Deborah’s delicious Gumbo
And my first attempt at making it (Spoiler alert: Epic Fail)
I was a June baby, therefore this is my birthday month. Not being one for going out to celebrate, I usually prepare something in advance and have a small gathering of family and friends. This year I wanted Gumbo. The Cajun classic dish has been around since the early days and the variations are immense, but there’s nothing like Deborah’s seafood gumbo.
A longtime family friend who was born and raised here in Southern California, Deborah’s gumbo is legendary. She usually makes it once a year and word that she’s making it travels faster than the internet. The lucky few of us who’ve received a golden ticket show up early and often.
During Christmas 2019, I begged Deborah to let me come over early and film the process. She obliged. Along with her daughter, Jessica, everyday people, Jessica M, 3 hours of footage emerged. I felt like I had been inside Willy Wonka’s factory and that I now had the permanent golden ticket. I could make Deborah’s delicious gumbo anytime I wanted. What better than for my upcoming birthday?
Despite being a ‘digital dinosaur’ I feel like I’m getting a little better at editing. The video above shows the process I filmed at Deborah’s almost 2 years ago, and my attempt a couple days ago. It did not go well. As Deborah and so many others say, “It’s all about the Roux.” The fat and the flour cooked together to thicken sauces. I’ve made a tons of roux in the past, but never for gumbo. I should’ve studied the video more. Big mistake.
Seafood gumbo is expensive. Shrimp, crab legs, chicken party wings and sausage can be budget busters, so it pays to shop for sales. The prep is also key to a successful gumbo, but, it begins and ends with the roux. It would have behooved me to throw it out and start over. I was stubborn. I had been filming and prepping for 9 hours and was losing the light. As a result, $100 later and a ruined gumbo, my birthday dinner now will be a hot dog and some chips.
Deborah is your typical “a pinch of this and a dash of that” cook, so measurements are by feel. I combed through many online gumbo recipes just to find accurate amounts. Deborah makes enough for an army and spends several hundred dollars on the ingredients. If made properly, it can keep frozen for 3 months. It also ages well, meaning, better the day after. And the day after that.
Deborah's seafood Gumbo
- cast iron skillet
- stock pot
- 3 quarts no-salt added chicken broth plus more as needed
- 2 or 3 bay leaves
- 10 to 12 crab legs or claws optional
- 2 pounds your favorite sausage andouille is the most often used, Deborah uses chicken sausage
- 2 pounds chicken party wings
- 2 pounds medium peeled/deveined tail-off shrimp (41 to 50 count) defrosted if frozen
- 1 Tbsp creole seasoning to taste
- 1 tsp onion powder to taste
- 1 tsp garlic powder tp taste
- dash hot sauce to taste
- 1 large yellow onion cut into 1/4-inch dice
- 1 green bell pepper stemmed, seeded and cut into 1/4-inch dice
- 3 garlic cloves minced or grated
- 1 cup all-purpose flour more as needed for thickening roux
- 1 cup canola, vegetable or a neutral oil butter can also be used, more for thickening roux
- 1 small can tomato sauce
- cooked white rice for serving
- 1/4 cup chopped curly or flat-leaf parsley leaves or scallions for serving
- shrimp shells for broth
- 1 package dried shrimp El Guapo Camaron Seco (optional) see video
- salt and pepper, to taste
- In a large stock pot over medium heat, add 1 Tbsp of butter and the shrimp shells, stir and add the broth and the bay leaves, Bring to a simmer. Decrease the heat to low to keep hot.
- In a cast iron skillet, over medium to medium-low heat, add the oil/butter and then gradually add the flour, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until you have a beige paste. Reduce heat and continue cooking and stirring constantly until the roux is dark chocolate brown and thickened, about 30 minutes, adjusting the temperature up and down as needed.(The timing will vary depending on your stove as well as the pan you are using; the most important thing is to not let any portion of the roux scorch, and to stir constantly until you've reached the desired color. If it burns, throw it out and start over!
- Turn off heat and stir in tomato paste. Transfer to stock pot.
- Add water to thin roux, stir. Bring to a boil
- Add chicken, onions, bell pepper, garlic, parsley, seasonings and stir. Cover and cook on medium to medium-low for 45 minutes to 1.5 hours or until the chicken is falling off the bone.
- Stream sausage and add for the last 15 minutes of cooking the chicken. Make sure to add any juices from steaming. Continue to simmer gumbo.
- Add broth. Taste and adjust seasonings. If the gumbo is too thick, add more stock or water, 1/4 cup at a time until desired consistency. Add dried shrimp. Stir. Continue to simmer
- About 10 minutes before serving, add crab legs and shrimp and cook until pink and cooked through, 5 to 10 minutes
- Scoop some cooked rice into bowls and ladle the gumbo on top. Sprinkle with the parsley and serve with hot sauce on the side.
Fitness update: It’s been an awful week, not gonna lie. I was fairly active with errands, but did zero organized exercise all week and still struggling with proper eating. The gumbo disaster really brought me down, but, I remain grateful for another year, yea, another day to do better.
Have you ever tried gumbo?