When it was my night to cook dinner for my extended family at the beach, I decided to fix gumbo so that I could use as many local ingredients as possible, all in one big pot. Gumbo is a traditional dish in the South, but we can make a Pacific Northwest version using our local bounty almost as easily.
At the heart of a gumbo is the roux. This is the most time-consuming and essential step to the smoky silkiness that sets gumbo apart from other seafood stews. Some people are able to multi-task while making the roux but I burnt mine once and had to start over so now I try to enlist helpers to chop vegetables and clean shrimp while I stir. I used 1/2 cup olive oil and 1/2 cup flour, though bacon fat or lard are more traditional. As you stir the fat and flour over low to medium heat, it will slowly and almost imperceptibly change color and eventually (after 30-45 minutes) turn a dark chocolatey brown. Taking the time to cook the roux without burning it is a challenge for impatient cooks so don’t try this dish if you are in a big hurry.
Okra is an ingredient that may be hard to find in our neck of the woods. If you see some fresh, snatch it up, otherwise, frozen will do in a pinch. It has a bad rap even among southerners because of its reputation of being slimy . In this case, it serves as a thickening agent and the texture isn’t offensive at all. I love the flavor it adds to gumbo, although some family members were spotted slipping their okra to those who appreciate its unique ability to glide across the plate.
The “holy trinity” of gumbo cooking is onions, peppers and celery. I used onions, red peppers and a jalapeno instead because that is what I had on hand. Tomatoes are also necessary making this a good summertime dish.
Seafood, although an important component, can be whatever is fresh and local. Shrimp and crab are common but a mixture of fish, chicken and sausage is just as likely to be used. Go to your local seafood market and use whatever just came in off the boat.
The following recipe will feed 12-16 people. It can be adapted easily to incorporate local ingredients making it a good choice for feeding a large group regardless of which coast you happen to be on. The base can be made a day ahead, adding the fish just before you eat.
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup flour
3 large onions, chopped
3 red bell peppers, seeded and chopped
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and chopped
6 garlic cloves, chopped
1/2 cup dry white wine
6-8 large tomatoes, chopped
2 cups sliced okra
1 8-ounce bottle clam juice
3 cups chicken broth
1-2 lbs andouille sausage, cut crosswise into slices
3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into cubes
3 lbs peeled deveined shrimp
3 T Old Bay Seasoning (again, this is what was on hand. You could use 2 bay leaves & 1/4 cup fresh chopped thyme instead)
Heat the olive oil in a large, heavy pot over medium-high heat until very hot and almost smoking. Lower the heat to medium-low and add the flour. Stir constantly until the mixture is a very dark brown, 30-45 minutes, being very careful not to burn.
Add the chopped onions, red peppers and jalapeno pepper to the roux and cook, stirring frequently until the onions are soft, about 20 minutes
Add garlic and cook for 2 minutes.
Add wine, Old Bay or herbs, bring to a boil, stirring occasionally.
Add tomatoes, clam juice, chicken broth, sausage and chicken. Simmer until the chicken & sausage are cooked through, about 15 minutes. Add okra and simmer until tender, about 10 minutes. At this point, your base is complete. You can cool and refrigerate up to 2 days.
Bring the base to a simmer and add the shrimp, cooking until the shrimp is just done, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and serve over rice. In order to accommodate all ages and heat tolerance, I omitted cayenne pepper. Serve with your favorite hot sauce on the side, such as Texas Pete for those who like it hot.