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[written December, 2000 by Mark Rector.]
Last week someone saw my Homepage on AOL and emailed me asking for "a good roux-based seafood gumbo" traditional Cajun recipe.
She didn't like tomato-based gumbo (which I can't understand, since I personally love tomato-based seafood gumbo),
... so I sent her this recipe.
CAUTION:  I don't normally use recipes while I am cooking but I threw this together just for Jenny ...  just like I throw together most my culinary creations.
This is the text of that e-mail to her in 1999. Back in those days we were scrambling around preparing for the end of the world as we knew it.   Who knew that Y2K was just one of the harbingers of "fake news" from the last century.
Even back in those days, lots of people made a lot of money by scaring people into believing every computer in the world would crash, sending us back into the dark ages.
Thanks a lot, Mainstream Media. I guess if your formula for making yourselves rich & famous at the expense of the rest of America ain't broke, why fix it?   ~ Mark
Dear Jenny,
I always loved tomato-based Gumbo
... but then, I make a mean Manhattan Clam Chowder, while most people prefer New England Clam Chowder.  
I also love New England style clam chowder - it is pretty much foolproof - but a properly made, fresh, roux-based Manhattan-style Clam Chowder is awfully hard to beat.  
Since Manhattan Clam Chowder is also roux-based - no tomatoes - you may like it also.  
But get the good kind, no canned Manhattan Clam Chowder is worth opening the can, and I have not found a properly prepared one in a restaurant in the last 10-15 years - at the Garden of the Gods Club in Colorado Springs.  But that was when Ken Burt was making it, no 'new cuisine' school-taught chef seems to be able to do it right.  
Like properly cooking a prime rib - which takes 8 to 10 hours of slow roasting, just to get it to "rare" - making a proper Manhattan Clam Chowder has become a dying art.  Just takes too long to do it right, I guess.
Oh well ...
When I managed Red Lobsters (a very long time ago), we made a terrific Seafood Gumbo.
[Of course, we always had a lot of shrimp and clam pieces to put in it.]
For a roux-based gumbo, try this Country-style Cajun Seafood Gumbo recipe, one that my stepmother from Louisiana makes and the neighbors come running.
As in any good recipe, the exact quantities/amounts of any particular ingredients are fluid, not static.
>> Use the ingredients that you like,
>> and use what is in season.
>> When something is in season, that means that it is at its peak time:
both the price is at its lowest,
and the quality is at its very best.]
< TOP >
 Recipe for a Cajun Country-style, Roux-based Seafood Gumbo
Ingredients list:

1) Salt water shrimp, you can buy broken pieces, but be sure to buy uncooked saltwater shrimp (the pre-cooked shrimp will not be as flavorful, as most of the flavor is diluted in the cooking, and we want that flavor to go into the Gumbo and not down the drain at the processing plant).

