Instead of being partisan this year in terms of what edible delights to serve your guests at the Super Bowl party you're undoubtedly throwing (how to choose between Baltimore crab cakes, say, and San Francisco Asian cuisine or Rice-A-Roni? Don't even try.), just give into the tasty indulgences of the host city, New Orleans. If ever there was a place (and a tradition of cooking) to give into, it's NoLa, the Big Easy. So, for Super Bowl XVLII, go for gumbo.
There are degrees of easiness, even in the Big Easy, and even with gumbo. The traditional base of a gumbo is a roux, to which shrimp, sausage, onions, green peppers and celery are added. Gumbo takes a long time to cook, and there are a million variations. (It's not the easiest thing in the world, so if you just want to watch the game, check out our Eat Beat guide to the goodies Portland restaurants are offering up, and either go out or order in.)
What is a roux? Roux is basically equal parts flour and fat (butter, oil, lard...) mixed together and slowly cooked until it is darkened to a medium brown color. It requires about 15-20 minutes of stirring. Alton Brown has another method which takes more time but less attention: whisk together vegetable oil and flour in Dutch oven and bake at 350 degrees for an hour and a half, whisking a few more times while it bakes.
Onions, green peppers and celery, which are the basics of both Creole and Cajun cooking, plus spices like sage, thyme, cayenne and white pepper, round out the necessities of a good gumbo.
Best Gumbo Ever
• 5 quarts water
• 1 dozen fresh crabs, raw, boiled or steamed
• 2 pounds medium to large shrimp, peeled and deveined (reserve the shells and heads to make seafood stock)
• 2 pounds smoked sausage, cut into 1 inch rounds (1 pound each of two different sausages is optimal)
• 3/4 pound Creole hot sausage (if available), cut into 1 inch rounds
• 2 pounds okra cut into rounds
• 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
• 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
• 2 large onions, coarsely chopped
• 6 large cloves garlic, chopped
• 1 bunch flat-leaf parsley, chopped
• 5 stalks celery, chopped
• 1 bunch green onions, tops and bottoms, chopped
• 1 large green bell pepper, chopped
• 1 pound crab meat, picked and cleaned of shells and cartilage
• 2 tablespoons Creole seasoning, such as Tony Chachere’s Original Creole Seasoning
• 4 bay leaves
• 4 tablespoons filé powder
• Salt and pepper to taste
• 6 cups steamed white rice
Clean the crabs, removing the lungs, heart and glands and other parts so that only the pieces of shell containing meat (including the legs, swimmers and claws) remain. Refrigerate the meaty parts of the crabs. Put the portions of the crabs that have been removed into a 6- or 8-quart stockpot. Add the shrimp heads and shells and 5 quarts water to the pot and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 30 minutes. Remove from the heat.
Cook the sausages in a skillet in batches over medium heat, turning occasionally, until the pieces are slightly brown and much of the fat has been rendered. Remove the sausage and set aside on a paper towel-lined plate to drain. Discard the excess fat remaining in the skillet before cooking the next batch of sausage.
Once all the sausage has been cooked, wipe the excess oil from the skillet, being careful not to scrub away those bits of sausage that have stuck to the bottom of the skillet. Add the 2 tablespoons vegetable oil. Heat the oil over medium heat and then add the okra. Lower the heat to medium and cook the okra until it is slightly brown and dried, stirring frequently, about 45 minutes.
While the okra cooks, place the 1/2 cup vegetable oil in a 12-quart stockpot. Heat the oil over medium heat. Once the oil is hot, a tablespoon at a time slowly add the 1/2 cup flour to prepare the roux, stirring constantly. Once all the flour has been added, continue heating and stirring the roux until it becomes a medium brown color, somewhere between the color of caramel and milk chocolate, about 10-15 minutes. Add the onions to the roux, stirring constantly. Once the onions are wilted, add the garlic, parsley, celery, green onions and bell pepper. Strain the seafood stock into the large stockpot. Add the browned sausage and bay leaves and bring everything to a boil over medium-high heat. Then reduce the heat to medium and continue to cook.
Once the okra is cooked, add it to the gumbo pot. Continue cooking the gumbo for 60 minutes. Add the reserved crabs and shrimp and cook for 15 minutes longer. Remove the gumbo from the heat and stir in the Creole seasoning and filé powder. Let the gumbo rest for 15 to 20 minutes. As it cools, oil should form on the top. Skim the oil with a ladle or large spoon and discard. Stir in the picked crab meat. Taste the gumbo and adjust seasoning with more salt and pepper as needed. Serve the gumbo ladled over steamed rice.
In case of leftovers, gumbo freezes well. But if you cook it right, you won’t have to worry about leftovers.
What about a vegan or vegetarian version? Is that worth it? Absolutely. You could use a "meat substitute" to give it more texture (seitan, which is gluten-based, or TVP, which is soy), but that's not necessary for full flavor, in my opinion. Heidi Swanson of 101 Cookbooks has an admittedly not simple recipe for a rich vegetarian gumbo. Laissez les bons temps rouler, and bon appetit.