Five-Generation Seafood Gumbo

By Catherine Robertson
June 12, 2015
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Five-Generation Seafood Gumbo

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

Makes: 2 gallons

  • 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 to 5 cups chopped okra
  • 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
  • 3 to 5 pounds raw shrimp, peeled
  • 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.

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