Thursday, June 1, 2017

Cookbook Thursday: Buffett's 'Gumbo Love'

It’s a rare Louisiana native who doesn’t understand gumbo love. Lucy Buffett isn’t from the Bayou State but she’s connected by way of the Gulf Coast and she gets it. That’s why her latest cookbook is “Gumbo Love: Recipes for Gulf Coast Cooking, Entertaining, and Savoring the Good Life.”Buffett, otherwise known as “Lulu” and the sister of singer Jimmy Buffett, owns two Lulu’s restaurants in Gulf Shores and Destin, both serving over a million customers a year. Buffett hails from Alabama, but has relatives or has lived and worked in Key West, New Orleans and that other coast on the western side of the country. She incorporates those experiences, plus her love of the Gulf and its traditions, in her recipes.

“When I look at a map of the Gulf of Mexico,” she writes, “I don’t think about the places — I say, ‘Look at all the cuisines!’”

The result is a lovely cookbook and homage to Gulf life. Her cooking style mirrors her attitude. The “10 grateful ingredients for a bright life and a happy kitchen” chapter follows philosophy such as “You are what you think…and eat” and “Run toward what you fear: close your eyes, hold your nose, and jump into it.” The book includes a recipe for “Lucy’s Crazy Creole Seasoning,” a variety of sauces and stock, plus offers advice on cooking seafood the proper way. Recipes begin with dessert because Buffett is “a lifetime rule breaker” and follows with entrees such as her father’s famous fried chicken, her mother’s West Indies salad, libations to enjoy on vacation and, of course, lots of gumbo love in all its varieties.

Buffett signs copies of “Gumbo Love” and offers samples from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday, June 8, at the Garden District Book Shop of New Orleans.  

Lucy’s Signature Summer Seafood Gumbo
Serves 14 to 16
3 pounds medium wild-caught Gulf shrimp, heads on
2 pounds cooked blue crab claw meat, picked through for shell, handled carefully to keep the meat in big chunks
4 large, ripe tomatoes, or 1 (28-ounce) can whole tomatoes with their juices
3/4 cup vegetable oil or bacon grease
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 large onions, coarsely chopped
1 bunch celery, coarsely chopped, including leaves
2 green bell peppers, coarsely chopped
8 cups shrimp or seafood stock, heated
2 to 3 teaspoons sea salt, or to taste
1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons dried thyme
4 bay leaves
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried basil
2 tablespoons LuLu’s Crazy Creola Seasoning (recipe follows), or other Creole seasoning
1/4 cup hot sauce
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
4 blue crab bodies, if available (optional)
2 1/2 pounds fresh okra, chopped into 1/4-inch pieces, or thawed frozen cut okra
2 cups finely chopped green onions
1/2 cup finely chopped fresh parsley
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
Cooked white rice, for serving
French bread and butter, for serving

1. Peel and devein the shrimp. (If you’re making your own stock, reserve the heads and shells to make the stock.) Refrigerate the shrimp and crabmeat until ready to use.

2. If using fresh tomatoes, fill a medium saucepan with water. Bring to a boil. Carefully drop the tomatoes into the boiling water and cook for 1 minute. Remove with a slotted spoon and let them cool. The skins will slip off easily. Remove the cores and coarsely chop the tomatoes over a bowl to retain as much juice as possible. Set aside. (If using canned tomatoes, chop each tomato into eighths and return them to the juice in the can.)

3. To make the roux, in a large stockpot (about 10 quarts), heat the vegetable oil over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, gradually add the flour, whisking continuously, and cook, stirring and adjusting the heat as necessary to keep it from burning, until the roux is a dark mahogany color, 25 to 35 minutes. Be careful: If the roux burns, you will have to start all over again!

4. Carefully add the onions to the roux and stir with a large wooden spoon for 2 to 3 minutes. (The onion will sizzle and steam when it hits the hot roux, so caution is advised. All seasoned gumbo cooks have roux battle scars on one or both arms.)

5. Add the celery and cook, stirring continuously, for 2 to 3 minutes.

6. Add the bell peppers and cook, stirring continuously, for 2 to 3 minutes more. The mixture should resemble a pot of black beans in color and texture.

7. Add the heated stock and the tomatoes with their juices. Stir in the salt, black pepper, cayenne, thyme, bay leaves, oregano, basil, Creole seasoning, hot sauce and Worcestershire sauce. Stir well. Bring the gumbo to a boil and cook for 5 minutes, then reduce the heat to maintain a slow simmer. Add the crab bodies (if using) and simmer, uncovered, for about 1 hour.

8. Add the okra and bring the gumbo to a boil. Cook for 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to maintain a slow simmer and cook, uncovered, for 30 minutes, or until the okra has lost its bright green color and cooked down like the other vegetables. If the gumbo gets too thick, add a little water. If it is too thin, continue to simmer it, uncovered.

9. Gumbo is always better the day after it has been cooked, although I’ve never had a complaint when I served it the day I made it. At this point, you can cool the gumbo. Turn off the heat and let it sit for about 30 minutes.
Then place the pot, uncovered, in an empty sink. Fill the sink with cold water and ice around the stockpot (try not to get any in the stockpot itself). Stir every 15 minutes to facilitate cooling. (The gumbo will spoil if improperly cooled.) When completely cool, refrigerate the gumbo in the stockpot, uncovered.

10. When ready to serve, slowly bring the gumbo to a simmer over medium-low heat. Thirty minutes before serving, add the green onion, parsley and lemon juice to the gumbo. Cover and cook for 15 minutes. Add the shrimp and crabmeat, mix well, and cook for 2 minutes. Cover and turn off the heat.

Let it sit for at least 15 minutes more to cook the seafood. The gumbo will stay hot for a long time. Remove and discard the bay leaves. Taste and adjust the seasonings; serve over cooked white rice with French bread and butter.
Cheré Coen is the author of “Forest Hill, Louisiana: A Bloom Town History,” “Haunted Lafayette, Louisiana” and “Exploring Cajun Country.” She writes Louisiana romances under the pen name of Cherie Claire. Write her at