Seafood Gumbo

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I’ve had lots of seafood gumbo in my day, and I’ve made more than a few. But nothing has blown me away like the version I ate at Peche, a New Orleans seafood restaurant run by Chef Don Link.

Where most seafood gumbos revolve around a peanut butter-colored roux, include tomatoes, are lighter and feature okra, Link’s gumbo had its shrimp and crabs swimming in a classic “dark chocolate” Cajun roux, no tomato at all, and was thickened with file powder.

A bowl of seafood gumbo
Photo by Holly A. Heyser

The effect is heartier, darker, like a squall roaring over Lake Pontchartrain, but everything in the bowl points to the seafood. It was less like eating a soup than it was like eating seafood with a gumbo sauce.

His seafood gumbo was a revelation. It was so much better than any others I’d ever had. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I needed the recipe.

Fortunately, I found it in Link’s excellent book Real Cajun. As I suspected, this gumbo hinges on great broth and a serious roux. And, of course, great seafood. Chef Link uses crab, shrimp and oysters. I’d just returned from down South, laden with Gulf shrimp and fish. I’d smoked some tripletail throats (belly+collar), and, when flaked out, tasted almost exactly like crabmeat. They’d go into the gumbo in place of the crab.

I’d also just come home from a San Francisco Bay fishing trip, so I had some fresh halibut, too. All three would go into this gumbo. You can use any combination of fish and seafood, but you really need at least shrimp in there to go along with whatever fish you choose. And please get Gulf shrimp, or at least American shrimp. It makes a difference.

Making shrimp or crab broth is pretty easy, and doesn’t take hours and hours like a regular stock does. So you can make it in the morning as you’re getting ready to make the gumbo. Or you can make your broth up to a few days before — do not use store-bought fish broth or clam juice. Homemade fish stock works great, too. Or throw it all in together, which is what I did.

Now comes the only hard part of a gumbo, the roux.

There are lots of ways to make a roux, but I prefer the traditional method of mixing an equal weight of flour and oil or fat in a pot and stirring over medium heat until it’s ready. How long? As Chef Emeril Lagasse likes to joke, “three beers.” He’s right. To get a roux dark enough for this seafood gumbo, you need almost an hour of almost constant stirring. It’s the price you pay for magic.

The only other special thing you need to make this recipe is filé (fee-lay) powder, the dried leaves of the sassafras tree. You can find it in some supermarkets, and you can buy filé powder online. Other than that, this is an easy gumbo you can make with any fish and seafood you have lying around.

And if you don’t want to use filé or you can’t find it, add about 1/2 pound of sliced okra instead.

This recipe makes a lot of seafood gumbo, so you’ll likely have leftovers. It reheats beautifully for a few days afterwards (store the leftovers in the fridge, of course). And it freezes well, too.

Looking for other styles of gumbo? Look no further. I have recipes for turkey gumbo, Creole okra gumbo and venison gumbo here on the site. 

A Cajun seafood gumbo recipe
4.85 from 20 votes

Seafood Gumbo

This is a rich seafood gumbo that can be made with whatever combination of seafood suits you. I'd choose shrimp and/or crab, plus some fish. Smoked fish or smoked oysters is a good choice. too. You need to make a broth for this recipe. Use this crab broth recipe, adding fish bones or shrimp shells to it if you have them. 
Course: Main Course, Soup
Cuisine: Cajun
Servings: 8 people
Author: Hank Shaw
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 2 hours
Total Time: 2 hours 30 minutes

Ingredients 

  • 1 recipe, seafood broth (see headnotes)
  • 1 cup peanut oil
  • 1/2 cup bacon fat
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 green bell pepper, chopped
  • 2 celery stalks, chopped
  • 1 to 5 jalapeno peppers, chopped (optional)
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder
  • 2 teaspoons paprika
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne
  • 1/2 teaspoon celery seed
  • Salt
  • 2 pounds shrimp or crawfish
  • 2 pounds firm white fish, cut into chunks
  • 1 pound crabmeat (optional)
  • 1 pint shucked oysters (optional)
  • 1 tablespoon file gumbo powder
  • 1/2 cup chopped green onions
  • Hot sauce to taste

Instructions 

  • Heat the seafood broth in a pot. You want it steaming, not simmering. In another large soup pot, heat the oil and bacon fat over medium-high heat. Stir in the flour and make sure there are no lumps. Cook this roux until it is the color of dark chocolate, which will take anywhere from 40 minutes to an hour. You will want to use a wooden spatula or spoon to stir. You will also want to lower the heat as the roux browns, until its at low heat when the roux is ready. Drink beer and listen to Cajun music while doing this. It helps. 
  • When the roux is ready, add the chopped onion, pepper and celery to the pot and mix well. Cook this, stirring often, for about 5 minutes. 
  • Stir in the garlic powder, paprika, pepper, oregano, cayenne and celery seed. Ladle in some seafood broth and mix well. Turn the heat up to medium-high, and keep stirring in the seafood stock until the gumbo thins out. Typically you will need anywhere from 6 to 9 cups. 
  • Add salt to taste and simmer gently for 30 minutes to an hour, stirring from time to time. The roux should not break, but if oil starts pooling on the surface of the gumbo, skim it off. 
  • Add all the seafood and the file powder. Simmer this gently for 15 minutes. Add salt and hot sauce to taste and serve, garnished with the green onions, along with some rice or potato salad. 

