Exploring Oxymorons: Oil-Free Gumbo

Be wary if your friends start offering you shots of unbelievably buttery espresso pulled from super cool prototype, pressure-profiling La Marzocco Strada EPs at Ultimo Coffee.

You may just decide to do something crazy.  Like make gumbo.  Without oil.  Or flour.  Like I did.

Why?  Because I’m crazy.

I rarely cook with oil.  Heating oil reduces the quantity and quality of good fats in it.  So when I use oil, it is usually raw and in extreme moderation.

I also rarely cook with carbohydrates (especially refined).  When I do use a carbohydrate, it is usually a legume; whole grain such as barley, quinoa, brown rice, or oat; or fruit.

I ALSO rarely cook with meat (aside from fish and other seafood).  When I do, it is typically richer meats in smaller quantities.

So.  How the hell am I supposed make a gumbo without a roux?  If you aren’t familiar with gumbo, its heart lies in the foundation of a good Creole roux.  This dark brown thickening agent is made by slow-toasting flour in oil (as opposed to a traditional French roux, which uses butter).  It is this creamy sludge that gives a gumbo its celebrated richness.  So I guess trying to make one without flour – or oil – is a joke – right?

Tell that to a girl who’s had five shots of espresso.

I thought to myself: “HEY – there’s no reason you can’t toast flour in the oven.  And there’s no reason you can’t toast chickpea flour instead of white flour.  And there’s no reason you can’t brown your holy trinity (the mirepoix of Creole cooking – onion, celery and pepper) with nonstick spray.”

So I went to Ippolito’s (as all Philadelphians should for their seafood), and did.

This is what I learned:

BUT – you can make a really tasty, oil- and gluten-free, “gumbo-inspired” seafood stew.  While there is no way in hell I can call it a gumbo without being struck down by some voodoo god, I discovered a guilt-free and downright delicious seafood stew.  It was flavorful and herbaceous (not to mention the seafood was melt-in-your-mouth tender) but it lacked that rich, dark, fatty intensity that makes a gumbo a gumbo.

So if you’ve got a Creole-craving but can’t muster the gumbo-gumption, try this on for size:

“Gumbo-Inspired” Seafood Stew

Serves 2-3

  • 1/2 pound unpeeled raw shrimp
  • 2 or 3 blue crabs (cleaned)
  • 3-6 inches dried andouille*
  • 1/3 to 1 cup chickpea flour**
  • 1 yellow onion
  • 1 green pepper
  • 4 stalks celery
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 5-20 okra pods
  • 1 can crushed tomatoes
  • dried thyme
  • dried oregano
  • dried basil
  • garlic powder
  • onion power
  • paprika
  • cayenne
  • bay leaves
  • peppercorns (whole)
  • 1/2 a lemon
  • Green onions
  • Fresh parsley

Toast your Flour

  1. Spread flour over baking sheet in thin layer and bake at 400 degrees for 30-60 minutes until browned (can freeze any that you don’t use for later).

Prep your Ingredients

  1. Dice your onion (all if medium, half if very large), celery (2 stalks), and green pepper (half), retaining all food waste.
  2. Finely chop garlic.
  3. Chop okra.
  4. Measure out 2 1/2 tsp thyme, 1 1/2 tsp oregano, 1 tsp basil, 1 tsp garlic powder, 1 tsp onion powder, 1 tsp paprika, 1-3 tsp cayenne, and 1 bay leaf.
  5. Measure out 1/3 cup of your toasted flour and 3/4 cup of crushed tomatoes.
  6. Chop andouille into pieces.
  7. Chop about 1/2 cup green onions and 1/4 cup parsley (retain half green onions for garnish).
  8. Peel your shrimp, retaining all peels (and heads, if you have em).
  9. Clean blue crabs (if you didn’t have your fishmonger do it for you).

Prepare the Shrimp Stock

  1. Throw the scraps from your onion and celery (plus an extra stalk and any remaining onion you have on hand), the peels (and heads, if you have em) from your shrimp, 1 bay leaf, several peppercorns, a tsp or two of dried thyme, and several sprigs of parsley into a large pot.
  2. Add 9 cups of water, bring to a boil, reduce to simmer for 10-20 minutes.
  3. Line a strainer with cheesecloth, and strain your stock through.
  4. Squeeze the solids through the cheesecloth to get any liquid goodness out and into your stock, and set aside (any that you do not use can be refrigerated or frozen for another time).

Make your Gumbo

  1. Heat a large pot over medium heat.  When hot, coat with nonstick spray.  Add your “holy trinity” of Creole cooking: the diced onion, celery and green pepper and saute until translucent, about 10 minutes. *IF YOU ARE GOING TO MAKE RICE TO SERVE WITH YOUR STEW START IT NOW :)*
  2. Add garlic, and saute a minute more until fragrant.
  3. Season with salt and pepper.
  4. Add crushed tomato and combine.
  5. Slowly add toasted flour, stirring to combine.
  6. Slowly add 4 cups shrimp stock, stirring constantly to combine.
  7. Add okra, spice mix, andouille, and your cleaned blue crabs whole.
  8. Squeeze the juice of 1/2 lemon over your gumbo, bring to boil, reduce to simmer, cover, and simmer for 10-15 minutes.
  9. Uncover, and simmer for another 10-15 minutes.
  10. Add 1/4 cup green onions, 1/4 cup parsley and your shrimp.
  11. Cook for 3-6 minutes more until shrimp are opaque.
  12. Squeeze some good southern hot sauce over your “gumbo” and serve with chopped green onions (optionally over a scoop of buttery rice).

*Due to an ill-timed trip to the Italian Market (99% of butchers there are closed on Mondays), I was forced to use hot dried sausage in place of andouille.  Try to acquire dried andouille (not the fresh ground that you need to brown) if possible.  And while I know there’s fat involved here, I think a small quantity is necessary for flavor.  A small amount does wonders.

**I used chickpea flour, as it is a high fiber, high protein substitute for white flour.  I don’t think it was entirely successful (aka white would have been better), but it was by no means bad.  Make your call.


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