One-Pot Wonders

Five-Generation Seafood Gumbo

June 12, 2015
6 Ratings
  • Prep time 30 minutes
  • Cook time 1 hour 30 minutes
  • Makes 2 Gallons
Author Notes

Though my great-grandmother perfected it, this seafood gumbo recipe originated with her mother and has been passed down through the women of my family for five generations. Making my Great-Grandmother's gumbo recipe is a rite of passage for cooks in our family and symbolizes the value she placed on celebrating the natural resources of her home near Mobile, Alabama.

As you will see, some measurements below are not precise. This is because in some instances, you use the seafood you have on hand and in others, you may not need the full amount of flour to thicken the roux. Forgive me for repeating a recipe-reader’s least favorite phrase: You just have to eyeball it.

For the roux: This roux should be a deep chocolate brown, like a Hershey’s bar. Try and get it as dark as you can. While most of the secrets of the gumbo are wrapped up in making the roux, I can give one hint: Add 3 tablespoons of granulated sugar to the roux just as you think it’s nearly done. Stir as if your life depended on it and get it off the fire quickly so it can stop cooking. I’d never heard of anyone adding sugar to a roux, but as my Aunt Judy says, “Any good gumbo cook would know that.” —Catherine Robertson

Test Kitchen Notes

So I did not need 2 gallons of gumbo, so I made 1/8 of this recipe (but with 1 crab and 1 tbsp of old bay rather than the crab boil mix (a bag is 3 ozs, so I was going for ~10g and it took 1 tbsp)) and it worked quite nicely for a more reasonable amount of gumbo. It's not totally clear if the crabs in the stock are supposed to be the ones for the meat, but I don't think so. I think it's just meat and a crab in the gumbo. It's good but I think the most important thing is to add time to the roux making. It takes a long time to make the roux—about 25 minutes of stirring. I had the pot covered during all this time. —Stephanie Bourgeois

What You'll Need
  • 3 to 4 chicken backs
  • 1 dozen large crabs
  • 1 pouch crab boil mix
  • 1 tablespoon salt and pepper
  • 6 ounces tomato paste
  • 1 pint canned chopped tomatoes
  • 2 medium onions, diced
  • 2 medium green peppers, diced
  • 2 cups celery stalks, diced
  • 4 cups chopped okra, more to taste
  • 8 to 10 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 1/2 cups shortening (half bacon grease, half Crisco, or all lard)
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour, or as needed
  • 3 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 4 pounds raw shrimp, peeled, more to taste
  • 1 pint shucked oysters
  • 1 pint picked, cooked crab meat
  • 2 teaspoons gumbo filé powder
  1. In a large stock pot, place in the chicken backs and crabs. Cover with 1 1/2 gallons of water. Add the crab boil mix and salt and pepper. Bring mixture to a boil, lower heat, and stir in tomato paste and canned tomatoes. Stir to dissolve the tomato paste. Add chopped vegetables and garlic to this mixture and continue to simmer while you prepare the roux.
  2. In a large skillet, heat the shortening. When hot, adjust flame to medium-low (you want to keep the pan hot enough to brown your flour, but you don’t want to burn it). Stir flour into shortening gradually, adding small amounts at a time and stirring constantly to mix in. Use enough flour to take up the grease (mixture should be thick—not runny—but easy to stir). Continue to brown the flour until it is a deep dark brown color. A roux can burn easily, so keep a close eye on it and make sure the flame isn’t too high. Browning the roux is a time-intensive process, so be patient and never stop stirring. If you see black specks or the roux smells burnt, it probably is. Throw out the burned roux and start again—a bad roux ruins the whole pot of gumbo. Just before the roux reaches the ideal color, add in the sugar, cook and stir until the mixture becomes hard and hangs together when you lift spoon. Let cool slightly.
  3. Add roux to the liquid crab mixture, stirring to mix well. Let it come to a boil, then lower the heat and add the shrimp, oysters, and crab meat. Let this mixture cook for about 10 minutes. Adjust salt and seasonings, if necessary, then adjust heat so that the pot is simmering and add the filé. Let gumbo simmer on very low heat (do not let it boil!) until ready to serve.
  4. Serve in bowls over hot cooked rice.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Richard Piersant
    Richard Piersant
  • Chef Lisa
    Chef Lisa
  • tom
  • amazinc

9 Reviews

tom October 20, 2015
What kind of crab? Do you remove backs and clean them? I assume yes.
amazinc October 20, 2015
My grandmother, Mary Elizabeth MacMaster-Bridges had a neighbor, Miss Loveta, who made killer gumbo. Miss Loveta said the roux for the gumbo should be the color of the piano in the "parlour". That's the color I aim for when making this scrumptious dish.
Beverly W. September 25, 2015
Do you back the crabs or add them whole?
Richard P. September 12, 2015
Yes, i also would like to know if you leave the backs and crab in? Could you not use chicken breast chunked up instead of the backs?
Jackson S. September 2, 2015
Do you add cayenne pepper?
Chef L. July 27, 2015
Do you remove the chicken backs, crab boil packet & whole (I presume whole blue crabs) or leave them in the entire time? I remember Morrison's well & enjoyed the stroll down memory lane. Thank you.
Matt R. June 23, 2015
In new to all of this, I'd there a video where you demonstrate the proper techniques and colors?
Marjorie June 22, 2015
Excuse me but what crab boil mix do you use? Thank you.
Catherine R. June 23, 2015
Basic Zatarain's is what we typically use, but making your own sachet is not illegal!