So I decided that Labor Day would be a great day to make some seafood gumbo. I had been perusing some recipes online and came across Tyler Florence's Ultimate Seafood Gumbo. This gave me the idea to create my own ultimate seafood gumbo. A trip to Central Market and several hours later, and I had one of the best bowls of gumbo I have ever had. The only problem is, there's not really a set recipe, I just kind of go until it looks and tastes right. But here's my best effort at putting in into words.
This perhaps the most important, and sadly, most overlooked part of gumbo. I don't understand why people will take the time to make gumbo, then use a store bought stock. Just doesn't make sense. I had one of the guys at the seafood counter set aside a few grouper heads for me. I love buying fish heads to make stock because the resulting stock is amazingly rich, and you also get the cheeks and the collars for cheap. Both heads cost me less than 10 bucks. I have also used red snapper and redfish, but grouper just seems to work best.
1 large or 2 medium sized grouper heads
shells and heads from 1 lb medium gulf shrimp
1 red bell pepper, roughly chopped
1 leek, roughly chopped
1 carrot, roughly chopped
5 cloves garlic, smashed
1/4 cup clam juice
2 cups dry white wine
4 bay leaves
8-10 green onion bulbs, halved
1/4 cup salt
2 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp white pepper
1 tsp black pepper
In a large stock pot, briefly saute all vegetables in olive oil. After 2-3 minutes, add shrimp shells. Continue to cook 2 minutes. Add all other ingredients and cover with water. Bring to a rolling boil, then reduce heat to maintain a steady boil for 1 hour.
After boiling for 1 hour, skim the top for excess fat and continue to boil 1 additional hour. After the second hour has elapsed, strain liquid and discard solids. Return the pot with the stock to the stove and simmer, uncovered, for about 30 minutes, or until reduced by half. Strain through a fine mesh strainer, taste and add more salt as needed.
It is important to end with a stock that tastes good by itself. Don't think that a mediocre stock will make a good gumbo. If you wouldn't eat it by itself, then you won't want to eat the gumbo.
The intimidating and much maligned combination of fat and flour that is ever present in Creole cooking is the backbone of gumbo. If it doesn't start with roux, it's just soup. The key to a good roux is patience. There are people out there that proclaim to make proper roux in 5 minutes, or use their oven, or even their microwave. If this is you, more power to you. I, on the other hand, believe that the slower you make the roux, the more time there is for the flavor to deepen and become more complex. While almost any fat will do, I prefer to go with butter for seafood gumbo and clarified butter for dark gumbo. The general rule is about 1 part fat to 1 part flour. This is more or less true. For this recipe, I started with 1 1/2 sticks of butter, melted it over high heat and waited for it to foam. I then slowly added flour until it looked right, probably a little under a cup. Continue to whisk over medium-high heat for about 10 minutes, depending on your hardware, until the roux reaches a light hazelnut color. In roux speak, this would be considered a brown roux. For this recipe, you wan't something with fairly developed flavors, but something that won't overpower the seafood.
Now that the stock and the roux are finished, we come to actually making the gumbo. Relatively speaking, by this point, the hard part is over. You're going to want to use a large heavy pot. I used a 7.25 qt Le Creuset Bouillabaisse pot.
1 medium yellow onion, diced
1 green bell pepper, diced
3 stalks celery, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 quarts seafood stock
1 1/2 lb grouper fillet, cut into 1 inch cubes
1 lb shrimp, peeled and deveined
1/2 lb squid tubes, cut into small rings
1/2 lb squid tenticles
3 softshell crabs
2 dozen oysters, shucked
green onions for garnish
Once roux has reached desired color, reduce heat to medium and add the green vegetables. Cook for 2 minutes, then add onion and garlic. Continue cooking until vegetables are softened, about 3 minutes. Slowly add ladels of boiling stock while stirring. Make sure stock is boiling or the roux could separate. Once all stock is added, increase heat and bring to a boil.
Reduce heat, cover the pot, and maintain a simmer for 30 minutes. Add salt and cayenne as needed. Add fish, crabs, and shrimp. Let it cook for about 5 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat and add remaining seafood. Allow to cook for 2 minutes or until all seafood is cooked. Serve over rice, garnished with green onions.
There are a few ways that you will see this recipe varies from "traditional" gumbo. First, there is no okra. Some will say that it isn't gumbo without okra, afterall, the word gumbo means okra in Creole. I personally think that okra is more suited to heartier gumbos like duck or rabbit, and seafood gumbo is just better without it. Second, there are no tomatoes. Many put tomatoes in seafood gumbo, but I think that it's just one more thing to take away from the seafood. This type of gumbo is all about the seafood, so why add tomatoes when they aren't needed.
It's often said that there are as many seafood gumbo recipes as there are cooks, and this is mine. It's a lot of time and work, but trust me, it's worth it. Give it a try and let me know what you think.