Smoky Seafood Gumbo

Making gumbo used to be a family affair - it was a special Sunday dinner - everyone would get together right after church to loving prepare all of the elements, then the matron of the kitchen would pull it altogether into a beautiful symphony of flavor and texture.  Most Gumbo Captains I know today do pretty much everything themselves and make gumbo whenever the mood strikes. The one thing to keep in mind though, if you are a solo Gumbo Captain (like me) is that you'd better make sure you have time and patience to do it right!

I have had many a gumbo over the years, but my hands down favorite is still my dad's, which had this insane stock and featured fresh shrimp and angry crabs from the Freeport fish market.  When we moved to Ohio it seemed his seafood gumbo days were over (until summer visits to low country or Mississippi) but then he discovered the West Side Market and life was ok again.

The stock for this gumbo is rich and requires only the crabs, shells from the shrimp, a couple of chicken wings, and some chicken gizzards.  If you just do not have the time, feel free to use boxed chicken or seafood stock, then make a promise to yourself to execute the full stock the next time.

The one element that you cannot shortcut is the roux.  You must stir it constantly.  You must not burn it.  I use the color of my forearm in summertime as my color gauge, which takes about 10-12 minutes or four Earth, Wind, and Fire songs. I use a wooden spoon and my ceramic-lined dutch oven - for the love of everything right and good in this world do NOT use a metal or plastic spoon or spatula for roux.  You will ruin your tools and mess up the flavor.

I strongly recommend that you read this recipe all the way through before starting and pay special attention to the ingredients.  For example, for the tomatoes, you will need to place them in a bowl and crush by hand before you start cooking so that they are ready when needed.

Give yourself some space, gather up all of the ingredients, and get started!  I always have a beer or glass of wine on hand, but I do not recommend that you drink and gumbo until you are experienced.


4 blue claw crabs, unseasoned, steamed and cleaned (you will use crabs even if you don't make your own stock)

2-3 chicken wings

1/2 lb. chicken gizzards 

6 cups of water

1 pound shell-on shrimp

juice of 1 lemon

2 strips of bacon

1/2 c. neutral oil, like canola or vegetable

5 tbsp. all purpose flour

1 medium yellow onion, chopped

5 cloves of garlic, smashed

2 celery stalks, leaves and stalks chopped fine

1 medium green pepper, seeded and chopped fine

1/2 c. chopped okra

 1/2 lb. smoked sausage, like andouille, cut into bite size pieces

1/4 lb. smoked ham, like tasso

1 c. white wine

14.5 oz. can whole, peeled tomatoes, and their juice, crushed by hand

1 tbsp. fresh thyme leaves, finely chopped

1/4 c. parsley, finely chopped

2 tsp. smoked paprika

1 tbsp. gumbo file powder, if desired

1-2 pickled cayenne peppers, chopped, or hot pepper sauce to taste (optional)

Note:  If you are not making your own stock, you will need 4 cups of store-bought stock.  Skip step one and half of step two.


1. Place the crabs, chicken wings, and gizzards in a large stock pot.  Pour in the water and bring to a gentle boil.

2.  Remove the shells, legs, and tails from the shrimp. Do not discard.  Add the shells and tails to the stock pot.  Toss the shrimp with the lemon juice, then rinse with cold water.  Place in a small bowl and set in the fridge to keep fresh while you make the roux.

3.  While your stock is cooking, start the roux.  Have your other gumbo ingredients close by.  In a large heavy pot, fry the bacon gently over medium low heat until it is crisp.  Remove the bacon and set aside.  Add the oil to the pot and raise the heat to medium-high, then stir in the flour. Stir the roux constantly, gently scraping the bottom of the pot.  Cook until a deep brown (think Angela Basset or Padma Lakshmi).  

4. When the roux has reached the right color, lower the heat to medium and add the onions.  Cook for about 2 minutes, then add the garlic.  Cook the onions and garlic until just soft, about another 2 minutes, then add the celery, green peppers, and okra.  Cook for another 2 minutes.

5.  Add the sausage and ham to the roux, and cook for another minute, then pour in the wine, tomatoes, and their juice. Lower to medium low and let this simmer gently while you strain the stock.

6.  Line a colander with one layer of cheesecloth and set over a large bowl.  Pour your stock into the colander to strain.  Discard the cheesecloth and all stock ingredients EXCEPT the crab legs, then pour the stock into the gumbo pot.  If you are using store-bought stock, add it to the pot now.  

7.  Add the thyme, parsley, smoked paprika, and file powder, cayenne peppers or hot sauce if using.  Crumble the reserved bacon and add to the pot.  Bring the gumbo to a boil, then partly cover and lower to a simmer.  Simmer for 20 minutes.

8. Remove the lid from the gumbo and add the shrimp and reserved crab legs.  Simmer until the shrimp are fully cooked, about 8 minutes.

9.  Remove the pot from the heat and let sit for 10 minutes before serving.  Serve with hot rice and chopped parsley.