Thursday, March 1, 2012

Crab and Shrimp Gumbo

A bowl of Deep South goodness, this gumbo is seasoned with small crab bodies and then topped off with crabmeat and shrimp.

Crab and Shrimp Gumbo

Like chili, I'm always piddling around with my seafood gumbo recipes, trying to reach that one perfect gumbo my mama used to make. For this crab heavy version, I decided to use a little more onion, bump up the okra to a full pound, and not take my roux quite as dark. I thought for a sweet, crab-based gumbo, this more mellow roux would be a bit more fitting, than the richer, dark and more full bodied roux I often use.

The gumbo crabs used here are for seasoning and not really for eating - sort of like a ham hock or ham bone in a pot of beans or soup - but, what exactly is a gumbo crab? The truth is it's the same thing as a regular ole blue crab. The only difference between the two is basically their size.

Gumbo crabs are the smaller sized, though still mature, blue crabs, and are often used as a seasoning in stews, soups and, of course, a gumbo like this. Basically they are just the cleaned bodies of the crab, usually split in half, and when used in cooking, they impart a tremendous amount of deep crab flavor into the dish they are put in. Think like the difference between using a commercial broth versus a homemade stock.

For the most part, like bones in a homemade stock, they get tossed once they've done their job, but since lots of us like to dig in to pick and eat crabs as we enjoy our crab gumbo too - a mess, granted, but one mighty tasty mess - we often toss in a few larger, boiled and cleaned blue crab bodies toward the end too.

My mama made the hands-down best gumbo in the world, bar none, but my grandma used to make her gumbo that way, using crab bodies - and often from crabs that she and I had trapped that very morning! What great memories I have as a young gal of toting 5 gallon buckets down by the Popps Ferry Bridge and setting out crab traps filled with chicken backs along the pier pilings just as the sun was rising.

We'd sit patiently for hours in the searing sun, listening to the seagulls and the water lapping along the bridge pilings, anxiously lifting the traps to see if we'd had any takers. What memories there are in those moments of time with my Grandma Mac. Since my Mama made her gumbo with lump crab and didn't use gumbo crab bodies, it was always a special treat for me to have a bowl of my grandma's gumbo.

My father in law has much larger metal traps set out around the deeper waters of the Biloxi Bay and out toward the Gulf, but mostly down here along the Gulf Coast we buy our crabs  from the seafood market like everyone else. Frozen gumbo crabs are generally also available in boxes or bags in your grocer's freezer section. If you are unable to find gumbo crabs where you live, you can certainly substitute the larger blue crabs, or simply use extra fresh, already picked crab meat. It'll be missing the infusion of crab flavor from those gumbo crabs, but it'll still be delicious. Just don't substitute canned crab - splurge on the good stuff for this crab central gumbo.

Remember, as with all gumbos, mise en place y'all, so get everything ready before you start. Warm the shrimp stock and get all of your veggies chopped before you begin cooking. Here's how to make a great pot of crab gumbo!

Southern Style Hissy Fit Warning: While I already mentioned the roux, I do want to say one more thing about roux, that I've repeated on all of my gumbo posts. Roux can be brought anywhere from very blonde, to light tan, mostly for gravies, to peanut butter colored, or more ruddy, like a copper penny, to chocolaty brown, to deep brown, to nearly black - or anywhere in between for gumbo. Bottom line is that it's really a personal preference and don't let anybody tell you that a gumbo roux has to be nearly black. That's just simply not true. While some chefs may do that, I don't know anybody who does that in a home kitchen.

For one, it weakens the thickening power of your roux substantially and makes for a very thin, soupy gumbo. For another, it's very robust and very strong flavored - good for some gumbo, say like wild duck, but not so good for others. For another, it can take a very long time and is easy to burn if you try to rush it with high heat. Take it to the level you like. Most folks I know don't want that strong flavor for a simple chicken or seafood gumbo and take the roux anywhere from peanut butter colored to a slightly darker brown. For me, it's just a matter of patience, but I go a bit darker for seafood than I do for chicken. Let me also add, if you're gonna put crab in your seafood gumbo, and you want to call it authentic to the Gulf Coast region, it's blue crab. Not snow crab.

