Jumbalaya, Crawfish Pie, Seafood Gumbo – 1952 – Jumbalaya on the Bayou – Hank Williams, Sr.

If you’ve read my YA WORTH IT (or hopefully plan to when it’s published), I’m sure the almost burning questions on your mind are, “What the heck is filet gumbo?” and “How can I get some?” I say almost burning because, well, you’ll find out soon enough.

Much of WORTH IT is based on my lived experiences. Until I was ten, like Angela, my family lived near the coast of Southern Mississippi where the seafood was fresh, affordable, and available in abundance.

Slightly different than the spicy Creole, tomato-based dish of our Louisiana neighbors, Catt’s All the Way Filet Gumbo, named after my father, is a dark roux-based delicacy featuring a variety of vegetables and seafood seasoned with filet powder, among other ingredients. The roux is a mixture of flour and oil cooked to an almost-burnt state of perfection. Filet is an herb made from the dried and crushed leaves of the sassafras tree. The sassafras root is also a key ingredient in root beer, another Southern Mississippi favorite.

Gumbo was, and still is, a big part of my life. I’ve spent many days on a stool in my father’s kitchen as he walked me through the gumbo-making process. I’ve also spent many days making gumbo in my own kitchen while my kids sat on stools.

But making gumbo is much more than cooking.

Gumbo is preparation.

It takes immense planning to collect and prepare all the ingredients.

Gumbo is risk-taking.

You must get the roux to the brink of almost burnt without going too far.

Gumbo is failure.

Sometimes you will burn the roux and need to start over.

Gumbo is execution.

The chef must add each ingredient in the right order and at the right time. And lastly,

Gumbo is intentional.

You don’t decide last-minute to make gumbo. Like most worthy achievements in life, making gumbo requires intention and determination.

After writing WORTH IT, I realized the gumbo was as much a character as the people. And I wanted you to be able to meet her. Within the sacred words below is exactly how my father makes his gumbo. He told me this recipe over a very, very long phone call. It includes way more details than you need, but I hope you’ll enjoy this overly narrated version. If you listen to this as an audiobook, you can make your own gumbo right along with us.

Catt’s All the Way Filet Gumbo

Gumbo – A savory roux-based seafood and vegetable stew seasoned with filet powder and served over white rice.

  • Prep Time:      45 minutes
  • Cook Time:     10-15 minutes
  • Number of Servings:  6 – 8

Kitchen Tools:

  • 2 gallon clad flat-bottom stock pot with lid for gumbo
  • Smaller pot with lid for rice
  •  Flat-edge metal spatula
  •  Knife
  •  1 XL cutting board
  •  Fine mesh strainer
  •  Small microwaveable bowl   


  • Heaping TBS flour
  • Heaping TBS vegetable oil
  • 1 medium bell pepper
  • 2-3 stalks of celery
  • Small bunch of scallions
  • 15 ounces of frozen or fresh okra
  • 1 medium onion
  • 2 pounds of wild caught Gulf of Mexico shrimp-unpeeled
  • 2-3 small whole blue crabs – optional
  • 1-pound shucked mud-bottom Gulf of Mexico oysters – optional
  • 1 cup uncooked long-grain white rice
  • 1 TBS filet powder
  • ¼ tsp garlic powder
  • 1-2 bay leaves salt/pepper/MSG to taste
  • Saltine crackers

Preparation:  AKA Staging

The first part of making gumbo is what my father calls “staging.” Prepping the ingredients is a sensory experience of its own. The vivid colors, textures, and smells of the raw vegetables and seafood should be savored as much as the preparation of the final dish. Your cutting board will have a charcuterie-like effect. Kick it up a notch by having a loved one prep with you. Many of the world’s problems were solved in my father’s kitchen around a cutting board.

Step 1. Start the Rice

Dad Tip: If you overcook the rice, good. Gummy, white rice is his gumbo preference.

  • You’ll prep the ingredients while the rice cooks.
  • Be sure to set a timer, so you don’t overcook it, unless, like Dad and unlike me, you prefer it sticky.

Step 2.  Stage the Seafood

Dad Tip: Always stage the seafood before the vegetables. Chopping the vegetables last means your hands will smell nice and fresh.

