Shrimp and Sausage Gumbo with Okra

Why this recipe works:
A great gumbo recipe features a thick, smooth, unified sauce, with lots of well-seasoned vegetables, meat, and fish. For our gumbo recipe, we made a deep, dark roux in half the time by heating the oil before adding the flour. We then added room-temperature fish stock (made from shrimp and clam juice) to prevent separating. For flavor, we used plenty of garlic, dried thyme, and bay leaves but just 1/4 teaspoon of cayenne pepper. And we added generous amounts of smoked sausage and shrimp.

NOTE: Making a dark roux can be dangerous. The mixture reaches temperatures in excess of 400 degrees. Therefore, use a deep pot for cooking the roux and long-handled utensils for stirring it, being careful not to splash it on yourself. One secret to smooth gumbo is adding shrimp stock that is neither too hot nor too cold. For a stock that is at the right temperature when the roux is done, start preparing it before the vegetables and other ingredients, strain it, and then give it a head start on cooling by immediately adding ice water and clam juice. So that your constant stirring of the roux will not be interrupted, start the roux only after you've made the stock. Alternatively, you can make the stock well ahead of time and bring it back to room temperature before using it. Fresh okra may be used in place of frozen, though it tends to be more slippery, a quality that diminishes with increased cooking. Gumbo is traditionally served over rice.

A long-handled, straight-edged wooden spatula is best for stirring the roux. Be sure to scrape the pan bottom and reach into the corners to help avoid burning. The cooking roux will have a distinctive toasty, nutty aroma. If it smells scorched or acrid, or if there are black flecks in the roux, it has burned and should be thrown out.

Ingredients

1 1/2 pounds small shrimp (51 to 60 count), shelled and deveined (if desired), shells reserved
1 cup clam juice (one 8-ounce bottle)
3 1/2 cups ice water
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup all-purpose flour (preferably bleached)
2 medium onions, chopped fine
1 medium red bell pepper, chopped fine
1 medium rib celery, chopped fine
10 ounces frozen okra, thawed (if using fresh okra, trim the caps and slice the pods 1/4-inch thick)
6 medium cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon table salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 bay leaves
3/4 pound smoked sausage, such as andouille or kielbasa, sliced 1/4 inch thick
1/2 cup minced fresh parsley leaves
4 medium scallions, white and green parts, sliced thin
Ground black pepper

Instructions

1. Bring reserved shrimp shells and 4 1/2 cups water to boil in stockpot or large saucepan over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low; simmer 20 minutes. Strain stock and add clam juice and ice water (you should have about 2 quarts of tepid stock, 100 to 110 degrees); discard shells. Set stock mixture aside.

2. Heat oil in Dutch oven or large, heavy-bottomed sauce-pan over medium-high heat until it registers 200 degrees on an instant-read thermometer, 1 1/2 to 2 minutes. Reduce heat to medium and stir in flour gradually with wooden spatula or spoon, working out any small lumps. Continue stirring constantly, reaching into corners of pan, until mixture has a toasty aroma and is deep reddish brown, about the color of an old copper penny or between the colors of milk chocolate and dark chocolate, about 20 minutes. (The roux will thin as it cooks; if it begins to smoke, remove from heat and stir constantly to cool slightly.)

3. Add onion, bell pepper, celery, okra, garlic, thyme, salt, and cayenne; cook, stirring frequently, until vegetables soften, 8 to 10 minutes (or 10 to 15 minutes if using fresh okra). Add 1 quart reserved stock mixture in slow, steady stream, stirring vigorously. Stir in remaining quart stock mixture. Increase heat to high; bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, skim off foam on surface, add bay leaves, and simmer uncovered, skimming foam as it rises to the surface, about 30 minutes.

4. Stir in sausage; continue simmering to blend flavors, about 30 minutes longer. Stir in shrimp; simmer until cooked through, about 5 minutes longer. Off heat, stir in parsley and scallions, adjust seasonings to taste with salt, ground black pepper, and cayenne; serve.

Notes (from Joe): I've always wanted to learn how to make Gumbo so I gave this a try. It was outstanding on my first attempt. Three comments: 1) Recipe says it takes about 20 minutes to get the roux dark enough, it took me about 45 minutes on "medium"; next time I'll turn up the temperature. 2) I used frozen okra, by the time the cooking was done it had turned basically to mush. Not sure what to do about that since the recipe calls for about an hour of cooking after the okra is added 3) It was a little too thin so I thickened it by adding basic roux (equal amounts butter/flour cooked together). DEFINITELY not traditional but Gumbo should be thick enough to sit on TOP of rice. At any rate it worked.