 am

We eat alot of gumbo in our family (my mom was from Louisiana). We’re from Texas and the two states share alot of the same taste buds. That aside, the reason for my post is to share a secrete that a Cajun woman taught me about making the perfect roux. She always made hers in a cast iron skillet. She would start making her roux on the stove top until it was a golden brown then transfer it to a preheated 400 degree oven, stirring it about every 15 to 20 min. until is turns that deep dark red (that almost looks black). When it reached the color she wanted she would (very carefully) take it out of the oven and add some of the chopped up veggies to it to stop the cooking processs. Her stock was always in a seperate pot and she would bring the stock to a boil then drop the roux by spoon full into it. Cooking the roux this way,frees up some of your time for all the other stuff that goes into making gumbo. This is the only way I make it now and I can get it good and dark without burning it or my arm falling off from stirring it!

joey Feb 29, 2012 02:02 am

Just reading this I can almost taste the goodness of that gumbo! My tummy is rumbling! It looks gorgeous!

telesma Feb 29, 2012 09:02 am

The deal with okra is you can’t just use raw okra in a gumbo. It will be slimy and disgusting. You have to use okra that’s been stewed or “smothered” down with tomatoes and onions, and it goes in toward the end because it’s already cooked. The acid in the tomatoes cuts the okra slime and it’s not “hairy” once it’s cooked like that. My Cajun grandfather would have never put plain fresh or frozen okra straight into a gumbo. My mom and grandmother put up stewed or smothered okra in the freezer just to put in gumbo.

Also, for roux color, go over to deepdishsouth.com. She has instructions on how to make a roux in the oven, which is easier than making it on the stove and the method I would recommend for a novice cook, but the best thing is she’s got a picture of roux up that’s just the right color for a gumbo. :)

Stephanie @ okie dokie artichokie Mar 1, 2012 06:03 pm

Huge fan of Louisiana fare, equally as fond, my husband, and this looks delectable. I made a gumbo a couple months ago and it was delish but yours has the addition of seafood which totally elevates it to another level. It was my first time tending to roux that carefully and perilously, but it certainly did pay off, 15 minutes later as it turned a luscious, deep caramel color. Totally makes the dish, I swear.

Amanda@EasyPeasyOrganic Mar 2, 2012 10:03 pm

I love the story! And even (speaking as a long-time vegetarian here) the look of that gumbo :)

I think if I made this for my husband he might just buy me that lens I’m after …

Hmm…. ;)

Rebecca Mar 3, 2012 09:03 pm

Shreveport native and it certainly looks very similar to herby k’s. They do have the best gumbo is the port city.

Magic of Spice Mar 4, 2012 02:03 pm

What a gorgeous looking gumbo! My dad makes an amazing one that my kids bring home and freeze by the buckets full, they would love this :)

tweezers Mar 5, 2012 01:03 am

Thanks for the nice blog about tweezers. It was very useful for me. Keep sharing such ideas in the future as well. This was actually what I was looking for and I am glad to come here! Thanks for sharing such a valuable information with us

emiglia Mar 6, 2012 05:03 pm

I am so excited to try this. What a wonderful way to be introduced to gumbo!

meg jones wall Mar 7, 2012 07:03 am

this gumbo looks just gorgeous! love these photos and this amazing recipe. can’t wait to try it!

Restless Native Mar 7, 2012 06:03 pm

Boy that looks good. U.K. shrimp are perhaps smaller than U.S. shrimp
That said, they are not prawns, wich are bigger. Morcombe Bay does potted shrimp, this is my favouroite.

Hanne Reeve Moller Mar 13, 2012 01:03 pm

Hi
Great blog. I have a question: What is the font you use for the heading and the numbers? Love it :)

DWJ Mar 14, 2012 12:03 pm

Gosh, that is a beautiful bowl of gumbo. New Orleans is one of my favorite cities in the US and all I want to do is eat gumbo and beignets everyday I’m there. You’ve made me want to book a trip ASAP.

