We make this in Louisiana alot, especially at Christmas when it is cold. I learned how to make this gumbo from my father, Billy, when I was a teenager. Yes, I liked to cook even then. It is not too difficult and it really is good. Serve over rice with some good crackers or crusty bread and you will need nothing else for a meal. This is the Billy Abel family recipe -- in Louisiana, almost everyone has their own way of making gumbo -- some people make it with chicken and sausage or turkey, others add oysters and crawfish, etc. While they are all usually good, I like ours the best.
2 lbs. shrimp tails with shells on (if your shrimp have heads attached, use 4 lbs.)
4 - 5 gumbo crabs
1 tin canned crab meat (lump, white, or claw)
1 large can of diced tomatoes
2 ribs of celery
1 medium onion
1 bell pepper (I leave this out for my family because they don't like peppers)
1 cup oil
1 - 1 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour
1 1/2 gallons water
1 lbs of chopped okra (frozen works well)
2 bay leaves
1 tbs. gumbo file' (optional if you are not able to get it - it is dried, ground sassafras leaves)
1 1/2 tbs. liquid crab boil
2 tbs. salt
(Note -- you can use 3 tbs. of powdered crab boil instead of salt and liquid crab boil)
In a 10 - 12 quart stock pot, put in water and crab boil/salt. Bring to a boil. Add defrosted shrimp and gumbo crabs - bring the water back to a boil. Turn water off as soon as it boils again. Cover pot and let shrimp and crabs sit for 5 minutes. Remove shrimp and crabs from the seafood stock you just made and let them cool -- do not discard the liquid from the boil -- this is the critical element in your gumbo! Bring the stock up to a simmering boil
While the shrimp/crab is cooking/cooling, rough chop onion, bell pepper, and celery. In a heavy skillet (preferably cast iron), saute' the onion, pepper, and celery in 1 tbs. of oil. When the veggies are soft, add to the stock pot of simmering liquid. Also, add the canned chopped tomatoes, the canned crab meat, and bay leaves. Do not clean the skillet -- you will use it later to make your roux.
Peel the shrimp as soon as you get the chance. Large tails can be cut into smaller pieces if you desire. Do not add to the stock until the last minute.
With the stock cooking away with the veggies, you will now make a roux to thicken the stock. Using the cast iron or other heavy skillet, put in one cup of oil and enough flour to make a thick paste (1 1/2 to 2 cups). Using a metal spatula, cook the roux until it is a dark color - about the color of a dark paper bag. Darkness of roux is an individual thing. You can make it darker for a stronger tasting gumbo. Do not let the roux burn or you will have to start over.
When the roux is almost as dark as you want it, it is time to add the okra to the stock. Finish the roux to the desired darkness. Then, spoonful by spoonful, add the hot roux to the hot stock. This will thicken the gumbo. Add as much as desired. If you don't use it all, you will have a thinner gumbo. This is how some people like it.
Finally, after the thickness is how you like it, add the shrimp and the gumbo crabs back to the pot. Sprinkle with the gumbo file' as you serve it over rice.