As always with any gumbo, as delicious as it is day 1, it's even better the next day, so make it ahead whenever you can.

For more of my favorite gumbo recipes, visit my page on Pinterest!

If you make this or any of my recipes, I'd love to see your results! Just snap a photo and hashtag it #DeepSouthDish on social media or tag me @deepsouthdish on Instagram!


Recipe: Crab and Shrimp Gumbo

©From the Kitchen of Deep South Dish
Prep time: 40 min |Cook time: 1 hour 45 min | Yield: About 8 to 10 servings

  • 2 tablespoons of vegetable or canola oil
  • 1 pound of sliced okra
  • 3/4 cup of vegetable or canola oil
  • 3/4 cup of all purpose flour
  • 2 cups of chopped onions
  • 1 cup of chopped green bell pepper
  • 1/2 cup of chopped celery
  • 1 tablespoon of minced garlic
  • 2 quarts of shrimp stock, chicken stock, water or a combination
  • 1 (14.5 ounce) can of diced tomatoes
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 teaspoon of Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 teaspoon of kosher salt
  • Couple of dashes of hot pepper sauce, optional
  • 1 pound frozen gumbo crabs, cleaned and split
  • 2 pounds of medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • Old Bay and/or Cajun seasoning (like Slap Ya Mama), to taste
  • 1/2 pound of lump crabmeat, picked through for any shell
  • 4 large blue crabs, boiled, cleaned & bodies cut in half and/or prepared crab claws, optional
  • Hot cooked rice
  • 1/4 cup of sliced green onions, for garnish, optional

Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a large skillet over medium heat and add okra, cooking until roping ceases, about 30 minutes; set aside. Meanwhile in a large Dutch oven or heavy bottomed stockpot, heat the 3/4 cup of oil. Using a wooden spoon, stir in the flour. Cook over medium to medium high heat, stirring constantly, until mixture is a milk chocolate color.

Add the onion, bell pepper and celery to the roux, cook and stir about 5 minutes, then add the garlic and cook another minute. Add the heated stock a little at a time, stirring until fully incorporated. Add the tomatoes, thyme, bay leaves, Worcestershire sauce, salt, hot sauce and okra, stir; add the frozen gumbo crab bodies and their whole claws. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and low simmer for 1 to 1-1/2 hours, occasionally skimming off any foam and excess oil that accumulates on the top. Do not allow to boil. Remove the gumbo crabs and add in the cleaned, boiled crab bodies and the prepared crab claws, if using.

Toss the shrimp with Old Bay and Cajun seasoning and add to the gumbo pot, cook for about 4 minutes. Add the lump crab, very gently stir in so as not to break up the crab too much; cook just until heated through. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed. Serve in bowls over hot, cooked rice and garnish each serving with green onion if desired. Pass hot sauce at the table.

Cook's Notes: Gumbo is a dish that only improves with advance preparation, so make it ahead of time if possible. The flavors really need time to settle and mellow. It's always better the next day. Prepare, let cool and skim any accumulated oil off the top before storing. Can also substitute 1 pound of fresh white fish fillets for 1 pound of the shrimp, cut into chunks, season along with the shrimp and add at the same time. Some good choices are snapper, grouper, or catfish. You can certainly use more than 1/2 pound of lump crab - whatever your budget will allow, and while fine as an add-in for other gumbos and recipes, avoid using canned crab for a crab gumbo - stick with fresh or frozen gumbo crabs and fresh crabmeat for this recipe.

Tip: To easily pick out any shell, spread crab on a baking sheet in a single layer and place in a 200 degree oven for 3 minutes. The shell will be visible and easy to pick out.

Creamy Shrimp Gumbo: Double the okra, adding half of it, uncooked, with the tomatoes and stock/broth or water for the first simmer. Allow base to thicken, then proceed with recipe.

Serving Suggestion: Add a green garden salad on the side and fresh, hot French bread. Also most excellent when served as a side with a po'boy of any kind.


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©Deep South Dish
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Check These Recipes Out Too Y'all!

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Posted by on March 1, 2012

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  1. Oh lawd... every time I come over here I start drooling. Yum!

  2. Could have used this yesterday when we were pounded with 2 feet of snow, looks and sounds yummy!! anne

    1. Yikes Anne! Should I even tell you that the sun is shining and it's 75 degrees down here at the beach?? Supposed to be even hotter tomorrow so I guess our "winter" is at least un-officially over!

