If you've always made gumbo by taking oil and flour and making a roux and mixing in onions and celery and bell pepper and chicken and sausage and seafood and cooking it over a low fire for a long time, you get the point, right? Well, if that's what you've always done, then you are going to love this Carnival Day recipe! And it lives up to its namesake a farewell to meat!

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

6 boneless and skinless chicken thighs cut in chunks

3 links andouille sausage, thick-diced

4 lean boneless country pork ribs, chunked

1 lb. smoked neck bones (turkey or pork)

1 cup boiled ham, small diced

1/2 cup all purpose flour, seasoned

1/2 cup yellow onions, diced

1/2 cup green onions, thinly sliced

1/2 cup celery, diced

1/4 cup bell pepper, diced

8 cloves fresh garlic, smashed

8 oz. sliced mushrooms

1 lb. flour-coated frozen okra*

6 cups fat-free chicken broth

1/4 cup Chablis Blanc white wine

1/2 cup parsley, minced

2 bay leaves

1 tsp. basil

3 tsp. Frank Davis Sprinkling Spice

1/2 tsp. black pepper

1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes

1 Tbsp. Kitchen Bouquet

1 small can crushed tomatoes

12 oz. cooked crawfish tails

1 lb. fresh or frozen gumbo shrimp, peeled and diced

6 cups cooked rice

Multi-grain crackers

Softened butter

First, haul out your old 8-quart Dutch oven or gumbo pot, put it on the stovetop, and pour the olive oil into it.

Then, while that's coming up to heat, take a large bowl and mix together the chicken, the sausage, the pork, the neck bones, and the ham, sprinkle the mixture with the seasoned flour, and place it all in batches in the Dutch oven. Then over a medium-high heat, brown everything evenly.

When they're seared perfectly, remove them from the pot and set them aside for a while on a platter.

Then drop the vegetable seasonings (the onions, green onions, celery, bell pepper, garlic, and mushrooms) into the pot and stir-fry them until they are all become soft and semi-browned. Note: Take care to keep the mixture moving, though, otherwise the garlic will burn and become bitter. I recommend that you use the moisture that will be sweated from the veggies as they cook to help deglaze the pot just scrape up the stuck-on bits with your spoon.

From this point on, it's simply a matter of adding the remainder of the ingredients except for the crawfish tails, the shrimp, the rice, crackers, and butter-- to the pot (one ingredient at a time) and gently combining them with 'the mix' as they're added. Of course, the crawfish tails and shrimp will be the last items to be added to the gumbo, and that shouldn't happen until about 10 minutes before you plan to serve up the meal.

Now don't let me mislead you into thinking that this recipe is a 'no brainer.' There is a little bit of methodology you need to follow. For example...

1. Make sure you remove practically every stitch of fat from the chicken (fat left on the meat will liquefy during the long cooking time and make the gumbo greasy). And even though you might be tempted, do not substitute breast meat for the thigh meat because it doesn't produce the flavor you want in a gumbo. .

2. If you don't want the gumbo spicy, use regular crushed tomatoes without chilies included. I'd also leave out the crushed red pepper flakes. Of course, it goes without saying that if you want to add a little 'kick,' then you need to pop open the lid on a can of Rotels!

3. I included Kitchen Bouquet in the ingredients lineup because you're probably going to need it to give the gumbo a 'browned roux' color. The Dutch oven in the oven will cook the meats to a 'fall-off-the-bone' tenderness, but it will not brown flour all by itself. You'll need the Kitchen Bouquet to do this.

4. Even though there's a lot of chicken stock listed in the recipe, be careful how much of it you use. Ideally, you want the stock level to be about two inches over the top of the ingredients, because as they cook down they'll make additional 'gumbo' liquid. Too much broth at the outset will cause the gumbo to come out way too watery. All and all, it's your call on what kind of consistency you want.

Once everything is mixed and blended, you can transfer it to a large crock-pot, set the control switch to medium (or low), put the lid in place, and let the gumbo simmer for about 6 to 8 hours.

If you're doing the recipe for Mardi Gras Day, start it around 9 or 10 a.m. and it should be ready to serve between 4 and 6 p.m.

Of course, if you're not gonna be gone all day, you can leave the gumbo in the Dutch oven, set the main oven to 300 degrees, and let the mixture cook for about 4 hours or so. Of course, even if you're late getting back from the parades, the gumbo won't burn while it's in the oven covered the chicken and pork and sausage and ham will just be a tad tenderer.

Remember what I said earlier. Hold out the crawfish and the shrimp until the last minute. They need to be folded in but just a few moments before you're ready to eat so that they stay plump and tender. The residual heat will cook them to perfection.

When you're ready for dinner, ladle out the piping hot gumbo over a bowl of steamed white rice, pour yourself a frosty glass of iced tea (you done had enough brewskies at the parades!), and butter yourself a big stack of saltine crackers.

It's the only way to wrap up Mardi Gras and get ready for Lent!


Chef's Notes:

If you want to make this entire gumbo even more hassle-free, do it all in a crock-pot from start to finish! It's really simple. Just put everything (again except the shrimp and the crawfish tails) into the pot, toss everything around to combine it all, place the glass lid on the crock-pot, set the controls to 'high,' and let it cook the whole time you're out at the parades. When you get home at the end of the day, 'soup's on!' and dinner's ready. And remember that a little broken pasta added to the crock-pot as it cooks gives the finished gumbo good body.