Gumbo Secrets

Today I made seafood gumbo to serve to guests at dinner tomorrow night, and I put in my secret ingredient. The secret ingredient is something I discovered by accident. I had invited friends to a gumbo dinner that time, too, but I planned to heat gumbo from my freezer. I thought it would be super easy. Boy, was I wrong.

The gumbo was in two containers, so I got both out of the freezer and let them sit on the counter to thaw a couple of hours. An hour before the guests were to arrive, I dumped one container in a big pot. The center was still frozen, but the liquid had melted. I would turn the heat on low and within an hour the whole thing would be nice and warm. I dumped the contents of the second container on top of the first one, and then did a little yelp. This was also still frozen in the center, but the liquid immediately mixed with the liquid from the first container. Only it wasn’t gumbo, it was black beans. A big hunk of frozen black beans sat on top of the hunk of frozen gumbo.

Talk about panic! I couldn’t do anything about all that black bean juice that had mixed with the gumbo liquid, but I managed to pick off all the frozen beans. Then I found a can of crabmeat in my cupboard. I hurriedly made a bit of roux, cooked some onion and green pepper in it, and added it with the crab, some frozen shrimp, and frozen okra to the pot. The doorbell rang about the time I got it all mixed together.

Being southern and trained to never let them see me sweat/perspire/glisten, I dished that panic-gumbo up over fluffy rice and pretended it was exactly the way I’d intended it to be. The gumbo gods were with me that night, because the guests raved, said it was the best damn gumbo they’d ever eaten. To my great surprise, it was the best damn gumbo I’d ever eaten too. Which is why, ever after, I’ve added black bean juice to my gumbo. That’s my secret ingredient. If you’d like to have the recipe, here it is:

1 sweet onion, chopped
3 or 4 green onions, chopped, including green part
1 green bell pepper, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 c. parsley, chopped

5 8-oz. bottles clam juice
1 can Rotel tomatoes
and TA-DA! 1 c. left-over juice from black beans (fresh, canned or frozen)

1/2 c. oil
1/2 c. flour

With all the chopped stuff close at hand and all the bottles and cans opened and ready,
Mix the oil and flour in a heavy-bottomed big pot. Over medium heat, stirring constantly, cook the oil and flour until it’s dark reddish brown. Don’t let it burn, but keep stirring until it’s dark. This will take 8-10 minutes.

The second the color is deep brown enough, dump in the chopped vegetables. Stir them around for about 5 minutes until the onion is translucent.

Add all the liquid, along with:

2 bay leaves
2 tsp. oregano
1 tsp. thyme
1/4 tsp. cayenne
1-2 T salt
1 tsp. pepper

Cover and let that simmer for about 30 minutes or longer. Add:

1/2 lb. sliced okra, fresh or frozen. Simmer about 30 minutes more.

At this point, you can refrigerate it and heat it the next day, or continue:

Add 2 lbs. peeled, deveined medium sized shrimp (no tails)
1 lb. crabmeat, fresh, frozen, or canned (pick over it to make sure there are no shells. Add any liquid with it too)
1 can oysters or fresh oysters

Heat just until shrimp are pink and crabmeat and oysters are heated through. Serve over fluffy long grain rice with a loaf of French bread and a green salad.

And for gosh sake, don’t tell anybody it has bean juice in it!


2 thoughts on “Gumbo Secrets

  1. I have been making gumbo for many years trying to perfect it. There always seems to be something missing. It never tastes like my memory of it from growing up and eating that which was made my Louisiana relatives. I’m sure they didn’t use black bean juice, but since I love black bean juice anyway, I’ll give it a try.
    (Found you by googling “gumbo secret ingredient”. Figured I wasn’t the only one in the world with this problem!


  2. Eileen, I’ve eaten a lot of “real” gumbo made by great Louisiana cooks, and mine will never be as good as theirs. There’s something about genuine Cajun cooking that just can’t be duplicated by imitators. I once had a Louisiana friend who slow roasted duck in a cast iron dutch oven set on the stovetop. She turned it every twenty minutes or so, adding a bit of butter when she thought it needed it, until it was crackling crisp on the outside and velvety moist on the inside. Took her hours, while she whipped up jambalaya and other dishes on the side. And THAT’S why I will never be able to replicate real Louisiana cooking! If I can’t get it done inside 30 minutes, I’m not doing it.

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