Kate Heyhoe

Kate's Global Kitchen

by Kate Heyhoe


Shrimp Gumbo File


Serves 4 to 6

When asked to define gumbo, Celestine Eustis explained: "It is an Indian dish which we usually serve as a special treat on wedding days and other festivities, before a war and at intimate rendezvous after a dance. You can make it with game, poultry, turkey, veal, leftovers, if worse comes to worst, even an owl."

Generally, gumbos fall under two categories, those thickened with okra—thus the name, which comes from an African word for okra—and those with ground sassafras leaves, known as file. The gumbos of Miss Eustis's era were closer to soups than to the stew often served today. You can make the soup thicker by using more roux or adding more file powder.

The ingredients call for oyster liquor, the juice left over from opening oysters, which would have been abundant in an era when many meals began with oysters. Bottled clam juice or fish broth make suitable substitutes. Serve the gumbo over rice.


  • 4 celery ribs, coarsely chopped
  • 8 whole allspice
  • 20 whole black peppercorns
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground mace
  • 4 whole cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 large sprig parsley
  • 2 bay leaves
  • Cayenne pepper
  • Salt
  • 50 medium shrimp or crawfish in the shell (about 2 pounds)
  • 4 cups oyster liquor, or substitute bottled clam juice or fish broth
  • 1/4 cup lard, or substitute
  • peanut oil
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 3 tablespoons file powder (available in specialty stores)
  • Ground black pepper


Combine the celery ribs, allspice, peppercorns, mace, cloves, thyme, parsley sprig, 1 of the bay leaves, 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper, and 1/2 teaspoon slat with 8 cups water in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil and simmer 20 minutes. Add the shrimp or crawfish and bring to a boil. Drain immediately, reserving the liquid. Peel the shrimp or crawfish and devein, if necessary. Set aside.

Heat the lard or oil in a large saucepan over moderate heat. Add the flour and cook, stirring, until it is a rich brown. Add the onion and parsley and sauté, stirring, until tender, about 5 minutes. Crush the remaining bay leaf and add it to the pan. Add the oyster liquor and 3 cups of the shrimp cooking liquid. Bring to a boil and simmer 20 minutes.

Add the shrimp or crawfish and remove the pan from the heat. Stir in the file powder. Add more salt, pepper, and cayenne to taste if necessary. Serve over rice.

Selected Recipes for Mardi Gras

—from Around The American Table

More about Mardi Gras and Carnaval.

This page originally published as a Global Gourmet Today column in 1998.

Copyright © 2007, Kate Heyhoe. All rights reserved.

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This page modified January 2007

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