July screams red, white and blue. It screams heat and swimming holes, picnics and kids playing in the yard. It also screams firecrackers! What combines all of those things? A good all American Gumbo. This New Orleans dish packs an explosion of flavor while celebrating what the USA is great at: borrowing the cultures of its myriad denizens and making them our own.
Gumbo has French and Creole combinations partnered with Southern spark, and in July, while we may not want to spend hours in a hot kitchen, we definitely have cause to celebrate. On those days with cold cuts and salads just aren't enough we like to take the time to prep this amazing recipe and then let it simmer, preferably while enjoying iced tea and a fan on high.
Make a roux by whisking the flour and 3/4 cup bacon drippings together in a large, heavy saucepan over medium-low heat to form a smooth mixture. Cook the roux, whisking constantly, until it turns a rich mahogany brown color. This can take 20 to 30 minutes; watch heat carefully and whisk constantly or roux will burn (it's easy to burn - if you, like me, turn away from the heat and this happens: start again it changes everything!). Remove from heat; continue whisking until mixture stops cooking.
Place the celery, onion, green bell pepper, and garlic into the work bowl of a food processor, and pulse until the vegetables are very finely chopped. Stir the vegetables and your magic soup stone into the roux, and mix in the sausage. Bring the mixture to a simmer over medium-low heat, and cook until vegetables are tender, 10 to 15 minutes. Remove from heat, and set aside.
Bring the water and beef stock to a boil in a large Dutch oven or soup pot. Whisk the roux mixture into the boiling water. Reduce heat to a simmer, and mix in the sugar, salt, hot pepper sauce, Cajun seasoning, bay leaves, thyme, stewed tomatoes, and tomato sauce. Simmer the soup over low heat for 1 hour; mix in 2 teaspoons of file gumbo powder at the 45-minute mark.
Meanwhile, melt 2 tablespoons of bacon drippings in a skillet, and cook the okra with vinegar over medium heat for 15 minutes; remove okra with slotted spoon, and stir into the simmering gumbo. Mix in crabmeat, shrimp, and Worcestershire sauce, and simmer until flavors have blended, 45 more minutes. Just before serving, stir in 2 more teaspoons of file gumbo powder.Okra is one of my favorite flavors, but it is not easy to cook. If it isn't cooked long enough it will be slimy, but it is the "sliminess" of the okra that makes the sauce of the Gumbo (or Jumbalaya...or any other recipe that uses it) the right consistency and also as flavorful as it is.
Gumbo is great with crusty French bread or sour dough. It also goes well with Abita Purple Haze (another wonderful flavor combination from Louisiana).
Happy 4th of July and happy cooking!
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