Prep Time: 1 and 1/2 Hours
Yields: 12 Servings
Janie Luster of the Houma nation is not only a great historian helping to preserve her culture, but also she, like her parents before, is a great cook. The Native Americans in her area made gumbo using file powder, the ground leaves of the sassafras tree, as the thickening agent. Today, gumbos are made with dark brown roux, which, in addition to thickening, gives the soup color and flavor. Although gumbo with no roux may sound strange to us today, you will find this version to be exceptional.
3 pounds (50–60 count) fresh shrimp, peeled and deveined
8 tbsps file powder or ground sassafras leaves, divided
3 tbsps vegetable oil
2 cups chopped onions
1 cup chopped celery
1 cup chopped mixed red, yellow and green bell peppers
2 tbsps minced garlic
3 quarts water or shellfish stock
½ cup sliced green onion tops
1/4 cup chopped parsley
salt and black pepper to taste
granulated garlic to taste
In a large cast iron pot, heat vegetable oil over medium-high heat. Add onions and cook 5–10 minutes or until wilted and golden brown around outer edges, stirring occasionally. Do not over-brown. Add shrimp, blending well into onion mixture. Add 2 tablespoons of file powder and stir constantly for 12–15 minutes or until shrimp are well-cooked and reddish pink. It is important to achieve color on the shrimp otherwise the shrimp flavor will be missing from the dish. Add celery, bell peppers, minced garlic and 2 additional tablespoons of file powder. Cook 3–5 minutes then add 3 quarts water or stock. Bring sauce to a simmer and cook 30–40 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add green onions and parsley and season to taste using salt, pepper and granulated garlic. Bring mixture to a rolling boil. Add 2 tablespoons of file powder, immediately turn off heat and blend well. Adjust seasonings if necessary. Serve gumbo over cooked white rice with an additional sprinkle of file as a garnish.