  3. Looks so good Mary-it must smell amazing down on your block when you are cooking!
    You are blessed to have some great memories with your mom and grandma.

    1. I really am Lynda, though I sure wish they were both still with us!

  4. Oh Mary at Deep South Dish... we use to go down to the Broadwater and crab or back bay pier. NOTHING better then gumbo after you just spent the day catching crab. Stopping and getting a snow cone at Miles before heading home... those were the days!!

    1. Wouldn't you love one of those snow cones right now! Hot summer days at the cliffs on the river and a snow cone on the way home. Those were the days.

  5. To speed up the cooking of the okra and get it to stop stringing, put in about 1 to 2 tbls. of white vinegar. The acid is what reduces the sringiness. Recipe sounds right on.

  6. Mary, you had me at the first sentence, for I, too, tried for years & years to make gumbo with the same flavor of my paternal grandmother (my Granny). Of course, both my Mom (& my maternal grandmother, who was raised in NOLA), made fabulous gumbo as well, but there was just a little something about my Granny's that made it stand out from the rest. She passed away in 2001, and I made the gumbo for my Dad a few months later. I knew I had finally achieved that goal when my Dad said, "This tastes JUST LIKE the gumbo Mama used to make." To me, that was the highest praise I could have ever hoped to hear! But, back to the using the crab bodies, all three of those special ladies in my life used them in their gumbo & I can remember all of us digging out what bits of crab meat remained! You are so right--nothing can beat the infusion of flavor you get when using them. You have brought back more memories of my time growing up on the Gulf Coast. Thanks so much for this post; it is another "keeper"!


    1. Oh Theresa, thanks so much & that just brought tears to my eyes! You are right - that was indeed the highest praise. I still strive for my mama's - you have given me some hope!!

  7. You brought back memories, Mary. As a kid, I spent many of my summer days on the dock at YMCA on the St John's River fishing, shrimping and crabbing. My mom would save me chicken necks and backs for my crab traps (now I know she what she was giving up for her stocks back then I thought they were scraps).

    1. Happy to assist in the revival of those memories Chris!

  8. Now THIS is how I make my gumbo!!! Since the weather's been mild I havent made not ONE drop and I'm not happy!!!

  9. ATT: Mary & all her fans! I nominated Deep South Dish for Best Food Blog & Best Regional Food Blog at of 2012. All of her fans be sure and check in April to see if she made the finals & vote for her!! :) Don

    1. Aw Don, thanks so much for thinking of nominating little ole me. I sure do appreciate you!!

  10. This post touched a lot of memories. I loved catching crabs alongside my mama and daddy. My mama is still alive, and she truly makes the best gumbo. I never quite get it as good as hers.

  11. That is some tasty looking gumbo!

  12. Making this tomorrow. Can't find gumbo crabs. or anything similar that isn't cooked. OK to use small MD style crabs? Also, Can I freeze this? Thank You.

  13. What are gumbo crabs, are they soft she'll crabs?

    1. Hi Merry! Sorry for the delay - thanks to those folks that spam posts with junk, message have to be approved prior to posting.

      The beauty of using recipes from a blogger versus a typical recipe site is that outside of the recipe we can discuss other things. In the body of the post, I do describe what a gumbo crab is - you probably just missed it! :) They are not soft shell crab, they are just smaller sized blue crabs that are used for seasoning, like with a ham bone for beans or soup. You'll find them either at a fresh seafood market, or in the freezer section of the grocery store. They are sold in bags marked as gumbo crabs. Hope that helps!!

  14. Bought small blue gumbo crabs. Do I take shells legs off and when I achieve the stock, do I throw away the crabs or leave them in the pot. Don't won't my guest to eat the crabs if they are only for

    1. They are primarily for base flavoring. I discard them before adding the fresh crab and shrimp.

  15. Do you take the craBS out after stock is achieved or do we eat the gumbo crabs? Do we take shells off and legs before cooking?

    1. I do. They've done their job! Remove the gumbo crabs and add in the cleaned, boiled crab bodies and the prepared crab claws, if using, then the shrimp, then the crabmeat.


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