Saturday afternoon at the mad hippie engineer house: there are ten cooked crabs on a platter in the fridge, and the vegetarians are starting to complain about the smell.
Friday night's crab boil was admirable, but misguided - this crowd doesn't have any particular enthusiasm for crustaceans. They've decided that any leftovers will be consigned to the trash by Sunday morning. The crabs will remain untouched as long as they stay whole, classified as too much trouble to eat. You'll reap the benefits of this laziness. Leftover crabs mean gumbo.
To pick crabmeat for gumbo, begin by spreading sheets of newspaper on the kitchen table. Lay out bowls for the shells and the meat. Gather your tools: cracker, crab fork, knife and spoon. Choose a soundtrack for a lazy Saturday afternoon. Pick up the first crab, and begin.
Technique is a matter of preference. Some begin with the claws, twisting them at the joints, cracking them open for the easiest payoff. Others prefer to start with the delicate work, breaking apart the legs to prise out the morsels of meat within. Each crab can be treated as its own separate task. Or it can be carried out assembly-line style, all the legs in one pile and all the claws in the other.
The meat in the body is the trickiest. It takes a steady hand to pry into all the delicate chambers, gently coaxing the white meat from the crab's pearly inner shell. Patience. The crab doesn't yield its treasures easily. Keep working with the pick. The gumbo will be worth the effort, I promise.
Crab, Chicken, and Sausage Gumbo
This doesn't even begin to pretend to be authentic. Kathleen, if you're reading this, don't kill me.
(Picking crabmeat is an easier task with company, but gumbo will serve one for many days. Like all stews, gumbo tastes even better when reheated.)
When all your crabs have been picked over, take your crab shells and place them in a pot with a bay leaf, a quartered onion, and two chopped ribs of celery. Should you have shrimp shells, add those too. Keep the pot at a low simmer until the liquid is dark brown and aromatic.
Set a large, heavy-bottomed pot on the stove over medium heat. Add a generous amount of canola oil or bacon grease. Heat until not quite smoking, then stir in a quarter-cup of flour to make a roux.
Cook the roux, stirring constantly, until it turns chocolate brown. Add one diced onion, one diced green bell pepper, and two or three diced ribs of celery. Add three or four minced cloves of garlic, a dusting of dried thyme, a dash of paprika, and a dash of cayenne pepper. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Cook, stirring frequently, until the mixture is fragrant. Pour in the crab stock, and bring the mixture to a boil.
Peel and dice three or four ripe tomatoes and add them to the pot. If tomatoes are not in season, use a can of diced tomatoes.
Add a cut-up chicken thigh or breast. (Meat from a leftover roast chicken would be ideal, but raw chicken is also fine - just let it cook through before you add any other ingredients.)
Stir in your crabmeat and one or two sliced andouille sausages. Add a few handfuls of sliced okra, and let the mixture simmer for another ten to fifteen minutes, or until the okra is tender.
Serve over white rice with crusty bread. Season to taste with Tabasco. Gumbo goes well with cold beer.