Moving on to planning the next eating holiday in less than 30 days, I am reminded of a recipe my cousin Judy emailed the family. It is the official Creole gumbo recipe for the Smithsonian (yes, time capsule-type stuff!). Now, our family is originally from Louisiana, the home of gumbo, so I needed to decipher if Judy’s email was rooted in incredulousness or in celebration of the acknowledgement. Independently, Judy and I chose the former.

This one email created a “discussion” about the official gumbo recipe in our family, with Judy’s grandmother versus my grandmother. Ding! Ding!

The line is definitive, the history tells the tale and only the palette can tell the truth. It’s Battle: Gumbo!

But before I depart into our family’s ideas on this beloved meal, I offer you the Smithsonian’s:

Smithsonian-style gumbo

  • 5 quarts water
  • 1 dozen fresh crabs, raw, boiled or steamed 

  • 2 pounds medium to large shrimp, peeled and deveined (reserve the shells and heads to make seafood stock) 

  • 2 pounds smoked sausage, cut into 1-inch rounds (1 pound each of two different sausages is optimal)

  • 3/4 pound Creole hot sausage (if available), cut into 1-inch rounds 

  • 2 pounds okra cut into rounds

  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons vegetable oil 

  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour

  • 2 large onions, coarsely chopped

  • 6 large cloves garlic, chopped

  • 1 bunch flat-leaf parsley, chopped

  • 5 stalks celery, chopped 

  • 1 bunch green onions, tops and bottoms, chopped

  • 1 large green bell pepper, chopped

  • 1 pound crab meat, picked and cleaned of shells and cartilage 

  • 2 tablespoons Creole seasoning 

  • 4 bay leaves 

  • 4 tablespoons filé powder 

  • Salt and pepper to taste 

  • 6 cups steamed white rice

Clean the crabs, removing the lungs, heart and glands and other parts so that only the pieces of shell containing meat (including the legs, swimmers and claws) remain. Refrigerate the meaty parts of the crabs. Put the portions of the crabs that have been removed into a six- or eight-quart stockpot. Add the shrimp heads and shells and 5 quarts water to the pot and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 30 minutes. Remove from the heat.

Cook the sausages in a skillet in batches over medium heat, turning occasionally, until the pieces are slightly brown and much of the fat has been rendered. Remove the sausage and set aside on a paper towel-lined plate to drain. Discard the excess fat remaining in the skillet before cooking the next batch of sausage.

Once all the sausage has been cooked, wipe the excess oil from the skillet, being careful not to scrub away those bits of sausage that have stuck to the bottom of the skillet. Add the 2 tablespoons vegetable oil. Heat the oil over medium heat and then add the okra. Lower the heat to medium and cook the okra until it is slightly brown and dried, stirring frequently, about 45 minutes.

While the okra cooks, place the 1/2 cup vegetable oil in a 12-quart stockpot. Heat the oil over medium heat. Once the oil is hot, slowly add the 1/2 cup flour to prepare the roux a tablespoon at a time, stirring constantly. Once all the flour has been added, continue heating and stirring the roux until it becomes a medium brown color, somewhere between the color of caramel and milk chocolate, about 10-15 minutes. Add the onions to the roux, stirring constantly.

Once the onions are wilted, add the garlic, parsley, celery, green onions and bell pepper. Strain the seafood stock into the large stockpot. Add the browned sausage and bay leaves and bring everything to a boil over medium-high heat, then reduce the heat to medium and continue to cook.

Once the okra is cooked, add it to the gumbo pot. Continue cooking the gumbo for 60 minutes. Add the reserved crabs and shrimp and cook for 15 minutes longer. Remove the gumbo from the heat and stir in the Creole seasoning and filé powder. Let the gumbo rest for 15 to 20 minutes. As it cools, oil should form on the top. Skim the oil with a ladle or large spoon and discard. Stir in the picked crab meat. Taste the gumbo and adjust seasoning with more salt and pepper as needed. Serve the gumbo ladled over steamed rice.

Parsley? Okra? Filé?! Ah ha! It sparked something in you too! I want to hear about it. Email me with your thoughts, and next week I will share the results plus round one of my family’s cook-off.

Happy eating and thanks for reading!

Kysha Harris is a food writer, culinary producer, consultant and owner of SCHOP!, a personalized food service offering weekly and in-home entertaining packages. Questions? Comments? Requests? Feedback? Invitations? Email her at, follow her on Twitter and Instagram, on Facebook or chat with her on Instant Messenger at AskSCHOP, Monday-Friday, 6-8 p.m. For even more recipes, tips and food musings subscribe to her blog at