The Shopper Kitchen: The Dish on Seafood Gumbo

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By Angela McRae, The Shopper Kitchen

I’m not quite ready to pull out the turkey and dressing recipes in early November, but until then, I do often enjoy a nice hot soup for supper. And since I never met a bite of seafood I didn’t like, I’m especially fond of Seafood Gumbo.

Several years ago, my New Orleans–born husband and I were in Louisiana to visit friends, and I quickly learned that restaurants there serve gumbo as frequently as most home-style Southern restaurants serve biscuits and cornbread. According to Stanley Dry’s “A Short History of Gumbo” for the Southern Foodways Alliance, gumbo—whose name is derived from the West African word for “okra”— is Louisiana’s most famous dish.

“Gumbo crosses all class barriers,” Dry says, “appearing on the tables of the poor as well as the wealthy.” And history bears this out, since Dry also notes, “In 1803, gumbo was served at a gubernatorial reception in New Orleans, and in 1804, gumbo was served at a Cajun gathering on the Acadian Coast.”

I’ve dished up several different versions of gumbo over the years, and one of the most recent ones I’ve tried comes not from Louisiana but from Memphis, Tennessee. I found this recipe in the 1964 Woman’s Exchange Cook Book, Volume 1 from the Woman’s Exchange of Memphis. According to the book, the Woman’s Exchange started as an outgrowth of the community kitchens operated during the Depression and by 1964 had grown into a thriving operation that included a shop with handmade clothing, toys, linens, gift items, fine arts, antiques, and the popular restaurant. It’s still in operation today, and though I’ve never been, I’m so pleased I have their old cookbook to tide me over.

If you’re a gumbo fan too, give this recipe a try. And if you happen to be cooking it later in the month, feel free to toss in a bit of leftover turkey!

Seafood Gumbo
1-1/2 cups chopped onion
4 tablespoons bacon fat (I substituted butter)
2 tablespoons plain flour
6 cups canned diced tomatoes
3 cups water
2 pounds of frozen, cut okra
1 cup of green pepper, diced
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 pound frozen crabmeat, thawed and picked over
1 pound frozen shrimp, shelled and thawed
1 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
Dash of Tabasco sauce
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon gumbo file
2 cups oysters and juice
2 tablespoons lemon juice

Sauté onion in fat for 3 minutes, then add flour and stir until onions begin to brown. Add tomatoes and water, cover, and cook for 30 minutes. Reduce heat, add okra, peppers and garlic. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and cook for one hour. Add crab, shrimp, salt, pepper, Tabasco and Worcestershire sauces, return to a boil, then reduce heat and cook covered for 30 minutes. Add nutmeg, file, oysters and lemon juice, then cook on low for 30 minutes. Serve over rice. Yields 1 gallon or 12-14 large servings of gumbo.

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