At least 6 cold beers for the chef
4 pounds medium (16-20 count) head-on shrimp
6 blue crabs
1 small onion, coarsely chopped
1 celery stalk, coarsely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, smashed
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 teaspoons paprika
1 (4-in.) rosemary sprig, or 2 tbsp dried
13 bay leaves
9 quarts water
1 large onion
2 medium green bell peppers
3 celery stalks
2 jalapenos, stemmed, seeded, and finely chopped
3 cups vegetable oil
4 cups all-purpose flour
6 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons salt
2 1/2 teaspoons paprika
2 teaspoons file powder
2 teaspoons chili powder
1 1/2 teaspoons ground black pepper
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon white pepper
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
Several dashes of hot sauce
2 pints shucked oysters, liquor strained and reserved
1 pound crab claw meat, carefully picked over for shells
Serves 12 to 16
Peel the shrimp and set the shells and heads aside for stock. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add crabs and a generous amount of salt. Cover the pot, and boil for 5 to 7 minutes. Drain immediately and set the crabs aside to cool. (If you were going to cook them, it would be 10-15 minutes, but you want to leave their flavor in the crab for gumbo, and cook them just until you can take them apart.)
To make the seafood stock, put the chopped onion and celery and smashed garlic cloves in a medium mixing bowl and set aside. Peel the front flaps and tops off of the crabs and place in a large bowl with the shrimp heads and shells. Use your fingers to scoop out the orange back fat from the middle of the crab and set aside in a small bowl.
Heat the oil in a large pot over high heat. Add the reserved shrimp shells and heads and the crab shells. Cook, stirring until the shells turn pink, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the coarsely chopped vegetables, paprika, rosemary, bay leaves and 9 quarts of water, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 1 hour; strain.
For the gumbo vegetables, dice the onion, bell peppers and celery. Set aside with the jalapenos to add to the roux.
To make the roux, heat 3 cups vegetable oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot but not smoking, whisk in the flour and reduce heat to medium. Cook, whisking constantly and slowly until the roux has thickened and is the color of a dark copper penny, 45 minutes to an hour. You'll want to reduce the heat gradually as you go. When the roux first begins to take on color, for instance, reduce the heat to medium.
Continue in this fashion, gradually lowering the heat as the color of the roux deepens. By the end of the cooking, when the roux is appropriately dark, the heat should be on low. It's essential to whisk constantly as it cooks (but not so vigorously that you splatter the roux and burn yourself!), because even if a small bit of flour sticks to the pot, it will become spotty, scorch quickly, and burn the entire roux.
Add the onion, bell pepper, celery, jalapenos and the reserved crab back fat, and stir until they are well-coated. Stir in garlic, salt, paprika, file powder, chili powder, black pepper, cayenne, white pepper, oregano, red pepper flakes, thyme and hot sauce, and continue to cook, stirring, for a few minutes. Add two-thirds of the strained stock and the oyster liquor, bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer, stirring frequently and scraping the bottom of the pot to ensure nothing clumps and burns, until the mixture returns to a simmer.
Start skimming the oil from the top of the gumbo almost instantly (by the end of the cooking process, the gumbo will have released almost all of the oil form the roux). Continue to simmer and skim for about 1 hour. Taste the stock. If it still has a strong roux flavor, gradually add the remaining one-third stock (if it doesn't, freeze the remaining stock for another use) until the flavor tastes more like stock than roux.
When the flavor has developed and the stock is clearer (with fewer dots of oil), add the oysters and crab meat. Bring the gumbo back to a simmer, and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes. Skim once more, add the shrimp, and simmer for 1 more hour.
Adapted from Real Cajun: Rustic Home Cooking from Donald Link's Louisiana, by Donald Link (Clarkson Potter, 2009).