If you’ve never visited the Emerald Coast during the winter months, you’re missing one of the most popular off-season events in the area: the Sandestin Gumbo Festival. Entering its 31st year, the event coincides with the long President’s Day weekend, making it a perfect opportunity to take in the local sights and sample the area’s very best gumbo as offered by a number of Gulf Coast competitors.
The Sandestin Gumbo Festival, which kicks off the local festival season, happens at The Village of Baytowne Wharf, where the two-day event raises money to benefit the Sandestin Foundation for Kids (SFK). Last year’s event raised $3,300 for SFK, which provides immediate support to children throughout the community and abroad.
This year’s event kicks off Friday, Feb. 14 at Hammerhead’s Bar & Grille with a neighborhood seafood boil, drinks, and live entertainment at 5 p.m. The main event happens Saturday, with the gumbo cook-off and family activities, as well as live music from Dikki Du and the Zydeco Krewe.
Participants bring a variety of recipes, each with its own unique spin and a variety of secret ingredients, with most repeat participants bringing a new offering each year. In years past, competitors reported beginning the cooking process on Thursday prior to the event and bringing 50 gallons of gumbo to share. Visitors can sample a wide variety of gumbos and vote for their favorite as the “People’s Choice” winner. And, back by popular demand after its introduction last year, the event includes the Best Bloody Marys at the Beach competition, where connoisseurs can sample them all and vote for one participant to win the coveted title.
Celebrity judges will determine the gumbo winners in multiple categories, like Veteran’s Award, Best 1-5 Years, Best Non-Restaurant, Best Display, and Best New Participant. Last year’s People’s Choice award winners were Crab Island Cantina, Dewey Destin’s, and Slick Lips, with Crab Island Cantina also taking home the title of Best Bloody Mary at the Beach. This year, however, with a new round of competitors for 2020, the results could look very different.
The Sandestin Gumbo Festival, nicknamed Pursue the Roux, is a rain-or-shine family-friendly event, so pack your gear and make plans to join in the fun. The main event lasts from noon to 4 p.m. on Feb. 15, with award presentations beginning at 4. General admission tickets are available on the Sandestin Gumbo Festival website for $35 until Feb. 14. Ticket prices are $45 on the day of the event. This event could sell out, so grab your tickets now.
In preparation for the big event, try out this gumbo recipe from 98 Bar-B-Que, the 2nd-place veteran winner in 2013.
33 quarts water
2 cups olive oil
4 ounces shrimp or clam base
2½ cups all-purpose flour
½ cup chopped garlic
2 tablespoons cayenne pepper
1 pound chopped okra
2 tablespoons black pepper
1 cup diced onion
3 tablespoons salt
1 cup diced green pepper
2 tablespoons thyme
1 cup diced red pepper
7 tablespoons gumbo filé powder
1 cup diced celery
3 tablespoons blackening seasoning
½ cup chopped parsley
½ pound butter
½ cup chopped green onion
4 cups cooked rice
1 24-ounce) can diced tomatoes
3 lbs 26- to 30-count shrimp (peeled, tail off)
Heat water and shrimp/clam base in a large soup pot; bring it to boil and let it reduce.
While water is heating, pour oil into skillet about 1 inch from starting point and heat on medium. Once oil starts to warm, add flour with a whisk slowly; continue to mix until all lumps are dissolved. Mix the flour and oil mixture (roux) about every 10 minutes until it browns and begins to have a nutty aroma.
Once the stock has reduced, add garlic, okra, peppers, onions, and celery; then add tomatoes. Bring back to a boil and then simmer. (Remember to stir the roux.) Add gumbo filé and shrimp.
Reduce the heat to low and slowly add the roux to the stock mixture with a whisk. Add as little or as much roux as you like to make it thinner or thicker. Add spices, mix well and add butter.
Serve gumbo over cooked rice and garnish with chopped parsley and green onion.