2) I like to add some clams, with the clam juice.
Again, the quantity is dependant upon your taste.
For a standard-sized stock pot (1-2 gallons) a couple of 8 oz. cans of Sea Clams is good.
To my taste, a couple more cans is better.
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3) You need to have a soup base.
Almost all soups start with a chicken base.
In Louisiana, they like to put a couple chicken breasts in the stock pot to cook, breaking up the meat (known as "pickin' chicken") after it has become tender and stringy.
For a gumbo without tomatoes, I would add a beef stock, to make it a little more savory, as well as to darken the base.
A couple cans of "Jellied" or "gelatin added" beef consommé is good for this batch.
The gelatin will help thicken the base, as well.
You may find beef consommé or soup base in the soup section at the store.
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4) OKRA!   At least two # 303 (15.5 oz.) cans of okra. I prefer Trappey's brand.
Be sure to get the one without tomatoes (they make them both ways), and you may use frozen cut okra instead if you like.
Traditionally ...
Most of the time Traditional Roux-based Seafood Gumbo is made with canned okra, because that is the way it was made for decades before they invented freezing and year-round fresh produce.
For a traditional Gumbo, use the canned stuff.
Remember: "gumbo" means "Okra Soup",
so pile on the okra.
None of these other ingredients are absolutely necessary for Gumbo,
while always remembering: "Gumbo" = "Okra Soup"
< TOP >
5) "Aromatic Vegetables." In the classic French cooking style, the term "aromatic vegetables" specifically means: onions, carrots, and celery.
For our purpose, forget the carrots and I would add less onions, (maybe one medium yellow onion), and some roasted garlic.
If you roast your own garlic, leave the individual lobes of the bulb separated on a sheet pan with the skins still on them, and bake until soft/squishy; cut the ends off and squeeze the resulting garlic out of the skins like toothpaste.
The store-bought prepared garlic is fine also, it is in the produce section of your store.
Just use one tablespoon or two medium sized lobes of garlic, more is not better here.
Also, add about a cup of chopped celery and a cup of mild peppers:
I suggest using bell peppers, red preferably to add red color (since there will not be any tomatoes in this soup),
but some red-ripened Poblanos or Anaheims will add a little more kick to the Gumbo.
Fresh Chopped Parsley is another ingredient that is optional, but VERY traditional
(or you may substitute "Chinese Parsley" in classical terms,
but currently known popularly as "Cilantro" or Celentro,"
depending on how you want to spell it: Spanish, Portuguese or Italian spellings are all similar).
< TOP >
6) Beans!
County-style Gumbo usually has green lima beans, but I prefer French-cut green beans.
One can per gallon of Gumbo.
As with all these canned products, pour the juice in the stock pot with the beans.
< TOP >
7) Season to taste! The basics are:
salt and pepper (for this base, use white pepper if you have it),
one bay leaf per gallon of Gumbo,
a tablespoon of thyme--or less for blander gumbo,
a teaspoon of tarragon,
and a dash of rosemary.
I like a few (2-3) bulbs of shallots, sautéed with the onion/garlic mixture.
< TOP >
8) The Roux. Roux is the traditional ingredient for thickening sauces, soups, stews, etc.
Here is where we part ways.
In Country-style Cajun Cookin', they don't make the roux separately (in the classical French culinary tradition), instead...
they cook the vegetables with the roux!
The trouble I have with this method is that I cannot predict, before the gumbo is made, exactly how much thickener I will want to add - in order to get the Gumbo just right.
I guess it takes years of cooking Roux-based gumbo, in order to get the correct amount of flour-to-oil down correctly.
That may be what having a Mom from Louisiana is for ...you may want to get one for yourself!
For the traditional cooking method ...
... put about one half cup of butter/oleo/blend in a skillet,
heat until melted.
Add a cup of All Purpose Flour, mixing until all the flour is suspended in the oil.
Cook over low heat until the roux turns into a light-medium brown, but do not allow it to burn! (or "caramelize" for us yuppies).
Thorough cooking means the roux won't taste like flour.
(if your recipes using roux always taste a little like flour,
then this little cooking hint might help you in the future)
Cornstarch can be used instead of flour roux, or even taro root, to thicken the stock.
Add a little at a time.
Don't over-thicken, as this seafood gumbo will "set up" a little (if it's done right), after it is allowed to "rest" for an hour or more.
For the Cajun Country-style "Roux-based Gumbo"  ...
put olive or peanut oil in the skillet, add the vegetables and the flour all together.
Cook until the roux has thickened and turned brown.
This will all be added at the same time, in the step titled "Carelessly, throw in the rest of the ingredients" below.
Be sure to get the roux-vegetable thoroughly cooked,
so the Gumbo doesn't taste like raw flour.
< TOP >
 Recipe for a Country-style, Roux-based Seafood Gumbo, Preparation & cooking of the Seafood Gumbo:
In the stock pot, put about a quart of water and simmer the chicken breasts and seasonings. Let them cook (sautée) for a while:
about an hour,
or until tender,
and "pull" the chicken into pieces.
In a pan, place ...
one tablespoon of oil (any will do, peanut or olive will give the best flavor),
and get it hot before adding ...
the diced onions, shallots, garlic, and peppers.
Then, sautée until "clarified," do not caramelize.
Dump this in with the chicken.
Carelessly, throw this into the stock pot, with the rest of the ingredients, (except for the roux or the thickener, if you are using the classical cooking methods).
IMPORTANT:  Never be too careful.
About being slopppy:  I always like to slop a little on the counter, on the floor, and or course a little of the Gumbo on the edge of the pot (so that the pot knows that you love it, too).  
Simmer for an hour or more, to allow the "flavors to migrate."
Pent up flavors are unhappy flavors, and they might cause you to get heartburn, just out of spite.
Like a jealous puppy, this Gumbo wants love, and it will act up if it doesn't get the attention due it.
Oh, and add water if it gets too thick.

Here is where I take my fork in the road ...
I like to add a good saltwater, white-fleshed fish.
Snapper or grouper is best, but Atlantic pollock, bluefish, or another similar fish is good.
No freshwater fish allowed!  (they know who they are)
No whiting, rockfish, so-called "Pacific pollock" or wimpy fish like flatfish (sole, flounder, halibut, etc.).
A half pound is good, a pound is better,
"...and it has made all the difference."
< TOP >
 The difference between Classical Gumbo,
and the Cajun country-style "roux based" seafood gumbo:
< TOP >
Traditional Gumbo Preparation:
(for roux-based, traditional Cajun gumbo, skip this step,
since the Roux will be cooked with the aromatic vegetables)
Thicken the Gumbo. Add the roux a tablespoon at a time, stir for a minute between portions, then add more as needed.
The roux will thicken the traditional gumbo, give it a little body, "put some meat on its bones.:
I like the gumbo to have some body, since ...
"...everybody needs some body sometime!"
< TOP >
If you can stand it:
let the Gumbo "rest" away from the heat for an hour.
Cover (to prevent bacteria from migrating in from the air) and leave on the stove.
< TOP >
Serving Suggestions: Traditionally, Gumbo is served on a bed of rice.
Use Louisiana rice, long-grain polished white rice, the plain old rice,
but never use converted or "parboiled rice" (there ought to be a law!!!!).
Remove the bay leaves.   
Don't choke on the bay leaf. Contrary to urban myths ...
bay leaves are not poisonous,
choking is ...
Eat until you feel like you will burst, wait two hours, and then eat even more than you did the first time.
< TOP >
The next day, the Gumbo is even better, after it has had a chance to contemplate who it is, where it came from, why is it here, and "...what is the meaning of Gumbo?".
< TOP >
Hope this seafood gumbo recipe works for you.
If it doesn't, please remember that "it's not  my fault"
since I clearly said "season to taste" earlier in the recipe.
 
Please Remember :|:
Priority 1: all good cooking is intuitive,
Priority 2: so use what you feel like using,
Priority 3: therefore leave out what you don't like,
except for the okra!
For a printer-friendly copy of this recipe: Right Click below & select Save ...

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