  • Shrimp – Rinse the shrimp and pat dry. Peel them and put the hulls in the strainer. Place the peeled shrimp on a small plate. Rinse the hulls. Next, place the hulls in a small microwave-safe dish and add just enough water to cover. Microwave the hulls for 2-3 minutes. Pour the mixture through a strainer into a new bowl, leaving behind a fragrant shrimp stock.
  • Blue Crabs – Pop off the outer shell. Rinse well. Clean as desired.
  • Oysters – Shuck and rinse well.

Step 3: Stage the Vegetables

Dad Tip: Chop the onion last. Why? Just so your eyes won’t sting as long.

  • Bell pepper – Chop into small, bite-sized pieces. A few seeds are not only okay but add a nice visual element. Place in a small pile on your cutting board.
  • Celery – Cut off the ends of the stalks. Slice down the middle and chop in small, bite-sized pieces—place in a small pile next to the peppers.
  • Okra – If frozen, place in a strainer and rinse the ice off. Pat dry. Slice off both ends if whole. If already sliced, toss out any end pieces—place in a small pile next to peppers and celery.
  • Scallions – Chop, separating the white bottoms and green stalks. Place in two small piles.
  • Onions – Chop into small, bite-sized pieces. Place in a pile on the cutting board.

Step 4: Enjoy the pre-gumbo visual of the staged vegetables and seafood. Better yet, take a pic.

Execution: Make the Gumbo

As much as the staging is a casual experience where you can chat with family members and friends during the process, the execution requires a laser-sharp focus free of distraction. Burn the roux, and you’re back to square one. Overcook the shrimp; you’re ordering take-out. But follow these instructions to a T, and chances are those who gather around your table for dinner will sing your praises.

Step 1:             Make the Roux

Dad Tip: Go pee first. You won’t be able to once you start making the roux.

  • Put enough oil in your pot to cover the bottom.
  • Toss in a heaping TBS of flour.
  • Turn the heat on High, or as Dad says, “Wide Ass Open!”
  • Using a metal spatula, move the flour to coat with oil evenly.
  • Continuously stir the mixture, scraping it off the bottom if it sticks until it is dark and nearly burnt.
  • As soon as it starts to smoke, remove it from heat, and toss in around ten pieces of diced onion and a TBS or so of water to cool it down.

Step 2:             Make the Gumbo

Dad Tip: Be careful not to overcook the shrimp. Only gum should be chewy.

  • Return the pot to the burner and turn the heat down to around Medium-High.
  • First, sauté the onions in the roux for about 3-4 minutes.
  • Remove from heat, add the shrimp stock, filet powder, garlic powder, a little salt and pepper, and bay leaves. Stir well.
  • Return to a boil, then add the crabs, bell pepper, and celery, cook for 2-3 minutes.
  • Next, add shrimp, okra, and the white bottoms of the scallions. Once the mixture returns to a boil, cook for an additional 2 minutes.
  • Lastly, toss in the oysters and cook for an additional 1-2 minutes.

Step 3:             Assemble & Enjoy

Dad Tip: Instead of salt, sprinkle a little MSG on top to really enhance the flavors.

  • Place a scoop of white rice in a large bowl.
  • Using a ladle, cover the rice with a generous scoop of gumbo. (Note: The crabs are mostly for seasoning, but feel free to eat them as part of the dish.)
  • Garnish with the green tops of the scallions
  • Season with salt and pepper and/or MSG to taste
  • Serve with saltines

If you made it this far, thank you, and you’re welcome! My Dad always says, “Gumbo is like chicken soup. There are a million ways to make it, but it’s still chicken soup.”

And he’s right. This is my dad’s way to make gumbo. You can certainly find a thousand plus other recipes online. And over the years, I’ve even edited my dad’s original recipe to reflect my own taste (if you want my version, let me know. He and I still lovingly argue about it).

But this is the gumbo Angela ate when she found out her family was moving to Florida. She was promised this gumbo for her birthday but never got it because her parents split up. Her dad made this gumbo for her the night of the surprise baby shower. This is the gumbo I want you to make after you read my book. I promise you won’t regret it!



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