Seafood Gumbo

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Okra instead of filé powder is used to thicken this classic Creole gumbo, but with that exception, both the ingredients and cooking technique characterize what is undoubtedly the most popular gumbo throughout the Southern Gulf states. The name gumbo derives from the African Congo word for okra (guingumbo), and legend has it that when the French settled Louisiana, it was a certain Madame Langlois who bartered with the local Choctaw Indians for the secret of filé powder (made from the leaves of the sassafras tree), used for medical purposes. With the knowledge of okra and filé powder as thickening agents, gumbo gradually evolved. The roux is what gives the soup its traditional flavor and color; the darker the roux, the toastier the gumbo. But the technique does require patience and careful attention. Roux must be cooked very carefully over low heat to prevent burning. If the roux burns, you have no alternative but to start again.

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Ingredients

  • ½ pound bacon, cut into small pieces
  • ¼ cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 pound firm fresh okra, stems removed and pods cut into small rounds (about 5 cups)
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • ½ medium green bell pepper, seeded and chopped
  • 1 large celery rib, chopped
  • cups canned tomatoes, drained
  • 2 quarts chicken broth
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh parsley leaves
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme, crumbled
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • Tabasco sauce to taste
  • 1 pound medium shrimp, peeled and drained
  • 1 pound fresh claw crabmeat, picked over for shells and cartilage
  • 1 pint small fresh, shucked oysters
  • Boiled white rice

Method

In a large, heavy pot, fry the bacon over moderate heat till crisp, drain on paper towels, and reserve. Add the flour to the bacon grease, reduce the heat to low, and whisk more and more steadily for about 15 minutes or till the roux is light brown, taking great care not to burn it. Add the okra and cook, stirring, till the okra is slightly browned and the roux dark brown.

Add the onion, bell pepper, and celery, stir well, cover, and let cook 3 minutes. Add the tomatoes, broth, parsley, thyme, bay leaf, salt and pepper, and Tabasco, bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low, and simmer, uncovered, 2 hours, adding a little water if the liquid is too thick.

Add the shrimp, crabmeat, oysters, and reserved bacon, stir, return to a simmer, and cook about 15 minutes longer. Taste for seasoning. Serve the gumbo over rice in deep soup bowls.