Elizabeth Mintz Nickens

Dear Dad,

We wish that we could be in New Orleans to celebrate your 80th birthday with you and Jackie, and all of your friends and colleagues. Sadly, John and I won't be able to attend, so this contribution to your birthday cookbook will have to suffice.


My father is the most extraordinary person I've ever known. Even at age 80 he continues to have the drive, the energy and the excitement about life of someone half of his age. I've enclosed a photograph of him with my brother Eric and myself, taken in November of 1998. On that day, in spite of the fact that he had experienced a bee sting that was serious enough to send him to the Emergency Room, Dad cooked a delicious dinner for all of us.

My appreciation for food and love of cooking come from my father. Some of my fondest memories are of watching him cook, and eating with him. I also learned from his sense of aesthetics, and his appreciation for the beauty of stone, wood and leather. Embedded in his love for the natural beauty of the world are his strong social values. Anyone reading this document knows about his lifetime of work to create a more egalitarian and just world.

The last note I would like to add about my father is that he is one of the most creative and funniest people I've ever known. He has a true gift to entertain, to tell stories and, less commonly known, to create universes which are populated by fantastical people and animals.

Elizabeth Mintz Nickens


This seafood gumbo recipe is really an old family one, from John's maternal grandmother, Grand-mère Perrin, who was living in the "quarters" in New Orleans just before the turn of the century. Of course we add more shellfish than the customary crab claws and crawfish that were used then, and we have even made a completely vegetarian version using vegetable broth and soy-based sausage.

We hope you enjoy both making it and eating it…we'll do it together at the next family gathering.



Serves 6


  1. Broth, enough to fill half of your large pot, but at least 6 quarts. We like leftovers so we make 8 quarts. It's best to make and save various broths during the year. For example use the Thanksgiving turkey carcass, save ham bones and shrimp water anytime. These make a delicious base stock, but if not available, use canned chicken or turkey broth.
  2. Whole crab, 6 or more, cleaned and cracked.
  3. Ham, approximately 1 cup medium diced.
  4. Small shrimp, (de-veined), approx 2 cups.
  5. Large shrimp, (de-veined), approx 1 cup.
  6. Oysters and/or clams, approx 1 cup or to preference (we use 2 per person and leave them in the shell when we add them to the broth).
  7. Sausage, approx. 2, or enough to make 1 cup, preferably Andouille, but Italian medium hot will do, in 1/4 inch slices.
  8. Scallops, approx 1/2 cup if you like scallops.
  9. Crawfish, (cooked) approx 6 to 8, whole, if desired for a real "N'awlins" look.
  10. Bell pepper, approx 2 cups medium diced.
  11. White onion, approx 2 cups medium diced.
  12. Celery, approx 1 cup, medium diced.
  13. Tomato puree, 1 large can.
  14. Canola oil
  15. White wine, 1 cup‚…or maybe a little more!
  16. Flour, 4 Tbsps.
  17. Butter or oil, 4 Tbsps.
  18. Rice, at least 12 servings.
  19. Filé powder, 2 ounces (this is ground sassafrass, available in a jar from many markets or fresh from specialty markets).
  20. Black pepper, 1 tsp.
  21. Salt, approx 1 tsp.
  22. Bay leaf, 2 leaves.
  23. Crushed red pepper, approx 1 Tbsp.
  24. Basil, approx 2 tsps.
  25. Thyme, approx 1 tsp.
  26. Parsley, 1 tsp. dried or 2 tsps, minced, fresh.

Preparation—part 1

(minimum 3 hrs):

Like many broth-based dishes, the flavor of Gumbo improves if it is prepared the day before, and is re-heated the day of serving. We initially cook our seasoned broth for up to 5 hrs on very, very low heat, then let it cool overnight. The next day we re-heat the broth, add the final ingredients and serve within 1 hour.

It is still delicious however if served on the day of preparation.

  • Make a roux in the large pot using 1/2 stick of butter to 4 Tbsps of flour


    1:1 Tbsps of flour and vegetable oil. Cook until brown with a nutty aroma (30 to 40 mins.), stirring constantly over very low heat to prevent scorching.
  • While roux is browning, in a separate pan, lightly sauté peppers, celery and onions in butter and remove from heat.
  • When roux is browned, stir in warm broth, adding tomato puree and spices. Stir and leave on simmer.
  • Lightly fry diced ham and sliced sausage.
  • Add peppers, onion, celery, ham, sausage and 1 cup of small shrimp to broth.
  • Take one crab, remove legs, cut body in half and add legs and halves to broth.
  • Bring broth to a light boil then reduce heat to a slow simmer. Partially cover and let cook for at least 3 hours. Longer is better. Stir occasionally to keep from scorching.
  • Season to taste.

Preparation—part 2:

  • Re-heat broth to a slow simmer for at least 1 hour if prepared the day before.
  • Approximately 1 hour prior to serving, remove legs from all crabs and cut crab bodies into halves, then add all legs and halves to simmering broth.
  • Start the rice.
  • Approximately 30 mins. prior to serving, add remainder of small shrimp and all of the large shrimp.
  • Approximately 15 mins. prior to serving, add oysters, clams and crawfish. Be sure to add the water from inside the oysters and clams into the broth.

The finished Gumbo should be ladled over rice with some crab, plus a generous helping of vegetables, ham, sausage and shrimp from the bottom of the pot. Finish by dressing each individual dish with a pinch of file powder, which is stirred into the gumbo. Do not add filé to the pot. Serve with fresh French bread and lots of butter. Provide crab crackers, seafood forks and soup spoons. Sturdy napkins and lemon wedges for cleaning fingers completes the setting.

And as Grand-mère Perrin used to say, "Laissez les bons temps rouler!"