On Monday, I had a meeting with Mike Strain, Louisiana's Commissioner of Agriculture and Forestry. Though we had a little business to discuss, I quickly got onto a tangent about my new project with thekingfishmenu. Dr. Strain is an engaging guy, and he was nice enough to indulge me. After all, we both love to eat and agree that food it is a huge part of what the culture in this state centers around.
Dr. Strain has an interesting background. He was the first Republican in the history of Louisiana to be elected as Commissioner of Agriculture. He is also a veteranarian and a cattle rancher (his family has been in the business for 200 plus years). Because of this, I assumed Dr. Strain to be a steak guy. That assumption was somewhat accurate. However, he informed me that if he had to pick one dish that he loves the most, it would be seafood and okra gumbo.
When I asked why, I got a pretty good explanation. One of his grandmothers used a seafood gumbo recipe that required him to work a little. This is because his grandmother would send him out into the marsh to find bay leaves and other herbs for the gumbo. He would then have to suffer for hours in agony as he smelled it cooking all day before being allowed to eat. The entire conversation inspired me to go to lunch.
While it is a little to warm for seafood gumbo, I thought I would share a recipe that I like to use come cooler weather.
1/2 to 1 cup oil (depending on how dark you want your roux)
1/2 to 1 cup flour (depending on how dark you want y our roux)
2 medium onions, diced
2 green bell peppers, diced
3 ribs celery, finely diced
4-6 cloves garlic, minced
1 stick butter and/or vegetable oil to saute vegetables
2 tablespoons Creole seasoning (or to taste)
1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
2 bay leaves
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 pounds okra, chopped
4 quarts shrimp stock, crab stock or fish stock
2 pounds medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
2 dozen oysters, freshly shucked, liquor reserved
4 blue crabs, cleaned (optional)
1 pound fresh lump crabmeat, picked over for shells and cartilage
chopped green onions (just the green part)
8 cups cooked long-grain white rice
In a large, heavy pot, heat the chosen amount of oil and add the flour (make sure the oil to flour ratio is the same). Stir constantly until a light to medium brown roux is formed (remove from heat and continue to stir as roux will continue cooking).
In a very large separate pan, sauté onions, bell pepper, celery and garlic in butter and/or vegetable oil until the onions become translucent and tender. Add the seasonings and okra, and cook for another 10 minutes (if too dry, add a bit of the stock or additional oil)
Add the contents of pan to the pot of roux then add all of the stock. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a low simmer and cook another 45 minutes to 3 hours (the longer you cook, the better it will be).
Note: If the liquid begins to reduce too much, additional water or stock may be added (taste to ensure that additional stock does not add too much salt).
If you wish a more rustic gumbo, you may add whole blue crabs after about 45 minutes before serving. Remove the hard top shell from the crabs, and break each crab in two down the middle. Remove the claws. Add to the stock.
With the gumbo on very low heat, add the shrimp 10 minutes before serving, the oysters and oyster liquor 5 minutes before serving, and the crabmeat just before serving (don't cook the crabmeat, just stir until it is heated through). Taste and correct seasonings.
Place about 1/2 to 2/3 cup of rice in each bowl and ladle the gumbo over and around it. Sprinkle some green onions over the top (very important because it really adds to the flavor). Serve with plenty of french bread and good beer or white wine.
YIELD: About 10-12 entrée servings or 20-24 appetizer servings (omit hard shell crabs if serving cups of gumbo as an appetizer).