Seafood gumbo secrets

November 23, 2014

Oh good gosh, it was cold this morning! I know my buddies northward are laughing at what a wimp I am, but it was 29 degrees when we woke up — way too cold for us thin-blooded Southern weenies. The only antidote is a steaming bowl of gumbo. I’m guessing it’s what everyone around here will be making this weekend.

My go-to gumbo is usually seafood (unless it’s a post-Thanksgiving turkey-bone gumbo), and I’ve played around with the recipe for years. Gumbo is inherently forgiving, but seafood – less so than chicken and sausage. Plus, it’s costlier to get wrong.

Lots of trial and error and plenty of mediocre batches have taught me what it takes to achieve a great seafood gumbo. Sure, dark homemade roux is important. So is using fresh Gulf seafood that you take the time to clean properly. But the most important ingredient in my opinion is patience: Don’t put the seafood in until your broth has had ample time to brew. Overcooking tender shrimp, crab and oysters leaches their flavor and sends their texture in a mealy direction. It’s the easiest way to ruin a batch of seafood gumbo.

Here are a few tips to making a fabulous version of this beloved dish.

  • Make your own roux and bring it to as dark a hue as you’re comfortable. Anything between dark brown to nearly black will provide optimum flavor and color. I don’t get too hung up on the overall color of the gumbo as long as the flavor is there.
  • Use my 1-2-10 rule. One cup of roux, 2 pounds EACH crabmeat, oysters and shrimp and 10 cups of seafood stock.
  • Buy your shrimp head-on, and make a quick seafood stock out of the heads and shells as you’re cleaning them and making your roux. Add onions, celery, carrots, garlic, peppercorns, salt and bay leaves and simmer for 30-60 minutes.
  • Combine the roux, chopped aromatic vegetables (onions, celery, bell peppers) and stock and let it simmer for at least 30 minutes. Taste to ensure the broth has plenty of flavor and is well-seasoned. Remove from heat. Then add the fresh seafood. There’s no need to turn the heat back on. The crab is already cooked. The oysters will curl and the shrimp will turn firm and pink in 1-2 minutes. Remember, they’ll continue to cook in the hot pot, and will cook further each time you reheat the gumbo.

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