Rasberry Family Shrimp-and-Sausage Gumbo

It takes practice and patience to replicate a beloved family recipe, and when that dish is gumbo, it requires all of that plus laser focus—and the will to get it right.

Rasberry Family Shrimp-and-Sausage Gumbo
Photo: Photographer: Antonis Achilleos, Prop Stylist: Chelsea Zimmer Food Stylist: Mary Clayton Carl
Active Time:
1 hrs 55 mins
Total Time:
1 hrs 55 mins
Servings:
6

I'm not going to pretend for one moment that I'm qualified to tell you how to make roux or gumbo. I am neither Creole nor Cajun, but 38% of my DNA comes from Western Europe, which includes France—from whence came culinary techniques that greatly influenced both aforementioned groups. For you folks who are unfamiliar with roux, it is simply a mixture of equal parts fat and flour cooked to varying hues and used as a basis for sauces, gumbo in particular. The recipe is simple, but the process can be nerve-racking.

My precious mother-in-law, Ouida (pronounced WEE-duh) Rasberry, cooked gumbo for special occasions or anytime she could get her hands on some fresh Mississippi Gulf Coast shrimp. Served over hot rice, it was always the most requested meal for family birthdays.

My father-in-law, James, was a harsh critic of her roux. We would hold our breath until he passed judgment on the thickness and color of the delicacy set before us. Most of the time, he would proclaim, "Weeder, your roux is just right." There were a few times that he said bluntly, "This roux is a little thin and pale." To which she would reply, "Thaaanks," in the most sarcastic tone her sweet soul could muster. I wanted to hit him upside the head with a hot skillet. Of course, even if it were thin and pale, that wouldn't have kept him from going back for seconds and thirds.

Ouida's gumbo was top-notch, and as far as I knew, her recipe (which was included in a handwritten cookbook that she gave me for Christmas several years ago) was all I ever needed to know. Her mother showed her how to make it, and she passed it down to me. I've experimented and fine-tuned it over the years, but the base of her recipe remains. Both of our methods of cooking gumbo are part Creole (tomato based) and part Cajun (roux based).

Sooner than I would have liked, I became the matriarch of the Rasberry clan. Ouida died at the age of 97, but I had been practicing her recipe for years because her health was failing. It was a daunting task that terrified me when I stood over an iron skillet and started making the one thing that would turn my gumbo into something disastrous or legendary: the roux. The goal is to cook the flour and oil together—slowly, patiently, lovingly, confidently, and attentively–until it resembles the color of an old copper penny or darker. There's a fine line between dark enough and disaster. Only instinct, sight, and smell (which come with experience) can distinguish between the two.

The first time I attempted to make a roux, I scrounged around in my wallet and pulled out the oldest-looking penny in there. It was from 1972 and had obviously been around the U.S.A. a few times. You should have seen me eyeballing that coin in my left hand over the skillet and stirring with a wooden spoon in my right hand. The phone rang. I dropped the penny and the spoon to answer it. I swear it was for only a few seconds. The roux scorched and set off the smoke alarm. I pitched a hissy fit, stomped my feet, grabbed the pan, ran into the yard, and poured out the catastrophe. I wiped my eyes, fanned the smoke, and then pulled on my "Weeder" pants to start over.

That was a long time ago. I now have gallons of gumbo and dozens of skillets of (nearly) perfect roux under my cooking belt. I've learned that it can be unforgiving, selfish, and demanding. It has to be the center of attention, or it will give you a very roux awakening.

Ingredients

  • ½ cup, plus 1 tsp. vegetable oil, divided

  • 1 lb. hickory-smoked sausage (such as Conecuh Original), sliced 1/4 inch thick

  • 4 cups sliced fresh okra (from 1 1/2 lb. okr pods) or frozen cut okra (from 1 [16-oz.] pkg.), thawed

  • 1 large onion, chopped (2 cups)

  • 1 (14 1/2-oz.) can diced tomatoes

  • 2 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce

  • 1 tsp. Old Bay seasoning

  • ½ tsp. black pepper

  • ½ tsp. garlic powder

  • 3 fresh bay leaves

  • 8 cups chicken broth, divided

  • 3 Tbsp. tomato paste

  • ½ cup all-purpose flour

  • 2 lb. medium-size peeled, deveined raw shrimp

  • Hot cooked rice and crackers or garlic toast, for serving

Directions

  1. Heat 1 teaspoon of the oil in a large stockpot over medium; add sausage, and cook, stirring occasionally, until fat renders and sausage is lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Add okra and onion; cook, stirring often, until vegetables are softened, about 3 minutes. Pour off any excess drippings in stockpot.

  2. Add tomatoes, Worcestershire, Old Bay seasoning, pepper, garlic powder, bay leaves, and 7 cups of the chicken broth to sausage and vegetables in stockpot. Bring to a boil over medium-high; reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer, undisturbed, 20 to 30 minutes.

  3. While tomato mixture simmers, whisk tomato paste and remaining 1 cup chicken broth in a small bowl or liquid measuring cup; set aside.

  4. Combine flour and remaining ½ cup oil in a medium skillet; stir using a wooden spoon to remove any lumps. Cook over medium, stirring constantly, until roux is the color of an old penny, 20 to 30 minutes, adjusting heat as needed to maintain a gentle simmer.

  5. Add tomato paste-broth mixture to roux in skillet, stirring until smooth. Add mixture to stockpot, stirring until combined. Bring to a boil over medium; reduce heat to low, and simmer, stirring often, until slightly thickened, about 45 minutes.

  6. Add shrimp to stockpot, and cook over low, undisturbed, until shrimp are opaque, about 5 minutes. Remove and discard bay leaves. Serve over rice with crackers or garlic toast alongside a green salad.

Related Articles