With cooler weather and autumnal coziness setting in, what could be a better dinner on Halloween night than a rich, comforting pot of gumbo? Made with delicate aromatics, savory shellfish, and hearty sausage, this stew will satisfy ghouls of all ages. It may seem time intensive, but the results are absolutely worth it. Adapted from my great grandmother's recipe with some modern twists to suit my taste, this dish will take at least three hours to prepare but will absolutely provide a return on investment. One of the best parts of this recipe is how adaptable it is--you can really use any protein you have on hand, or omit protein and add more vegetables or grilled tofu for a vegetarian option.
The most important aspect of this recipe is to make it with love. As I stir the roux, I think about my great grandmother preparing this for her family. I think about my partner and our children, and how my efforts will nourish them. I think about how fortunate I am to have such lovely, fine ingredients and a safe home to cook in. I like to believe that this love, gratitude, and compassion somehow infuses the gumbo with an unnamable flavor, something you can't find in a spice store, and something so distinct that when people ask you for the recipe, you'll just smile and say it's a family secret.
-Bottled water (its weird, but this is important. Tap water really super affects the taste!)
-Bay leaves (if you're out)
-Green bell pepper
-One sweet onion (yellow)
-Can of stewed diced tomatoes
-Can of tomato sauce or paste
-Crab, shrimp, andouille sausage, whatever meat/seafood you want to put in
-Butter (or bacon fat)
-Flour (if you're out)
Chop all the veggies into small pieces.
Make your roux.
-In your deep skillet, start with a stick of butter (or a heap of bacon fat) and add about a cup or so of flour. Stir. Keep stirring. You want this to be the texture of Alfredo sauce and the color of butterscotch. It'll start as the texture of cookie dough, so keep adding fat until it smoothes out. You will have to keep adding flour and butter in stages to achieve that consistency, but you'll get the hang of it. Don't let it burn (once you see little black bits in it, its burned.) This should take about 45--55 minutes, but doing this right is the KEY to excellent gumbo. Don't take any shortcuts, just do this shit right.
Start the gumbo
-In your soup pan, dump the chicken stock and bay leaves. Put on low heat.
-Add the chopped veggies and minced garlic to your roux. Let them marry for about 15 minutes, adding salt and pepper. Once the roux/veggies are a nice, delicious mass, start adding the entire mixture to the stock.
-Once the veggies/roux have blended into the stock, add your first round of spices. This means a few dashes of hot sauce, Creole seasoning (it's in your cabinet, I left it behind for you), garlic salt, chili powder, a bit of brown sugar, salt and pepper. Leave this on low heat while you prep the meat.
-In another skillet, dump your crab meat and shrimp. Add 6-7 dashes of Worcestershire sauce, salt, pepper and lemon juice. Put them on low heat and stir.
--Add another round of spices (Creole seasoning, chili powder, salt, pepper, garlic salt, brown sugar, pepper) and hot sauce. Then toss the seafood in. Stir well.
-Add the cans of tomatoes.
-Add about a 1/4 teaspoon file powder. This is going to thicken the gumbo, but what your goal is now is to thicken it up and lock in the sweet seafood flavors. Add the file, let it thicken/sit for about 5 minutes, and then add bottled water to dilute it to a good gumbo texture.
-Add another round of spices and sample At this point, all the flavors should be there, but a little on the thin side. You're going to let this baby sit on low heat, stirring regularly (remember to scrape the bottom) for about 15-20 minutes, but the longer the better.
-Too spicy/vinegary? Add a little bit of brown sugar.
-Taste too thin/not deep? Add a few dashes of Worcestershire and chili (or smoked salt)
-Taste too green/gluey? Add hot sauce, brown sugar and Creole seasoning.
-Taste too sweet? Add Worcestershire and Creole seasoning.
Serve over white rice or with crusty French bread. Tastes even better the second and third day.