Prep time: - | Cook time: 1 hour and 30 minutes | Serves: 4
Gumbo is the national dish of Louisiana and a staple of fine New Orleans cuisine. The spicy stew originated in West Africa and was first served on Louisiana tables in the early 1800s. The dish is commonly thought of as being made with seafood, yet, just like the city's jazz, there is no official or set way it's served and is best improvised.
While many renditions feature a roux made with flour, this version is thickened solely with okra and adds Tasso (cured pork shoulder) to give it a smoky flavor. Sticking with the improv theme, you can also omit the Tasso if you can't find any locally, and substitute bacon, smoked ham or any other meat that you think might add some extra pizazz (if you can source andouille sausage, it works well, and even chorizo can be a real winner).
Hot and zesty shrimp gumbo — Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis
- 1.5-2.5 pounds of shrimp, shells on, jumbo or large shrimp work best
- A few tablespoons of vegetable or olive oil
- 2 onions, chopped
- 4 garlic cloves, chopped
- 1 pound okra, chopped into rounds
- 1/2 pound Tasso, bacon or smoked ham, chopped
- 2 15-oz cans of diced tomatoes
- 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 2 bay leaves
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1/2-1 teaspoon Sriracha sauce (optional, for those who like it hot!)
- 4.5 cups of water
Fresh okra — Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis
1. Peel the shrimp, keeping the shells, and cover the shrimp and refrigerate. Bring the 4.5 cups of water to a boil, add the shells, boil for a minute or two, and then reduce the heat, cover and cook on the lowest flame or setting for 30 minutes. If you overboil the shells, you'll probably need to scoop off some of the bubbled-up fat and reduce the cooking time as you'll lose a lot of broth. After half an hour, let the stock cool, strain it, toss the shells and set the stock aside. You can also refrigerate it if you plan to cook the rest the following day.
Tasso or cured ham gives a smoked flavor profile — Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis
2. Get a large frying pan, deep heavy pot or Dutch oven and heat up a few tablespoons of oil. Most folks use vegetable oil, but for some Mediterranean flair, olive oil will certainly work. Add the onions, let them cook 3-4 minutes at high heat until they start to turn translucent. Stir in the garlic, and then slowly add the okra and bacon/Tasso/ham and season with salt and pepper, stirring constantly as it begins to brown. After 5 minutes, add the cans of tomatoes and bay leaves, reduce the heat and let the mixture cook uncovered on a low flame for 30 minutes.
Let the okra cook to create a natural thickener — Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis
3. The okra mixture ought to be nice and sticky by now, and you can pour in the shrimp stock, along with the cayenne pepper and the Sriracha sauce, bring it to a boil and then simmer for another 30 minutes.
Slow cooking brings out the flavors — Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis
4. Finally, add the shrimp in at the end, cooking them in the soup/stew for 10 minutes until they change color. Remove the bay leaves.
While gumbo is best served fresh over rice or another grain of your choice, it can also be reheated and will last refrigerated 3-4 days just fine.