Video

Notes

If you don't have bacon fat lying around, just use 1 1/2 cups of peanut oil. 

Nutrition

Calories: 591kcal | Carbohydrates: 29g | Protein: 58g | Fat: 26g | Saturated Fat: 8g | Cholesterol: 399mg | Sodium: 1488mg | Potassium: 695mg | Fiber: 2g | Sugar: 2g | Vitamin A: 895IU | Vitamin C: 26mg | Calcium: 292mg | Iron: 6mg

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

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About Hank Shaw

Hey there. Welcome to Hunter Angler Gardener Cook, the internet’s largest source of recipes and know-how for wild foods. I am a chef, author, and yes, hunter, angler, gardener, forager and cook. Follow me on Instagram and on Facebook.

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34 Comments

  1. My husband made this soup and used haddock for the whitefish, also adding 8oz of shucked oysters (purchased); at the end of the cooking period, he added a cup of previously frozen okra, which he had cooked separately, but then blended into the finished product.

  2. hi Hank

    I made you Seafood Gumbo. My guest and I REALLY liked the dish. I made a shrimp stock and added shrimp, whitefish and crab meat to the gumbo. I had much help from your recipe and your answers to my questions although I have the Real Cajun book myself 😉 I have a few questions left (If you don’t mind) …

    I noticed that in most gumbo recipes (including yours) they use about a 1:1 ratio for oil and flour. But to have the oil really absorbed by the flour I think you need a 1:2 ratio (oil:flour). This is what I did. But I must confess that this needs more stock to have a real seafood taste of the gumbo. What do you think? In your opinion, what is a good Cajun seasoning recipe?
    Thanks for all your coaching!

    1. Jan: I tend to use a 1:1 ratio of flour to oil, but by weight, not volume. It makes a difference. As for a Cajun seasoning mix, you could do a whole lot worse than to use Emeril’s, or one from Don Link or John Besh.

  3. I really would like to make this Seafood Gumbo. But as I mentioned earlier I cannot use filé powder. Would it be possible to substitute the filé powder by okra. If you think that is possible, how much should I use. Or maybe make this recipe simply without filé powder and forget the okra ??

      1. Thanks!! By the way, I really like your site. Your recipes are top notch and it is obvious that you really know what you are talking about.

  4. hi,

    in Holland we don’t have filé powder. How would you cook this dish without the filé powder? I understand that it is for thickening the gumbo but also adds a specific flavor. Somehow all Seafood Gumbo recipes do use filé powder. Soi I guess it is essential ?

    1. J just noticed that your Seafood Gumbo is Cajun Style. Perhaps you have a suggestion for a good okra/tomato style recipe ?

  5. This recipe is awesome, maw maw would tell me get a bucket of swamp water and add your trinity with lots of hot sauce. Thanks!

    1. Donna: At least a quart, and up to 3 quarts, but it’s variable. You want the gumbo to be a bit thin at first, then cook down.

  6. This gumbo not only freezes well, the roux does too, and since it’s just as easy to make a triple batch, why not. Just remember the ratio of roux to stock. Too much roux and you get closer to etouffe than the really good soup stage that Hank is after.

  7. I have Link’s cookbooks and have enjoyed many of his recipes. I made a variant of this last night and definitely screwed it up. I sed duck fat instead of bacon grease, which should have been fine. But i think i kept the cast iron too hot at the start and got the roux too dark too soon–after about a half a beer (and a few cajun songs) it was looking like dark peanut butter. The finished product had the same color as a hershey bar and had bitterness to it. Next time i will try the oven method.

  8. Will is right, oven is the way to go for dark roux to avoid bitterness. In any event, Emeril’s propoptions are off, Louisianans stirring a cast iron pot listening to Cajun music for an hour would equal 6 beers, not 3 (and they should be Abitas!)

  9. I agree 100% on the oven technique, almost foolproof. As for the oil, next time you smoke a brisket, put a pound or two of the carved off fat in a aluminum baking dish and render it down to a liquid in the smoker next to the brisket. The smoky beef fat is amazing, and even better mixed with Bacon fat or peanut oil.

  10. I married into some cajuns, thank you Jesus! And this is the real deal! No tomatoes, no okra, that’s Creole. This is cajun!!

  11. I think I mentioned it on another one of your gumbo recipe comment sections but it’s worth noting again for folks who don’t want to stand and stir flour for an hour- make your roux in the oven. Preheat oven to 375. Start it on the stove to incorporate flour into your fat- I prefer clarified butter to oil, though anything with a good smoke point works, and I’m sure bacon fat would be awesome. Then transfer to the oven. Pull it out once or twice to stir, and voila, in an hour you have perfect roux with no risk of burning your flour and the bitterness that imparts. An hour will give you a red brick color, you’ll have to go 15 mins longer to achieve the chocolate brown in this delicious looking dish. That’s all, I’m just a gumbo fiend and thought I’d chime in.

  12. Shrimp shells add flavor and they’re soft enough that if you don’t want to pull them off, just eat them.

  13. Looks good. You can use Tony Chacheries powdered roux, and chicken broth. Dartagnon Andouie sausage, then shrimp crab and chicked from walmart to make a quick great gumbo too. recommended reading is The Little gumbo boox.

  14. Is there a reason to leave the shells on the shrimp? I dislike having to finish butchering my meal while eating it.

    1. Bendrix: No real reason. You can peel them first and use the shells for the stock you use for the gumbo.