Friday, February 04, 2005

It’s not like Carolynn and Lewis Clark don’t have anything else to do. As the owners of Lewis Clark/Advertising Design, a graphic design company, they both run full speed most of the time, including weekends, to meet the various deadlines of their clients. And then there are their two college-age daughters who get plenty of attention as well. But they still find time to gather together a group of friends and plan a great dinner. Just recently, after a ten-day marathon trip to Oregon, to finalize printing of an annual catalog, they planned a casual Saturday evening supper featuring gumbo. As natives of the Mississippi Gulf Coast, both their families are used to plenty of fresh seafood, which is something they miss. However, they say, with their family gumbo recipe even "store-bought" seafood will taste great.
It was a cooperative dinner: their daughter made stuffed mushrooms as an appetizer, accompanied by a festive Creole champagne punch with pineapple and strawberries floating on top. Then Carolynn’s sister’s contribution was a wonderful seared scallop salad with a sherry vinegar reduction dressing that she had found in a recent edition of Bon Appetit magazine. But the centerpiece of the menu was definitely the gumbo. Rich with a perfect roux and brimming with shrimp, crab and sausage, it was perfect, needing only the touch from the Tobasco bottle that is compulsory on any Creole table!
Realizing that her guests would have plenty to eat, rather than making one of her famous desserts, Carolynn brought in several pints of yummy sorbets and gelati from a local gourmet grocery. Everyone just dug in and scooped what they wanted onto their dishes.
If you’ve ever made gumbo, you know the secret is a good dark roux. Bacon fat makes a great one, but you could easily substitute vegetable oil. But here’s the catch: the recipe is right in that you can’t stop stirring, even for a second. And you can’t hurry it along. If you see little black flecks that resemble ground pepper, don’t think you can save it; it’s burnt. Toss it out and start over! Having the "trinity" of onion, pepper and celery at hand, to be tossed in just when the roux is perfect, will stop the cooking and keep it from burning. I am not going to claim that this is a fast and easy recipe, but well worth your time, and your friends will thank you!

Dorothy Clark’s Great Gumbo
Âľ cup bacon drippings
½ cup all purpose flour
1 cup diced smoked ham
1 large onion, chopped
1 cup celery, chopped
1 large green bell pepper, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
3 quarts water
3 beef bouillon cubes
4 bay leaves
2 tsp minced fresh thyme leaves, or ½ tsp dried leaf thyme
1 can (15 oz) stewed tomatoes
1 can (8 oz) tomato sauce
1 tbsp sugar
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
2 packages (10 oz each) frozen sliced okra, thawed
1/3 cup additional bacon drippings
1 pound claw crabmeat
2-1/2 lb peeled and deveined small shrimp
3 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
Cooked white rice, and minced parsley to serve

In a heavy 12-inch deep-sided skillet over medium heat, melt bacon drippings. Add flour all at once, stirring to blend well. Cook, whisking constantly, until a dark mahogany-colored roux is formed, about 30 minutes. DO NOT STOP STIRRING, even for a second or the roux will burn and must be discarded! Add the ham, onion, bell pepper and garlic. Cook, stirring often until vegetables are wilted, about 10 minutes. Meanwhile in a Dutch oven, bring water to a full boil and add bouillon cubes. Stir to dissolve. Add the roux-vegetable mix to the boiling broth all at once and stir well. Lower heat to a simmer and add bay leaves, thyme, tomatoes and their liquid, tomato sauce, sugar salt and pepper. Stir well and simmer for one hour.
Meanwhile, melt additional bacon drippings in the 12" skillet over medium heat and cook the okra, stirring often, for 15 minutes. Drain off the fat and set okra aside.
Add crabmeat, shrimp and cooked okra to the gumbo, stirring to blend well. Simmer uncovered for 30minutes. Add Worcestershire sauce and cook an additional 10 minutes. Serve over hot rice and sprinkle with minced parsley. Serves 10-12.

NOTE: Carolyn also adds "whatever is in the fridge…" which might include sliced sausage or left over chicken, roast pork or pot roast, finely minced and added with the shrimp.

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