Even at 10 a.m., the Oyster Bar in Palace Station is bumping. All the seats around the open kitchen are occupied while a couple waits patiently in line. But no one’s here for steak and eggs. In fact, the Oyster Bar doesn’t even have a breakfast menu—they’re all here for the tried and true New Orleans favorite: gumbo. If you didn’t get your fix during the Super Bowl hosted by New Orleans on February 3, Mardi Gras is February 12. It’s time for you to brush up on the Creole classic.
Palace Station executive chef Brian Baldwin is quite familiar with the thick, seafood-based dish. He put in many hours at the Oyster Bar in his early years with Station Casinos and as corporate chef for the company’s various properties. But the one at Palace Station, he says, is special. It’s the original outpost for the brand and the most popular. Tourists often make this their first stop as soon as they get into town; locals know the best times when the line isn’t too long. And after the pan roast (incidentally, neither a roast, nor served in a pan), the gumbo is their most popular item. Even people from the Big Easy itself proclaim this dish as spot-on.
The national dish of Louisiana combines the culinary traditions of the cultures that defined New Orleans: French, West African, Spanish, German and Choctaw. The Creole version is often seafood-based and also the most popular variety at the Oyster Bar. The bowl comes steaming hot and full of big lumps of crab, lobster and shrimp—as good as you’d get on the Bayou. Andouille sausage and okra—other ingredients one would typically find in a gumbo—get added at the end, along with some spice at your indicated heat level. A scoop of rice waits patiently to be spooned into the bowl as you eat.
The key to the dark, rich sauce in the Oyster Bar’s gumbo is in the roux, Baldwin says. “The recipe has been the same since it opened in 1996.” Typically, butter or oil and flour are combined over heat, and the Oyster Bar cooks its roux down until the mixture is a dark chocolate color and is as thick as wallpaper paste. “That takes about three hours,” Baldwin explains. “It’s a long, tedious process, but it’s very rewarding.” A roux in that state will not only thicken the gumbo, but also give it a velvety texture and impart a nutty, almost sweet quality to the gumbo sauce.
Even as I tucked into my gumbo that morning, the chef surprisingly ordered one for himself. “I so rarely get to eat here,” he says excitedly as his own bowl is placed before him. “The line is always so long, and I don’t get to cut!”
The Oyster Bar’s Seafood Gumbo
3/4 cup unsalted butter
12 ounces diced Andouille sausage
3 tablespoons Cajun spice
2 cups diced celery, onions and bell peppers (a.k.a. The Trinity)
1 pound precooked okra
48 raw shrimp (26-30 count)
1 raw 2-pound lobster, removed from shell and cut into 1-inch pieces
2 pounds cooked crab claws
1 1/4 gallons gumbo sauce
3 tablespoons lemon juice
12 cups steamed white rice
Sliced green onions
In a large stockpot melt butter and sauté Andouille sausage till caramelized. Add Cajun spice and stir. Add the Trinity vegetables and okra and sauté till soft. Add the seafood and cook halfway, about 5 minutes. Add the gumbo sauce and bring to a simmer. Cook for another 5 minutes. Ladle gumbo into a large bowl and top with a scoop of steamed rice. Garnish with sliced green onions.
¼ cup salad oil
1½ pounds shrimp shells
½ pound Andouille sausage
3 cups diced celery, onions and bell peppers (the Trinity)
¼ cup minced garlic
2 tablespoon Cajun spice
2½ ounces clam base
1 gallon water
½ gallon chicken stock
1½ pounds roux (recipe below)
Heat a large stockpot over medium high heat. Add the sausage and cook until caramelized. Add the shrimp shells, Trinity vegetables, garlic and Cajun spice. Cook until onions are translucent. Then add the clam base and combine well with sausage and vegetables. Deglaze the pot with chicken stock and water. Bring to a boil, turn down heat and simmer for 1 hour. Add roux and simmer until the sauce is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. (Gumbo sauce can be made up to four days before you make the gumbo)
2¼ cups cottonseed oil
3 cups all-purpose flour
Heat oil in a small oven-safe saucepot until it reached 400 degrees. Slowly whisk in flour one tablespoon at a time. Place saucepot into a 350-degree oven and stir every 20 minutes until roux is the color of dark chocolate. Remove from oven and allow to cool to room temperature.