Brer Rabbit’s Gullah Gumbo
Chew on this: What would Brer Rabbit eat? He would opt for a Southern regional dish, in my opinion. Something full of flavor and heritage – like gumbo. In case you’re not familiar with Brer Rabbit, he is a central figure of the Uncle Remus stories set in the Southern United States. Brer Rabbit is a trickster who succeeds by his wits rather than by brawn, tweaking authority figures and bending the rules as he sees fit. The Brer Rabbit stories can be traced back to trickster figures in Africa, particularly the hare that figures prominently in the storytelling traditions in West, Central, and Southern Africa. These tales continue to be part of the traditional folklore of numerous peoples throughout those regions. Some scholars have suggested that in the American incarnation, Brer Rabbit represented the enslaved Africans who used their wits to overcome adversity and to exact revenge on their adversaries, the White slave-owners. Though not always successful, the efforts of Brer Rabbit made him a folk hero.
Like Brer Rabbit, gumbo has ties to the Southern United States and West Africa. It is a dish that originated in southern Louisiana during the 18th century. It was an attempt to make bouillabaisse in the New World, but was heavily influenced by traditional West African dishes. Gumbo combines ingredients and culinary practices of several cultures, including West African, French, Spanish, German, Italian and Native American. The Spanish contributed onions, peppers, and tomatoes; Native Americans contributed filé, or ground sassafras leaves; the French gave the roux to the stew and spices from the Caribbean. Over time it became less of a bouillabaisse and more of what is called gumbo. Later the Italians added garlic. The Germans contributed potato salad as a side and even started the practice of eating gumbo with a scoop of potato salad in it.
My recipe is slightly different from typical Creole gumbo, in that I’m using a smoked country sausage in lieu of Andouille sausage. This act alone is probably enough to get me banned from the state of Louisiana, but I wanted to make the dish more “Gullah”. The Gullah are the descendants of enslaved Africans who live in the Low country region of the United States of South Carolina and Georgia, which includes both the coastal plain and the Sea Islands. My version of gumbo is full of flavor and heritage – just like Brer Rabbit.
Now, here comes the hard part boys and girls. It doesn’t take a lot of talent to make gumbo, but it does take time. To do it properly, you need seafood stock. My suggestion is to make the stock in advance. It’s a great ingredient to have around. Stock up on stock. Make a big batch and freeze the left over portion for later use.
- 1 1/4 cups butter (divided)
- 1 cup flour
- 1 cup bell pepper (chopped)
- 1 cup celery (chopped)
- 2 cups onion (chopped)
- 1 lb smoked country sausage (sliced 1/4” thick)
- 4 1/2 cups seafood stock
- 1 1/2 cups diced tomatoes
- 1 cup tomato sauce
- 1 teaspoon Cajun seasoning
- 1/2 teaspoon garlic (minced)
- 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt
- 16 oz okra (sliced)
- 1/4 cup fresh thyme (chopped)
- 2 lbs medium shrimp (peeled, deveined) – use shrimp from seafood stock
- 1 lb crab meat (remove any shell pieces) – use crabs from seafood stock
- 1 lb crab claws (half open claw shell with meat)
- 2 lb small scallops
- 1 1/2 teaspoon gumbo filé powder[br]
- Seafood Stock
- 2 lbs medium shrimp (with head and shell-on)
- 6 blue crabs
- 8 tablespoons of kosher salt
- 1 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1 cup onion (chopped)
- 1 cup celery (chopped)
- 2 garlic cloves (crushed)
- 2 teaspoons paprika
- 1 teaspoon saffron
- 5 bay leaves
- 4 quarts water
- [i]Make the seafood stock[/i]: Peel and devein shrimp, removing shells and heads. Set shrimp bodies aside in a small bowl. Set shells and heads aside in a separate larger bowl.
- Add salt and water to a large pot, then bring to a boil. Add the crabs and salt. Cover the pot, and boil for 7 minutes. Drain immediately and set the crabs aside to cool. Don’t discard water. It will be used later.
- Peel the front flaps and tops off the crabs and place in the large bowl with the shrimp heads and shells.
- Take the remaining crab body and scoop out the “yuckiness” from the middle of the crab. (Yuckiness is defined as anything in a crab that is orange, yellow, or green; literally a bunch of crap to be discarded.)
- Breakout the crab bodies and crab claws, and scoop out as much crab meat as you can. Set aside crab meat for the gumbo. Put any additional crab shells into bowl with other crab and shrimp shells.
- Heat the oil in a large pot over high heat. Add the crab and shrimp shells and shrimp heads. Stir until the shells turn pink – about 3 minutes. Add the onion, celery, garlic, paprika, saffron, bay leaves, and water and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, and gently simmer for 1 hour.
- Remove the stock from the heat and strain, discarding the solids. Voila! You have seafood stock![br][br]
- [i]On to the gumbo: [/i] Melt 1/4 cup butter over medium heat in a heavy saucepan. Add bell pepper, onion, and celery. Cook until tender.
- In a separate skillet, cook sausage until down – approximately 10 minutes – then add to saucepan with vegetables.
- [i]Make a roux: [/i] In a large pot, heat 1 cup of butter and flour. Whisk over medium heat until roux has a rich brown color. Do not burn roux.
- Add stock, tomatoes, and tomato sauce; stir well. Bring to a boil, then simmer for 30 minutes. Skim any foam and grease off the top.
- Add sausage and vegetables to pot. Stir well, then add Cajun seasoning, garlic, cayenne pepper, salt, and thyme; mix well. Stir in okra, shrimp, crab meat, crab claws and scallops. Slowly add filé while stirring constantly. Lower heat and stir 5-10 minutes until scallops are cooked. Serve with rice or potato salad.