Barbra Donachy Mar 16, 2012 12:03 am

Wow, I said when I saw your photo. I read the post to my chef-husband. Wow, I said again. We will make this summer when we can fish the ingredients from the sea ourselves. Thanks for posting this recipe.
Greetings from north of the Arctic Circle.

Zoy Kocian Apr 12, 2012 07:04 pm

I’ve assisted my mom (who placed 1st in a gumbo cookoff a few years ago) in making gumbo in the past and took over the job for the competition last year. FAIL. I completely paniced about the roux and totally undercooked it leaving the gumbo beige and boring. Anyway, I read your recipe and comments and am going to practice my roux this weekend. I am going to use your recipe with some of the suggestions below.

Barry C. Parsons May 2, 2012 06:05 am

WOW! That looks so delicious. Love your photos!
Barry.

Angela Busi Doe Jun 3, 2012 08:06 am

Your recipe looks awesome!!! I’m honored that you consider our gumbo at Herby K’s worth a try. Gumbo is a challenging dish- no matter how hard I try to duplicate the exact recipe every time, something magic happens in that pot, and it takes on a life of its own. Thats what I love about making gumbo- the “gumbo gods” are ultimately in control- I have to get in the zone with no interuptions or I could ruin a roux in a second (something I may have done once or twice). The recipe I follow was passed down by two of the best cooks I have ever know- my step father, John Bean & good friend and 30 year employee, Gary Hines. They were true masters who loved cooking & loved creating gumbo. I must have tasted hundreds of batches of their gumbo. So many years and love have gone into this recipe- Thank you for the recognition!
Angela Busi Doe

BIGBOUTTE Jun 4, 2012 06:06 pm

Gorgeous Bowl O’ Gumbo Dear! If I visit we hope you’ll make it for us. YUM!!!

Sharon Jul 25, 2012 12:07 am

It was wonderful reading your post about gumbo, though it made me homesick. I’m a Cajun from southwest Louisiana & love making the authentic foods from my home state. One tip on roux…make a LOT at one time and put in a mason jar to use on future gumbos. Roux is a pain to make (but SO worth it) and tends to smoke up & stink up the house. It’s nice to make a lot at once so I don’t have to make it often. You can refrigerate it (I do) or leave it out in your pantry. Ca C’est Bon!

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[...] PINTEREST PIN Anything I know about Cajun food – and specifically gumbo – I’ve learned through Mike & his family in Louisiana. Before they were in my life, I only knew about gumbo from the version my mom made. As a lady from North Dakota, I’m not sure what got in her head that made her think she knew how to take a stab at it but, bless her heart, she did. Many times. While she could make just about any other kind of soup on earth, this wasn’t one of them. This strange concoction of chicken and shrimp and sausage in a broth that, even before I knew better, didn’t seem right. http://www.runningwithtweezers.com/seafood-gumbo-recipe/ [...]

Taylor Jun 1, 2013 02:06 pm

I m not inderstanding what is the roux made out of grease , lard or what ?

REMCooks Jun 1, 2013 11:06 pm

I love a good gumbo and you’re very right about the comparison of the followers of Gumbo and Chili. Also, in Louisiana almost everybody cooks. Men and women take great pride in their cooking abilities. This looks very tasty and you can tell a lot of lovin’ went into the roux. Great color.

Priscilla Jun 23, 2013 09:06 am

A lot of prep work, but so worth it. Delish!!!! Thanks for sharing!

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michael martino Jan 2, 2014 07:01 pm

Thank you for the recipe…We are about to get blasted by a Noreaster and gumbo is on the menu for tomorrow!!! Had gumbo on my honeymoon (mystic seaport…..i know not louisiana…) and am so glad my kids love it too… (not my wife, not the seafood kinda lady..) Anyway, thanks for the great story and awesome recipe… roux it is! ciao!

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