Carolina Gumbo

Even most Southerners don’t realize that ever since the days of the great Carolina rice plantations, gumbo has been as popular in the coastal Lowcountry as in Louisiana. The main difference between the two gumbos is that the Carolina version is not based on a roux the way the Creole classic is, and depends exclusively on the okra and long-simmered major ingredients themselves to thicken the soup—an explanation for why the seafood is purposefully overcooked. Most cooks I know around Wilmington, North Carolina, always make this gumbo with both chicken and seafood, whereas down the coast, in Charleston and Beaufort, South Carolina, the tradition is to use only seafood. I love both styles. Since the gumbo freezes beautifully, you might consider making it in a larger quantity.

Ingredients

  • 4 slices bacon
  • 4 chicken legs or thighs, boned and patted dry with paper towels
  • 2 onions, diced
  • ½ green bell pepper, seeded and diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • teaspoon dried thyme, crumbled
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • Tabasco sauce to taste
  • One 10-ounce package frozen okra, thawed
  • 4 ripe tomatoes, chopped
  • 2 pounds medium shrimp, shelled and deveined
  • 1 pint shucked fresh oysters, with their liquor
  • 1 quart chicken broth
  • 2 quarts water
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 lemon, halved and seeded
  • Boiled white rice, buttered

Method

In a large, heavy pot, fry the bacon over moderate heat till crisp, drain on paper towels, and crumble. Add the chicken to the pot, cook on all sides till golden, then drain on paper towels. When cool enough to handle, shred the meat. Add the onions, bell pepper, garlic, thyme, salt and pepper, and Tabasco to the pot, reduce the heat slightly, and cook, stirring, 3 minutes. Add the okra, stir, and cook another 3 to 4 minutes. Add the crumbled bacon, chicken, tomatoes, shrimp, and oysters with the liquor and stir. Add the broth, water, bay leaves, and lemon halves, plus, if necessary, enough water to just cover. Bring to a low simmer, cover, and cook 2 hours, stirring occasionally. Remove and discard the lemon halves and serve the gumbo over rice in deep soup bowls.