Saturday, May 14, 2011

Gumbo: the good times roll

Our May hostess, Denise, of There’s a Newf in My Soup!, challenged The Daring Cooks to make Gumbo! She provided us with all the recipes we’d need, from Creole spices, homemade stock, and Louisiana white rice, to Drew’s Chicken & Smoked Sausage Gumbo and Seafood Gumbo from My New Orleans: The Cookbook, by John Besh.

Growing up, I had gumbo many times. It came from a can like this:

imageLater, we went to New Orleans and had ‘real’ gumbo. Oh, that was delicious. But I guess what happens in New Orleans stays in New Orleans. It never even occurred to either of us to actually *make* gumbo. It’s just not something you even think about out here in San Francisco. Not sure I even see it in the familiar red and white can though I confess I haven’t actually looked for it.

So again, this month’s challenge was great – it got us to make something that we’d never considered cooking before. In fact, we loved it so much, we made 2 different types: a seafood gumbo and then our twist on Gumbo z’Herbes California style. Neither one was a quick meal (though neither remotely compares to the multi-day process that is cassoulet). I can definitely see adding gumbo to our rotation: we loved it, the leftovers are sublime, and a tasty stew is perfect for our long, foggy summers.

Thanks Denise for a terrific challenge! She provided recipes for a seafood gumbo which we approximately followed, Louisiana rice and Creole spice powder listed below. All were terrific. She also provided a recipe for Chicken and Sausage gumbo that we will certainly try soon. You can see all her recipes at You will also want to check out the gumbos created by other daring cooks – it’s really hard to make a nice picture of stew. But so many people did and created some incredibly mouthwatering dishes.

In reading up about gumbo, there are as many recipes as there are grandmothers. The common ingredients are a roux, made with vegetable oil and flour and then cooked dark, a thickener: usually either filé (sassafras powder) or okra, and the ‘holy trinity’: chopped onions, celery and bell peppers. The roux is pretty much the direct opposite of every roux I’ve ever made and very much required a leap of faith.  Although we have filé that we brought back from New Orleans, we used okra for the thickener in the seafood gumbo because we love that vegetable and are always happy to find a new (to us) way to use it.

The seafood gumbo was fantastic. Mmmm.. tasted exactly the way I thought it should.

Seafood Gumbo

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Adapted from My New Orleans: The Cookbook, by John Besh
Servings: 5


1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup flour
1 large onion, diced
1/2 pound crab meat
1/2 pound spicy smoked sausage links, sliced ½ inch (15mm) thick 1 stalk celery, diced
1/2 green bell pepper, seeded and diced
2 cloves garlic, minced 
3/4 cup sliced fresh okra, ½ -inch  thick slices – you might also want more for garnish or to add later, as this part mostly breaks down into the stew.
Leaves from sprig of fresh thyme
1 1/2 quarts chicken stock
1 bay leaf
1/3 pound lobster meat (or you could use shrimp – if we didn’t use some leftover lobster, we’d probably have used shrimp and made a shrimp stock instead..)
1/2 cup minced green onions
Freshly ground black pepper
Basic Creole Spices, to taste
Worcestershire, to taste
Tabasco, to taste
2-3 cups cooked Basic Louisiana White Rice


Because of the super hot roux, it’s really important to prep all your ingredients first and have them ready to use when you need them. The roux is not something you can just leave unattended while you chop your veg.

1. Prepare chicken (or shrimp) stock
2. Prepare homemade Basic Creole Spices
4. In a large cast-iron or heavy-bottomed pan, heat the oil over high heat. Whisk the flour into the hot oil – it will start to sizzle. Reduce the heat to moderate, and continue whisking until the roux becomes deep brown in color, about 20 minutes.

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5. Add the onions. Switch to a wooden spoon and stir the onions into the roux. Reduce the heat to medium-low, and continue stirring until the roux becomes a glossy dark brown, about 10 minutes.

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6. Add the sausage and stir for a minute before adding the celery, bell peppers, garlic, and okra. Increase the heat to moderate and cook, stirring, for about 3 minutes.

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7. Add the thyme, chicken stock, and bay leaf. Bring the gumbo to a boil, stirring occasionally.
8. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, uncovered, for 45 minutes. Stir occasionally, skimming off the fat from the surface of the gumbo every so often.
9. Add the lobster, crabmeat and green onions to the pot and cook for 15 minutes. Make sure everything is ready to serve before adding the shellfish to the gumbo. DO NOT OVERCOOK your shellfish.

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10. Season with salt and pepper, Creole Spices, Worcestershire, and Tabasco.
11. Serve in bowls over rice. We also garnished ours with more okra, fried with cornmeal and some of the Creole spice. Yum!

It was good to the last bite.

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Gumbo z’Herbes

I’d been eyeing an Epicurious recipe for Gumbo z’Herbes for years. This is a very different style of gumbo: a mix of greens stewed with ham.  Apparently, tradition dictates that you always use an odd number of greens, which we did by carefully classifying what was a ‘green’ and what was an ‘herb’ (totally different of course!). So the challenge was the perfect opportunity to try the recipe, though, sticking to our custom, we didn’t follow it in any way shape or form..

