Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Miss Rose's Gullah Gumbo

On the coast of South Carolina, out of Beaufort proper, way out Highway 21 on St. Helena Island, sits Bradley's Seafood.  I have been buying my shrimp at Bradley's for the last 17 years.  Way back when I found them first, we were in the process of building a home down there and having a baby.  There's nothing quite like building a house and a wee little lad  at the same time... nothing like it, I tell you~!

Mr Bradley was still taking the boat out daily. For those of you with children the ages of mine, you may remember a "Nick' show called "Gullah Gullah Island".  Mr. Bradley was the shrimper who took the tv show family out shrimping!

Mrs. Bradley always met me with a smile and served me up the nicest shrimp at the best prices, always with a bit of conversation and beautiful smiles.  I'll swear, these folks would have been the poster people for South Carolina's  Friendly places, smiling faces campaign.

Anyway, getting to the point.. I've had several people inquire as to a good recipe for gumbo... low country, gullah style gumbo.  When I sent folks off down there for R & R, I tell them of the wonderful little stand at Barefoot Farms that sells the gumbo by the quart.  You always know you're on the island when the 'We Island" folks gumbo hits your tummy.

My, how I digress...

In early May, we did girl's weekend at the beach, in advance of the wedding, and while I was in at Bradley's picking up my 4 pounds of shrimp, I asked Rose (Mrs. Bradley's niece) why in the world didn't my gumbo taste exactly like the gumbo I purchase down there.  I explained to her that I consider myself a good cook (ok, a fanatical cook who will pursue a recipe/technique until I have wrestled it into submission).
I assured her that I have tried every printed version in the local cookbooks and a number of wannabe's.

She smiled... a big, beautiful grin and I just jumped right on into the pot (so to speak).

Actually, I begged and plead with Rose to share the secret.  She looked pleased and happy to tell me what the secrets were.  Actually, she demurred a bit, as she handed me the brown paper bag, so that I could write the recipe down!

First, Rose said, you gotta put a lotta meat... a lotta, lotta meat, cause menfolk like it that way.

(Well, yes, clearly, here is a woman who aims to please!)

At this point, Rose made me tell her what I do when I make gumbo, then the big smile came again and she said " You know, you have to use pork neck... smoked and fresh"  and then you'll have it."

Ahhhh..... there you have it.

Gullah Gumbo  by way of Rose and Bradley's Seafood, St Helena Island, SC

This recipe is the way I cook, and assumes an understanding of cooking basics plus a little bit.
I'll be happy to explain anything that is not evident.  Also assumes that you will let your taste buds be your guide on this adventure and will adjust amounts accordingly.  Cooking in general is not that difficult and it's very, very hard to mess up while making gumbo.

Stew a good portion of smoked pork neck, and a good portion of fresh pork neck and a chicken, until all the meat is falling off the bones.  (A goodly portion depends on how many you are feeding... in my case 1 1/2 pounds apiece on the pork neck and a good 4 1/2 pound chicken) This fits in my 8 quart dutch oven nicely.  Depending on when you wanta eat, you're gonna start 12 hours hence.  You're gonna season this meat mixture with salt, pepper and two nice big bay leaves... don't leave out the bay leaves.  De-fat your broth, as you're gonna use it in the gumbo.

Somewhere in here, you brown out the Andouille sausage... 1/2 pound, cut up fine and another pound sliced up in 1/2 inch slices.
Traditional gullah expertise does not brown out the sausage, but tosses it in, as is, later.  The grease adds flavor that I'm willing to fore go in the interest of all cardiac patients in my family.

When your meat is done and picked off the bones, you're gonna make a roux (in a big old pan, unless you like to wash a bunch of different dishes). Just before you make a roux, and in the same pan, you need to cook until wilted and soft, in a bit of oil  2 big onions, chopped, 2 ribs of celery, chopped and a big bell pepper.  At the end throw in several cloves of chopped garlic.   For the roux, use butter or oil (I use olive oil) and flour (about a half cup each makes a good sized roux for this size sort of gumbo).  If you don't know how to make a roux, leave a comment and we'll have a lesson on that... or you just need to come over here and let me show you and let you taste it... as that is far easier  (and you can smell the proceedings)!

When your roux is the proper shade of brown, you're going to add some of the meat cooking broth and stir it till it's smooth, then add your boneless pork meats, and chicken. Dump in the sausage.  Dump in the vegetables, 2 to 3 cups of chopped tomatoes (canned diced tomatoes will work out of season), 2 cups of sliced okra and simmer this until everything looks and tastes right (upwards of an hour).Add broth until everything is swimming nicely.  If you do not have enough broth, you may use some water, but will need to season extra to cover that.  (Ironically, one day, at the We Island stand, while buying a quart of gumbo, I saw the guy chuck a good half jar of V8 juice in there, so when I have to add liquid and don't have broth, I'll admit to doing the same).  Season with thyme and crushed red pepper to taste.

10 minutes or so before serving, toss in the shrimp.  Continue to simmer until the shrimp is pink.

Serve this over rice, in a big bowl... with iced tea.

Nothing else is required.

shopping list: Amounts vary by how many you're cooking for. 
Andouille sausage
Smoked pork neck
Fresh pork neck
Chicken, whole
Fresh Garlic, onion, celery, bell pepper, tomatoes and okra,
fresh thyme, bay leaves, crushed red pepper, salt and black pepper
flour and oil for roux
Long grain rice to serve the gumbo over.


  1. You are making me hungry and I just had a huge dinner! I might just have to look up this place when we come down yonder next month!

  2. Oh my goodness!!Reading that just made my mouth water...yum yum yum!

  3. I have never eaten gumbo...but I think I would try yours !! Sounds great. I enjoy your blog.

  4. Marge, make sure I know when you're traveling. August is going to be weird, but I'd love to see you.

    Claudia, and Jess, it's currently 100 degrees, so noone in their right mind wants gumbo just this second... BUT my favorite time is in the fall, when the garden stuff is still fresh and available. It makes a lot, but is even better the next couple of days after you make it.

  5. Dawn,
    I'm hoping this e-mail doesn't bounce back to me. I've e-mailed you several times, and that has happened. I think I'll copy the e-mail to a comment on your blog.
    Traveled to Hot Springs, N.C., last week with Dylan and had an excellent time. Ate at the vegetarian restaurant you recommended in Ashville -- The Hungry Seed maybe?
    In any case, Dylan said you had surgery recently. I'm sending get-well wishes. Also, I'm going to try your gumbo recipe for my "end of summer" party Aug. 28. I'll let you know if I find all the ingredients and how it turns out.
    Take care.