We'd been fishing all morning, it was now lunch time and my daughter-in-law and I were hungry. Pulling the trolling motor aboard, we headed to the nearest marina just across St. George Island from where we'd caught a couple of redfish and several trout. After crossing the bay, we eased up to the dock of a shore side marina in Apalachicola, Florida. Our little 16 foot fishing boat looked out of place near 4 large shrimp boats, as we tied it off next to a solitary gas pump.
After making arrangements with the attendant to top off the tank, we walked up the boat launching pad to a large seafood restaurant. I'm a seafood nut and I love seafood gumbo. In my continuing search for the perfect seafood gumbo, I order the dish at every seafood restaurant I stumble across, and if the full parking lot of this restaurant was any indication, this place served up some good food.
We followed our waitress to a window table that gave us a great view of the harbor. We watched a pelican make a perfect landing onto a sun bleached dock post and stared at all the humans that were staring back at him. The shrimp boats that were tied up on the dock bobbed in the water as yet another shrimper brought his catch to the shrimp market just down the pier from where we were eating.
We were served our food and it was delicious even if my gumbo didn't reach the status of perfect. In fact, this fish stew must have been made by one of my Yankee cousins who had never smelled the salt on the sea nor have been personally acquainted with a shrimp! If I wasn't mistaken, it even had potatoes in the mixture and not a single piece of okra and that's just not right.
While making a gallant effort at passing as seafood gumbo, it fell way short of its goal. Gumbo has to have okra in it to even remotely pass as authentic seafood gumbo. I know there are as many variations of this dish as there are cooks, but to me if there's no okra, there's no gumbo. There was however an abundance of fish, crab meat and scallops, so it did have something going for it. The roux was a lighter color than I like and it wasn't as spicy as I prefer, but it was good enough to pass as gumbo even without okra!
My love affair with seafood gumbo began with my first visit to Florida many years ago when I walked into a restaurant in New Orleans. The whole place smelled of fish and shrimp with a tantalizing aroma of a variety of spices. That's the scent of gumbo! I remember asking the server what that weird stuff was that was floating in the bowl of the fellow at the next table.
"Why honey, that's gumbo. I'll bring you a bowl!" she said as she wrote the order down on her pad. I've always wondered what she would have done if I'd told her that I didn't want gumbo.
Since that day in Louisiana, I've eaten a lot of gumbo; both good and bad. I've found there isn't really a standard recipe, or for that matter standard ingredients except for one; roux. A roux is the base for all good seafood gumbo. It's made with flour and water and can take up to an hour or more to make, depending on how dark you want the soup to be and how energetic you are. You have to keep stirring the ingredients to keep the roux from burning.
There are many versions of seafood gumbo on the internet but I like the ones that have the following ingredients: rice, onions, celery, garlic chicken broth, tomatoes, Worcestershire sauce, hot sauce, okra, oregano, basil, thyme parsley, sage, pepper and hot pepper. There absolutely has to be shrimp, oysters and scallops in the gumbo. Crab meat and fish to me are optional.
I like seafood gumbo, but I'm much too lazy to make it myself. That's why I'm on a quest to find the perfect gumbo so I can ship some back home frozen.