I’m going to do Easin’ Along readers a big favor. I’m going to share my recipe for southern gumbo because it’s too good to keep a lid on. You can thank me later.
This is a recipe I dug out some 30 years ago from one of the many cookbooks we had in our home back then. It appealed to me for several reasons. First, at that time I was spending several weeks each year near New Orleans while on Army Reserve duty and had fallen in love with the dish but I was not a big fan of andouille sausage. The spicy meat was a bit tough on my tender tummy. I also did not particularly care for gumbo file and it was difficult to find a source for the seasoning where we live. This recipe did not call for either ingredient.
Nevertheless, this recipe did call for most of the ingredients found in the traditional Creole concoction including shrimp, crab, and included a thick, brown roux, as the foundation. This recipe soon became a family favorite and one we shared with friends for many years while vacationing at Pawley’s Island, South Carolina. Therefore, I refer to it as Pawley’s Island Gumbo. I have posted a copy of our recipe below and it is fairly simple, but I will cover a few of the steps here and add a picture or two as I go along.
There is one undeniable fact about preparing a good gumbo…it requires several hours to do it well. There is a lot of chopping, and stirring, and simmering, so go into it with that in mind and you’ll have a dish that will have everyone asking for seconds.
Helen (adorable wife) and I do this as a team effort. She usually chops all of the vegetables while I prepare the roux. Vegetable chopping is pretty straight forward and probably takes a half hour for one person while the roux takes almost an hour of constant stirring. At the end of that time, the vegetables are added to the roux and cooked for an additional 45 minutes to one hour. As the vegetables are cooking in the roux, I fry the okra. One note about the okra is that I usually buy it frozen. Fresh okra is great, but it is only available a few months of the year so frozen is often the only option, and I really can’t tell much of a difference in gumbo.
At this point, the mixture of roux, vegetables, and okra can be frozen for later use. I do this by spooning the cooled mixture into a large freezer bag and setting aside in the freezer. I have left it frozen for several weeks in some cases and then thawed it at room temperature with no problem. This is another reason that I like this recipe. When pressed for time, it can be helpful to prepare it in phases.
The next step calls for bacon, tomatoes, spices, and liquids. Here is where I departed from the original recipe. I add no plain water to my gumbo. I add the water that was used for boiling the chicken and make up the difference with chicken broth that I purchase from the grocery. Using chicken stock and broth enhances the flavor greatly.
Next, the entire mixture needs to simmer for several hours and stirred occasionally. This allows time to peel and devein shrimp, sift through the crab meat for shells and shred the chicken. Notice I said shred as opposed to chopped. I always shred the chicken to give it a lighter or smoother texture rather than chunky as it would be with chopped pieces.
About thirty minutes before serving, add the shrimp, crab, and chicken and let it simmer some more. I usually begin taste testing about 15 minutes into the last simmering. If it needs more body, I might add a chicken bouillon cube or salt or even a flavor enhancer like Accent.
All that is needed now is rice, some good crusty bread, and a hearty appetite. My motto, however, is “go light on rice” because it can fill you up pretty quickly and you want to savor every drop of gumbo. I also bring Tabasco to the table to spice things up a bit for those who like things on the warm side. Hint: This recipe gets better when it has a chance to sit and let the flavors blend. Leftovers are wonderful!
Here’s the recipe! I would love feedback and please feel free to ask questions if you have them. A complete picture gallery (click here) of some of the steps is published following this post and may be helpful. Enjoy!