Seafood gumbo. It ain't a recipe, it's dozens, if not hundreds, of recipes. There are so many different ways to make this dish, and it is made in so many different ways by so many Louisiana cooks and chefs, that it's almost futile to list one recipe here. I'm going to list a few, but please by no means think these are definitive. They're good gumbos, and good places to start off. As you learn more about Creole cuisine, feel free to experiment with different combinations of seafood, roux or no roux, filé or no filé, okra or no okra, tomatoes or no tomatoes (I don't like tomatoes in my gumbo, me ... but lots of Louisianians do). Just remember ... you CANNOT have a good seafood gumbo without a good seafood stock. Don't use water, and don't use bottled clam juice.

Remember to use a non-reactive (non-cast iron) pot for any gumbo (or any dish, for that matter) that includes okra or tomatoes, as they will discolor.

These recipes can be cut in half if you don't want to feed an army.

Do NOT under any circumstances use imitation crabmeat, or surimi, in any crab gumbo dishes. If you tried that in Louisiana, you'd be shot on sight. If you try it elsewhere ... I'll know. And I'll come into your dreams and haunt you and you'll be slowly devoured by dull-toothed alligators.

This gumbo uses a very small amount of roux, so that it remains light. You may omit the okra if you like, and thicken the gumbo with filé powder instead -- it'll still be good, but will have a quite different flavor.

In a large, heavy pot, heat the oil and add the flour. Stir constantly until a light brown roux is formed, then add the onions, bell pepper, celery and garlic. Sauté until the onions become translucent and the vegetables are tender. Add the tomatoes and tomato purée, if you wish, and cook over medium heat for 10 minutes. (I know I sound like a broken record, but I'm not one of those people who likes tomatoes in my gumbo, but lots of people do. Your mileage may vary.)

Add the seasonings, and about 1/2 teaspoon each of salt and pepper, and continue to cook another 10 minutes. Add the okra, and cook for another 10 minutes, then add the stock. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer and cook another 30 minutes.

(If you wish a more rustic gumbo, you may add whole blue crabs. Remove the hard top shell from the crabs (reserving for stuffed crabs or for shellfish stock), 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.

If you don't like okra, or if you just prefer to make a filé gumbo, remove from heat and sprinkle the filé powder on the surface of the gumbo, then cover and let stand for 15 minutes. Then uncover and stir to mix. Be careful if there are leftovers -- filé doesn't reheat all that well, and you must be careful to reheat gently. If the gumbo comes back to a boil after the filé has been added, it will get stringy.

Place about 1/2 to 2/3 cup of rice in each bowl and ladle the gumbo over and around it. 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).


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Chuck Taggart   (e-mail chuck)