1/4 cup Crisco oil

1/4 to 1/3 cup all purpose flour, as needed

2 cups prepackaged seasoning mix

4 quarts bottled water

2 quarts concentrated chicken broth

1 tsp. sweet basil

4 bay leaves

2 cans Rotel diced tomatoes, chopped with liquid

2 medium overripe tomatoes, seeded and diced

2 slices of lemon rind

1/3 cup minced parsley

1 tsp. red pepper flakes

2 dozen cracked gumbo crabs

4 tsp. Frank Davis Seafood Seasoning

1 Tbsp. Frank Davis Seafood Boil

1 lb. unpeeled shrimp, heads-off

2 lbs. claw crabmeat

8 cups cooked long grain rice

3/4 cup green onions for garnish, thinly sliced

1 bottle file gumbo for thickening

4 sleeves saltine crackers

Margarine or butter for topping

First, in a heavy gumbo pot or stockpot, heat the oil over a medium-high heat just to the point of it beginning to smoke. Then, with a wire whip in one hand and a third cup of all-purpose flour in the other, begin sprinkling and whisking the flour into the hot oil to make a roux.

Now here's the trick never stop whisking once! Continue to swirl the two ingredients together as you add the flour to prevent them from scorching and burning. Then, when the roux takes on the consistency of a heavy pancake batter, stop adding flour at that point it will be all you'll need. But keep whisking and cooking the roux until it becomes a rich dark brown color.

When that happens, immediately toss in the seasoning vegetables. This action reduces the temperature of the roux and serves to thoroughly combine the veggies and the roux. At the same time take the pot off the fire to stop the cooking process. Set it aside temporarily so that you can prepare the cracked crabs. To do this, wash them (pre-cleaned with top shell removed) under cool running water, taking care to pick away all the debris from the belly section and gills. Then with a sharp knife split them into right and left halves and set them aside too.

When the roux has cooled down sufficiently (remember you never want to add liquids to a hot roux!), put the pot back on a high fire and add half the water and half the chicken stock. Then immediately stir everything together well to blend in the flour and create a smooth 'gumbo base.' Continue to pour in additional liquids a little at a time (first the chicken stock, then the water) as the base develops and thins out keep in mind that you want the final gumbo stock to mirror the consistency of melted ice cream.

Now, when the stock reaches this stage, it's time to drop in all the remaining ingredients except the crabmeat put in the basil, bay leaves, Rotels, fresh tomatoes, lemon rind, parsley, red pepper flakes, cracked crab halves, seafood seasoning and seafood boil and stir them all together well. Then put the lid on the pot, lower the fire to simmer, and allow the gumbo to cook for 30 minutes (stirring periodically). Note: depending upon how well the roux turned out, you may need to stir in additional small amounts of either chicken broth or water as the dish simmers so that it doesn't thicken too much.

Then after the allotted cooking time, and about 10 minutes before you're ready to eat, you're going to do something that sounds rather strange you're going to drop in the de-headed but unpeeled shrimp, along with the crab claw meat, and stir everything together one more time. Then, after putting the lid back on the pot and making sure that the fire is still set at a low, let the gumbo simmer once more for 10 minutes before it's served in deep soup bowls over a mound of steamed white rice.

I like it best adorned with a sprinkling of both green onions and file powder and dished up next to a stack of buttered saltine crackers. Ummmm talk about mouth-watering! This is its true definition!

Chef's Hints

1. If you can't find the packages of precut seasonings where you shop, you can always chop up a couple of cups of an onion, celery, bell pepper, garlic, green onion, and parsley mix. Just blend it in amounts to your liking.

2. Because of the delicateness of crabmeat, bottled water doesn't give this gumbo a harshness likely to be found in everyday tap water. After all, if you're striving to pique the unique flavor of crab you want to keep the base as neutral as possible.

3. You can use either homemade or canned chicken broth in this gumbo. If you decide to use your own, just be sure to de-fat it before adding it to the pot. By the way, for a thinner gumbo you can add an additional cup or two of either water or chicken stock.

4. The easiest way to strip off a slice of lemon rind (and you really don't want to make crab gumbo without it!) is to use a potato peeler. It gives you just the 'zest' and leaves the pith on the lemon.

5. The unpeeled shrimp actually accent the subtleties of the crabmeat. And like the crab halves, all you do is just pick them out of the gumbo bowl with your fingers and eat them very informally (which is the way we do dishes like this down-South anyway).

6. Crab gumbo contains no okra, even though that sounds like it would be a contradiction in terms. File powder, instead of okra, is used as a topical thickener in this recipe. And of course, the file should always be added at the table as a condiment, never put into the pot on the stove.

7. Finally, if crabmeat is a little pricey where you live it's okay to use only one pound of crabmeat instead of two in this gumbo. Just don't, whatever you do, substitute imitation crabmeat! It's nothing but a gelatin and will dissolve into a gooey mess in your gumbo!

8. Oh, yeah like all gumbos, this one too is unbelievably better the next day (or so I'm told, since the pots I always cooked up never made it to the next day).