A Familiar Cuisine (recipe: Seafood Gumbo)
I feel a kinship with Cajun inspired cuisine. In many ways, it mirrors Southern cooking. The idea of make good with what you’ve got is a principal theme of both. No wastefulness. Most of the basic dishes were created by folks who didn’t have two nickles to rub together. Use simple, fresh ingredients. Don’t use fancy ingredients in one dish that you’ll never use again and wind up throwing out after it’s taken up space in your pantry so long that you’re tired of looking at it. Season your food all along the way. Like Granny taught me, “Shug, if it don’t taste good to you, ain’t nobody else a-gonna like it either.”
We didn’t grow up eating Cajun dishes at home. If we veered from down home Southern cooking, it would be in the direction of Italian and that would only be for occasional “spe-ghetti” or “pizzer pie”. My introduction to Seafood Gumbo was at my in-law’s home prior to being married. My mother-in-law made it quite frequently. She usually knew enough shrimpers that she could access to good wild-caught shrimp. Someone in the family would harvest crabs from Mobile Bay. She used a large canning pot to make it. It takes a lot of gumbo to feed the crowd of people that she was used to feeding. Her gumbo had a consistency more like soup than stew because she didn’t start with a roux. Add rice to go along with and some saltine crackers and your meal was done.
In many ways, I feel Cajun and Southern are distant cousins. You are related and know just enough about each other that you have a comfortable relationship. There’s lots about both of you that are the same and there’s just enough differences to keep it interesting. You are polite and respectful of each other and enjoy family reunions and celebrating holidays together.
Our family gathered at our house for Sunday Dinner this past Sunday for Tyler’s last night at home before he heads back to Florida Southern College for his Senior year. Seafood Gumbo is a family favorite and it’s something I haven’t cooked in some time so it was given the starring role in the meal. I’m just as comfortable making this Cajun inspired dish as I am cooking all the dishes that my Granny used to cook. Relatives are always welcome in my home.
Y’all come see us!
Their is only one part of making gumbo that can be a little on the tricky side and that’s making the roux. Roux (Cajun) is the same thing as gravy (Southern). The main difference is that roux is going to be part of a larger dish with lots of ingredients added to it. The color that the roux takes on when you’re making it, will change once you start adding lots of other ingredients to it. For gravy, you make the gravy and then pour the gravy over something so you eat the gravy in its original form. If you don’t get your roux brown enough, your dish will have a pale color and just won’t look right to you and will be flavorless. If you overcook your roux trying to get it too brown, it will scorch and be ruined. I didn’t get my roux brown enough initially so I had to fix it. And since I documented it, you’ll see how to fix yours if you don’t get it right the first time. Let me say one more thing about making roux. Once you start making it, you cannot get distracted or you will wind up burning the stuff slap dab up. If your phone rings, don’t answer. If your kids scream, don’t tend to them unless their head’s falling off. Time stands still while you make your roux.
2 Vidalia onions, diced
1 large bell pepper, diced
1/2 bunch celery, diced
1/4 cup olive oil
3 oz. Conecuh sausage
3 oz. Andouille sausage
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 1/2 quarts seafood stock, (If you prefer not to make your own, there are some good quality packaged stocks. You may use chicken instead of seafood)
2 pounds tomatoes, diced ( fresh or canned)
1 pound okra, sliced (fresh or frozen)
1 pound raw medium shrimp, shelled
8 ounces crab claw meat
Old Bay seasoning
This is a quick way to dice celery after it’s been washed, of course. Keep the stalks together and run your knife down the stalks lengthwise several times.
Heat the pot where you will cook your gumbo. Once it’s heated, add the olive oil and the vegetables. I like to make this a one pot meal. Maybe that’s because I’m
lazy efficient. I would have gotten away with one pot had I not messed up my roux. Cook for about 10 minutes or until the vegetables get tender.
Sausage goes in next! The sausage on the left is Conecuh Original Smoked Sausage made in Evergreen, Alabama. It’s the best commercially prepared smoked sausage I’ve ever had. On the right is Aidell’s Cajun Style Andouille Sausage.
Add the sausage to the vegetables.
After the sausage starts to cook and release some of it’s
grease juice, add the flour. Keep stirring and stirring until the mixture turns the color that you want. If it starts getting too dry before you gotten the right color, add some more olive oil. When you’ve gotten your desired color, start incorporating your stock slowly while stirring constantly.
Here’s where things went wrong for me. I stopped making the roux when it got to the color below. That’s a nice color and it looks lighter in the picture than it really was.
But, add tomatoes to the pot……
……and the color is all wrong. This looks more like tomato soup than gumbo.
Not to worry. We can fix this. Just make some more roux (gravy) in a skillet. That’s exactly what I did. Heat olive oil and add an equal amount of flour. Stir like crazy. I made this roux a little darker than I needed. Just be very careful and don’t let it burn. I kept cooking it until it reached about the same color as my wooden spoon.
I added ladles of the gumbo mixture to the roux skillet and worked it in well. Then the contents of the skillet went in the gumbo pot. WHEW! Crisis averted. Cover this and let it simmer away for at least an hour. I let mine cook for two. Keep checking it to make sure it’s not sticking.
While the gumbo is simmering, peel the shrimp and season liberally with Old Bay Seasoning. Place back in the refrigerator.
Add the shrimp and crab the last 10 minutes of cooking. Taste for seasoning. Serve over rice. Pass the Tabasco Sauce. Isn’t the color nice?
The Seafood Gumbo went great with Buttermilk Pie.