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IF IT’S CHRISTMAS, it must be gumbo. That’s the tradition in our house, where my husband (who shares a birthday with a certain savior) serves up his Northwest take on a Southern favorite — a recipe perfected over many years.

I’m gonzo for his glorious stew and share the recipe today as my gift to you.

Mac’s Christmas Gumbo

Serves 8

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1 pound shell-on Gulf prawns

6 cups vegetable stock

1 large smoked ham hock (or shank)

Vegetable oil (for frying)

1 pound andouille sausage links, sliced into ½-inch rounds

8 chicken thighs, skin on and bone-in

1 large yellow onion, diced

1 large green bell pepper, diced

4 celery stalks, with leaves, diced

¾ cup all-purpose flour

½ cup vegetable oil mixed with ¼ cup peanut oil

1½ teaspoons ground cayenne pepper

1½ teaspoons sweet paprika

1 teaspoon kosher salt

¼ teaspoon ground white pepper

½ teaspoon ground black pepper

½ teaspoon dried thyme

½ teaspoon dried oregano

2 bay leaves, crumbled

2 garlic cloves, chopped

3 tablespoons file powder

For garnish

½ pound fresh Dungeness crabmeat

½ cup sliced green onions

4 cups cooked rice

1. To prepare the stock: Peel the shrimp and refrigerate, reserving the shells. Tie shells in cheesecloth.

2. In a large stockpot, bring the vegetable broth, shrimp shells and ham hock to a simmer. Cook for 15 minutes, cover and keep warm.

3. In a large pan coated with vegetable oil, lightly fry the andouille over medium-low heat until its fat begins to render. Remove andouille with a slotted spoon, leaving the oil in the pan.

4. Add enough vegetable oil to have about ¼-inch in the pan and increase heat slightly. Add the chicken and brown on both sides. (You may need to do this in batches.) Remove the chicken to a platter, draining all but 2 tablespoons of oil (leave the crusty chicken-bits in the pan). Add the yellow onion, green pepper and celery and sauté until the onions look transparent. Set aside.

5. To make the roux: In a 7-quart Dutch oven (or other large, heavy-bottomed pot) heat the vegetable/peanut oil until hot but not smoking. Add the flour a heaping tablespoon at a time, stirring continuously with a wooden spoon as the roux turns from blonde to light brown to dark brown. In order to achieve the right hue, you may have to turn up the heat. This process may take 15-30 minutes, depending on your stove, your cookware and your nerve. The roux will smell progressively toastier as it browns. Turn on your exhaust fan, keep stirring and keep your eyes on the prize: do not burn it!

6. Decrease heat to low, and quickly and carefully add the sauteed vegetables to the hot roux, one half at a time. Stir in the cayenne, paprika, salt, white and black pepper, thyme, oregano, bay leaves and garlic.

7. Remove the ham hock from the stock and reserve it, discard the shrimp shells, then slowly, one ladle at a time, stir the warm stock into the vegetable mixture. Stir in the file. The gumbo may begin to look “stringy,” that’s OK. Add the andouille and the thighs to the pot, then dice and add the meat from the reserved ham hock. Cook over low heat for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. (The gumbo may be refrigerated overnight, and actually benefits from it.)

8. To serve: Add the shrimp to the hot gumbo and cook until tender (about 5 minutes). Garnish each bowl with a big spoonful of crabmeat, a sprinkling of green onions and a scoop of rice.

Nancy Leson is The Seattle Times’ food writer. Reach her at Genevieve Alvarez is a Times staff videographer.

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