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Our idea was to modify the traditional recipe with what’s local and fresh and make a California version. We used fresh nopales (cactus paddles) for the thickener and pretty much every green thing we found at our weekly farmer’s market. It was fantastic! So fresh and delicious. The most tedious part was washing then blanching all the greens – by no means difficult, but not speedy either. If you make this (and we really hope you do!) don’t follow our recipe – just like we didn’t follow Epicurious’s recipe – get whatever’s fresh and good at your market and enjoy!

This recipe also makes a huge portion. That’s great, because the leftovers are, as always, even better. The recipe served 4, (including seconds) with at least 6 leftover portions.

The Greens:

1 large bunch mustard greens, stems stripped
1 large bunch turnip greens, stems stripped
1 bunch Asian spinach
1 bunch okra leaves (leaves picked)
1 bunch watercress
1 bunch pea shoots, large stems picked
1 bunch sorrel, stems picked

The Trinity:

1 green bell pepper
½ large onion
5 stalks celery
3 paddles nopales (cactus)

The Roux:

2/3 cup vegetable oil
2/3 cup flour


1 lb diced ham
1 bunch green onions, sliced
6 cups chicken broth
3 leeks, sliced
2-3 tablespoons mixed fresh green herbs
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Salt and pepper


  1. Wash and prepare the greens.
  2. Braise the greens in a large stockpot with about a cup of water in each batch. I think it took us four or five batches with the greens filling the pot about 2/3 full.  Drain and set aside. Rinse the stockpot between each batch so that the liquid doesn’t get bitter.
  3. Pulse the blanched greens in a food processor or roughly chop them by hand. You aren’t looking to make a puree, but just to get the leaves to a size that you’ll be able to eat with a spoon later.
  4. Fry the ham in a heavy skillet to render any fat and make the edges slightly crisp, then remove the meat and use the same pan for the roux.
  5. Cook the roux, stirring continually over medium heat until a light brown/peanut butter color. This took us about 15 minutes.  gumbo 032
  6. Add the diced bell pepper, onion and celery; cook 5-10 minutes then add the diced nopales (so maybe now it’s a quaternity?) Cook a few minutes more, then add the broth, leeks, greens and green onions. Season to taste with salt, pepper and cayenne, then add the diced ham and continue to simmer until thick in texture.

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Serve with Rice. We also added cornmeal dumplings to ours. They were really good – I don’t think you need both dumplings AND rice, but go with what you like. We also topped ours with a little fried okra. In fact, if I had any complaint about this dish (and I really don’t) it’s that there wasn’t any okra in it.

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Basic Louisiana White Rice

Adapted from My New Orleans: The Cookbook, by John Besh
Servings: About 4 cups


1 tablespoon chicken fat, extra-virgin olive oil, or butter
1 small onion, minced
1½ cups Louisiana (or another long-grain) white rice
3 cups chicken stock 
1 bay leaf
1-2 pinches salt


1. Put the fat, oil, or butter and the onions into a medium saucepan and sweat the onions over moderate heat until they are translucent, about 5 minutes.
2. Pour the rice into the pan and stir for 2 minutes.
3. Add the chicken stock and bring to a boil.
4. Add the bay leaf and salt.
5. Cover the pan with a lid, reduce the heat to low, and cook for 18 minutes.
6. Remove the pan from the heat, fluff the rice with a fork, and serve.


Basic Creole Spices

From My New Orleans: The Cookbook, by John Besh
Makes ½ cup


2 tablespoons  celery salt
1 tablespoon sweet paprika
1 tablespoon coarse sea salt
1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon onion powder
2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
½ teaspoon ground allspice


Mix together all spices in a bowl. Transfer the spices to a clean container with a tight-fitting lid. Store up to six months.


  1. Your Gumbos look amazing! I had never made it from scratch either, and I loved it. Thanks for your lovely comment on mine!

  2. Thanks for visiting and the comment. Lobster! What a great choice and it looks so good. Love both the gumbos. Great job.

  3. WOW I'm so impressed with both of your versions, the lobster is super tasty BUT the z'herbes version sounds like perfection to me I know how good it is (I made a version also). I love the corn dumplings and the fried okra which look so marvellous.

    Cheers from Audax in Sydney Australia.

  4. Great job on the gumbo, it looks delicious! :)

  5. Mmmm yum, both versions look delicious and your roux is pefect!

  6. This is so weird. I had just opened your site to leave a comment, and yours came through to mine :) With that said, both of your gumbo's look terrific, I mean, lobster..I can't even think straight lol! However, the Z'herbs really intrigues me, I'd love to try it! Also, great color on your roux!

    Oh, btw..I just found an online recipe for a beef, shrimp and crab gumbo..dang, not that original afterall LOL

  7. Your gumbo z'herbes looks stunning. I love the abundance of green and I'm really intrigued by the cactus. Oh, and what I'd give for a bowl of that seafood gumbo right now!

  8. Thank you for participating on my gumbo challenge, and coming through with amazing bowls of gumbo. I need a little gumbo break, but I still need to try Gumbo z’Herbes and yours looks like a winner.