Until last week I had only made real gumbo—dark roux and all—once in my life. It was the late 80’s and I was the test cook at Cook’s Magazine. I remember staying late one night trying to figure out how to microwave the much-needed roux to its chocolate brown state. I got it to work, but roux is tricky enough stovetop, much less in a testy microwave. Plus, Pyrex wouldn’t guarantee their tempered glass with this offbeat method. We ultimately decided it was too risky and ran a recipe for traditional stovetop roux.
That was over 20 years ago, and the next time I got my chance with real gumbo was last week in Florida. I was visiting my parents when neighbor, Norm Fralick, stopped over and mentioned he had a cheap source for wild Gulf white shrimp. His Source was making a drop at his house at 4:00 that afternoon. Price: $5 a pound, five-pound minimum. As Maggy and Sharon will attest, I’m incapable of resisting a good food deal. I pull out my wallet, hand over a twenty and a five, and give him the security code to the garage where he would fridge the fresh shrimp if we weren’t there at the appointed time.
We weren’t there, but when we got home the shrimp weren’t there either. (Turns out we gave Norm the wrong code.) We head to their house where Norm had them intricately ice-packed for our two-block trek. (I think he was Fed-Ex in a former life.)
Back home we divide and devein—some for the fridge to cook now, some for the freezer for later. As Mom deveins the shrimp, I notice she’s gotten quiet. A depression baby, she’s always been thrifty, and something about this deal didn’t seem right to her. She pulls out the kitchen scale and a few minutes later mutters, “Oh shucks. There’s only three pounds here.” She’s not happy. Turns out the price included heads. Mom failed to feel good, but for me even $8 a pound for wild shrimp was a great price.
Besides, the best part of the shrimp deal was Norm’s gumbo recipe. As we were leaving, he raced to his computer and printed it out. I carried it with me the rest of book tour, and eventually I got home and planned a dinner party so I’d have a reason to make it.
Before starting the gumbo I notice the roux is equal parts—1cup each—flour and oil. Hoping to cut the fat, I do a little research. There were two extremes: the 1: 1 ratio recipes, or recipes instructing to dry-toast the flour. I simply wanted to cut the fat, not eliminate it. Surely there was a happy medium. From previous tests I thought a 1:2 ratio of fat to flour usually worked, and it did.
Other than a few herb- and spice- additions, I followed Norm’s recipe and served it at a dinner party this past weekend. Already it’s become a new favorite one-dish dinner. With chicken, shrimp, and sausage, there’s something for everyone.
Next week I’ll share Sharon’s recipe for the butter- and cinnamon sugar-dredged croissants that successfully tempted us that afternoon. The ratio was simple: equal parts decadence and irresistibility.
Lindsey @ Sunshine and Jellybeans says
That sounds delightful! Reminds me of living on the coast of North Carolina…the restaurant I worked at had a delicious seafood gumbo with okra. Thanks for sharing!
I bemoan the fact that you can’t find shrimp with the heads on where I live — there’s so much flavor in the head that is lost when you don’t have them. Lucky you! Good to know you can cut the fat in 1/2. I always used a 1:1 ratio for roux too.
I can just see granny’s face scowling and hear her saying “Oh shucks.” Can’t wait to see them in January. And can’t wait to try this gumbo! Sounds divine.
Norman Fralick says
I must admit, while I may have added a few ingrediants or not followed good advice throughout this recipe, all the credit goes to my good neighbor in Cairo Georgia, Louise Anderson. No relation to Pam but equally a great cook.
Kay Noel says
I must say if you eat anything from Norman and Sharon’s it will be wonderful. I was a bit hesitant the first time he made this for us on a visit to Ky. I was not a seafood lover at the time. It was wonderful. He can do also do wonders with a Boston Butt. Sharon is the best cookie baker you will ever find. You will always find great food at the Fralick household.
Kristy Lehmann says
I must say, I don’t eat seafood at all and I’m not a huge fan of random foods thrown in a pot and mixed together but my Dad (Norm) twisted my arm and got me to try this. I agreed only after he promised to set aside a pot without any shrimp. I also made him swear that not a single shrimp had even touched the pot that he served me. It was so good! I ate two bowls and now I make it fairly regularly, especially this time of year. My husband and kids love the shrimp so when I do make it I set myself a little pot aside before adding the shrimp in for them. I loved the okra, which is something else they’ve never been able to get me to eat. Mom and Dad are both super great cooks!
Pal Adams says
I’ve had Norm’s gumbo and it’ll make you slap your grandma. You should try his hushpuppys sometimes!