Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The End of Summer & Gumbo

The Soup: Labor Day Means the End of Summer
And the start of football season ... 

As Labor Day marks the official end to summer, Louisianans hope the weather will soon take notice to the changing seasons. 

Cooler temperatures not only mean a decreased chance of hurricanes (on my mind because of recent coastal pest), but also the start of football season. And Louisianans take their football quite seriously.

While, I’m a Tiger fan and alum, a branch of the family roots for University of Louisiana at Lafayette and dare I say it … Alabama.

But there’s one team we can all agree on: The Saints.

Politics aside, we can also agree that gumbo is the perfect tailgate dish.  To learn about gumbo and get the best recipe in the South, I called my Aunt Kathleen — who has perfected her gumbo over the last 40 years and makes multiple types for Christmas dinner.

Gumbo 101 … My Aunt Kathleen explained that there are two different types of gumbo in Louisiana, Cajun and Creole.  I recently described these two variations in a blog post for National Geographic Traveler:  

Gumbo is … a synonym for the word mix, an alternative definition that can be traced back to the dish’s origins. Louisiana’s people represent a gumbo of cultures — African, American Indian, Spanish, and French – and gumbo, the food, is a product of that mixing. Accordingly, the way chefs prepare this signature dish often depends on their heritage. Creole gumbo is prepared with tomatoes (Spanish and French influence), while Cajun (descendants of French Acadians) gumbo is thicker, darker, and spicier. Some recipes use American Indian file powder made from ground sassafras leaves. Gumbo can also be prepared with seafood, chicken, sausage, or alligator.

My aunt joked that there are so many kinds of gumbo that every time she makes it is different than the dish before.  She was raised in New Orleans, while her husband is Cajun — so she is a pro at all things gumbo.  When I asked her about how she makes two pots on Christmas, one Creole and one Cajun, she said: “I have to! I have Cajuns that come for Christmas and New Orleanians.”

Aunt Kathleen has her hands full when she hosts Christmas ... Here are a few of the cousins at my sister's wedding.

All of us together ... A lot of mouths to feed. 

No matter what other ingredients are added, Aunt Kathleen said in her usual fun way that “The Trinity” is always included: onions, celery and bell pepper.

The best thing about gumbo is that it’ll last. She said when she was a working mom (with three hungry boys) she was glad to make a big pot of gumbo on the weekend that could carry into the week.

While seafood gumbo is a little more involved and reserved for holidays, my aunt said Cajun Ladies make gumbo throughout cold weather months. It’s also customary in Louisiana to share.  When you make a big pot of gumbo don’t forget to bring some next door. 

The Soup: Seafood Gumbo

My Aunt Kathleen was not only kind enough to share her special seafood gumbo recipe. But, she also included a set of tips at the bottom that she has acquired over her four decades of gumbo making.  Thanks for the awesome recipe and instructions!

Robert and I made Aunt Kathleen's creole seafood gumbo (see variation under recipe) today and we are going to have a lot of leftovers.  Photo by Robert Giglio

1.5 cups of vegetable oil
1.5 cups of all purpose flour
2 large onions
1 large bell pepper
4 ribs of celery
2 to 3 tablespoons of diced garlic
4 bay leaves (optional)
4 tablespoons of diced green onion tops
4 tablespoons of diced parsley
Salt, Black Pepper and Red Pepper to taste (Cajun seasoning can also be used)
3 quarts of seafood stock (Prepare stock by boiling shrimp shells and heads)
2 pounds of shrimp
1 pound of claw crabmeat
Oysters & liquid – (Quantity based on taste - one or two 8 ounce containers)
File (optional)

Prepare a roux with oil and flour in a large heavy pot.   While roux is cooking, it must be stirred often at first and constantly as it approaches a “chocolate” brown color. 
Dice onions, bell pepper and celery and add to the roux once dark brown.  Stir this mixture and cook a few minutes until vegetables have softened. Add garlic and stir.  
Slowly add hot seafood stock to mixture, stirring while pouring, until desired consistency is achieved —use a mesh strainer to ensure no shells get into the gumbo.  Add the bay leaves and seasonings to taste.  Let this cook/simmer for about two hours.  This smoothes the consistency and lets the flavors blend.
Add shrimp and cook on low heat for about 20 minutes.  Add crabmeat and cook another 10 minutes.  Oysters and oyster liquid are added during the last five minutes of cooking time, as well as the onion tops and parsley. 
Serve over desired amount of cooked rice.  Add file if desired.

Aunt Kathleen's Gumbo Tips ... 

If your gumbo is too thin, you can add powdered roux.
If your gumbo is too thick, you can add water to thin it.
If your gumbo is too light in color, you can add Kitchen Bouquet to darken it. 
If you don’t have time to cook the roux, you can use prepared roux from a jar.
However, there is nothing you can do to fix a burned roux.  Stir constantly as the roux darkens and have the diced vegetables ready to drop in once the desired color is achieved.  The vegetables will cause the heat in the roux to reduce.  Keep stirring the vegetables as the temperature drops and the stock is added. 
Gumbo freezes well and is always better on the second day!

“Creole” Seafood Gumbo variation to the above recipe
A Creole gumbo will include okra and tomatoes.   To adjust this recipe, once the shrimp stock has been added, add a 16 ounce package of cut frozen Okra and a 28 ounce can of diced tomatoes.  Cook this mixture for two hours then continue the remaining steps presented above. 


  1. Love this post & I love Aunt Kathleen's seafood gumbo - yum!

  2. Several Questions:

    Wait it roux just oil and flour cooked?
    Can I buy pre-made seafood stock?
    What is Kitchen Bouquet?

    Congrats on being a Young Explorer Grantee!!
    You should do a post on that!

    1. Several Answers :)

      - The roux is essentially just flour and oil. It is the base to many Louisiana dishes. The trick is to not let it burn, so keep stirring. When the roux turns a caramel/chocolate color you can start adding the veggies. Just turn down the heat/remove it from heat once it turns that chocolate color.
      - Yes you can buy seafood stock in the store ... you can buy pre-made roux too. I have used both in the past and my dishes have been just as tasty!
      - Kitchen Bouquet is a browning sauce, it also adds a little extra flavor.

      And thank you! My blog is about to get a facelift and my new bio will give the details on my grant. It's been such a wonderful opportunity. Thanks again and good luck with any future rouxs!

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