Think gumbo and you think Louisiana, and rightfully so. But anyone who lives along the Gulf Coast knows that borders down there are as murky as that mucilaginous mother of all stews. Indeed The First Texas Cookbook, published in 1883, offers, among instructions for “codfish balls” and “pickled brains,” no fewer than seven gumbo recipes, including crab gumbo, chicken gumbo, and an “ochra” gumbo, a rather stark affair from a Mrs. T. W. House, from Houston, that involves little more than combining small pieces of sautéed chicken, bacon, and okra with “water sufficient for soup,” at which point one is to “season highly with pepper and salt.” (And how.) Another recipe directs the cook to use “50 or 100 oysters, also a pod of red pepper.” That sounds like something a Texan can get behind.
The varieties of gumbo are outnumbered only by the rules governing its preparation, from what you can and can’t put in the pot together to gradations in the color of the roux that would befuddle the experts at Pantone. In Lou Lambert’s Port Arthur Seafood Gumbo, sweet shrimp, succulent crab, and plump oysters bathe in a spicy, ruddy brew as complex and bountiful as the Gulf itself. An abundant and adaptable dish, gumbo is as happy to warm a weary soul as to kick off a rollicking party.
(Serves 8 to 10)
2 cups medium-diced yellow onions
1 1/2 cups medium-diced green bell peppers
1 1/2 cups medium-diced celery
1 cup thinly sliced green onions (tops and bottoms)
2 tablespoons Old Bay Seasoning
2 bay leaves
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
pinch of ground cloves
3/4 cup vegetable oil
1 cup all-purpose flour
6 cups shrimp or chicken stock
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 1/2 pounds medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 pint medium oysters in their liquor
3/4 pound crabmeat, picked over for bits of shell
4 cups cooked white rice
crusty French bread, for serving
hot sauce, for serving
filé, for serving
In a large bowl, combine the yellow onions, bell peppers, celery, and 1/2 cup of the green onions (set aside the remaining 1/2 cup of green onions). In another bowl, stir together Old Bay Seasoning, bay leaves, salt, black and white pepper, cayenne, thyme, oregano, and cloves to make the spice mix.
Heat a heavy saucepan on medium-high and add the vegetable oil. Stir in the flour to make a smooth roux. Turn the heat to medium and cook the roux, stirring frequently, until it slowly turns a deep nutty-brown color, about 30 minutes. While you are cooking the roux, pour the shrimp stock into a large soup pot and begin heating it to a simmer.
Add the onion, bell pepper, and celery mixture to the roux and stir to combine, cooking for about 2 minutes. Stir in the garlic and the spice mixture—the ingredients will come together in a sticky mass—and cook for another minute while stirring.
Turn the heat up to high under the soup pot with the shrimp stock and start gradually adding the roux mixture, whisking between additions to incorporate the roux. Once all the roux has been added, bring gumbo to a brisk simmer and cook for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. If any foam floats to the surface of the pot, skim off with a spoon or ladle.
Add the reserved 1/2 cup of green onions, the parsley, and the shrimp to the simmering gumbo and cook for 3 minutes. From this point on, avoid heating the mixture any higher than a simmer to keep from overcooking the seafood. Next, stir in the oysters with their liquor and continue cooking at a low simmer for about 1 minute. To finish the gumbo, gently stir in the crabmeat.
Serve immediately, mounding about 1/4 cup of cooked rice in the middle of each bowl and ladling the gumbo over the top, making sure that everyone gets some shrimp and oysters. Serve with crusty French bread, passing a bottle of hot sauce and the filé at the table.
Adapted from Big Ranch, Big City Cookbook, by Louis Lambert, with June Naylor. Published by Ten Speed Press.