I grew up in Mississippi, which is next-door to New Orleans, and Mardi Gras season was often the time my family would trek down to the Big Easy for king cake, beignets and lots and lots of gumbo. And though gumbo isn’t technically a Fat Tuesday-specific dish in the city, it’s often served in the area during the holiday and it’s what I make at this time of year to remind myself of being there.
Over the years, though, what I make most often is a bastardized etouffée-gumbo hybrid thing that’s based on a roux — that mythical, elemental fat-and-flour slurry — andouille sausage and okra, my personal favorite vegetable. The dish has gone through many iterations: once with seafood sausage (I don’t recommend it) and another time with a roux of filé powder (an unappealing, gelatinous mess; hey, sometimes you swing and miss).
This year, I’m sticking to something like tradition, or tradition adjacent: a lightish roux; the andouille and okra cooked separately and intentionally rather than hammered into oneness with the rest of the ingredients; and a light, bouillabaise-like seafood broth instead of a heavy gravy.
The end result goes in the middle of the table, seafood piled high, the crispy sausage and fried okra strips (an extra step but worth it) scattered over the top, and everyone digs in, their bowls already half-filled with steaming white rice to soak up all that andouille-scented broth. Each ingredient is mingled yet distinct, a quality shared by my own memories of New Orleans.
Cajun Seafood Stew With Spicy Sausage and Fried Okra
1 hour. Serves 6 to 8.
Frying the okra results in shoestring-fry-like strands and rids the pods of all their gelatinous gook. Make them and keep them stored in an airtight container for up to a day if you don’t want to prepare them right before making the stew. If you’d rather stick with one type of seafood, use 3 pounds of mussels or 3 pounds of peeled and deveined extra-large shrimp or 4 pounds of fish fillets.
- 2 cups vegetable oil
- 12 okra pods (4 ounces), quartered lengthwise
- Kosher salt
- 2 andouille sausage links (6 ounces), cut into ¼-inch dice
- 1 bunch green onions (6 to 8), dark green parts thinly sliced, light green and white parts minced
- 3 inner celery stalks, trimmed and minced
- ½ small green bell pepper, seeded and minced
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 2 almond-size garlic cloves, minced
- 1 bay leaf, preferably fresh
- 1 branch thyme sprigs
- 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 1 cup dry white wine
- 2 pounds skinless red snapper, grouper, rockfish or monkfish fillets, cut into 2-inch chunks
- 1 pound peeled and deveined extra-large shrimp, tails left on
- 2 pounds mussels or clams, scrubbed clean
- Cooked white rice, for serving
- Combine the oil and okra in a medium saucepan and heat over medium heat until the okra starts sizzling rapidly. Continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until the okra strands are deep golden and crisp, 14 to 15 minutes. Using a slotted spoon or spider, transfer the okra to paper towels to drain and sprinkle with salt. Remove the pan from the heat and reserve the oil.
- Pour ¼ cup reserved oil into a large Dutch oven or saucepan, add the andouille and cook over medium heat until the sausage begins to sizzle, then continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until the sausage has rendered its fat and is crisp, 4 to 5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the sausage to paper towels to drain.
- Add the light green and white parts of the green onions, plus the celery and bell pepper to the pot. Season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and starting to caramelize, about 8 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste, minced garlic, bay leaf and thyme and cook, stirring often, until the tomato paste is caramelized, 1 minute. Sprinkle the flour over the vegetables and cook, stirring constantly, for 1 minute. Pour in the wine and 4 cups water and stir to combine. Increase the heat to high and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally.
- Once the liquid comes to a boil, add the snapper to the pot in a single layer, followed by the shrimp and then the mussels. Cover the pot, reduce the heat to medium and let simmer until all the seafood is cooked through, about 10 minutes.
- Uncover the pot and stir gently to combine all the seafood, discarding any mussels that didn’t open fully. Divide the stew among bowls and serve with cooked rice, with the okra and crisped andouille on the side for topping individual bowls.