Even though I grew up in New Jersey, and my mother is from New England, I still think Louisiana has the best food in America.
Every time I cook Cajun or Creole I’m in awe of the balance and strength in the cooking there; it’s one of the few places in the United States with a long-standing cuisine all its own.
This dish, étouffée, is one of that cuisine’s crown jewels.
Étouffée basically means “smothered,” and it is a common cooking technique in the South; a fricassee is the same deal. You make a flavorful sauce and cook a meat or fish in it, not so long as a braise or stew, and not so short as a sauté.
Shrimp étouffée brings together all of the hallmarks of Louisiana cooking: Seafood (help our own shrimpers by making sure you use Gulf shrimp for your etouffee), a flour-and-oil roux, the “Holy Trinity” of onion, celery and green pepper, traditional Cajun seasoning and hot sauce.
Debates rage over whether etouffee ought to have a roux in it, whether you can use more than one seafood (wouldn’t that be a gumbo, then?), and whether to use tomato or not. We went with a roux, one seafood, Tabasco, and no tomato. You can alter this recipe to suit your own preferences.
You’ll note the long prep time in this recipe—that is mostly for peeling the shrimp shells for the stock and then for simmering that stock. If you use canned or pre-made stock, your prep time will go down to about 20 minutes.
You can use shrimp, crawfish or crab for this recipe interchangeably.
Optional Shrimp Stock:
- Shells from 2 pounds of shrimp
- 1/2 large onion, chopped
- top and bottom from 1 green pepper
- 2 garlic cloves, chopped
- 1 celery stalk, chopped
- 5 bay leaves
- 2 pounds shrimp, shell on (remove shells for use in the shrimp stock, if not making your own stock, you can get shrimp already shelled)
- 1/4 cup vegetable oil or lard
- Heaping 1/4 cup flour
- 1/2 large onion, chopped
- 1 bell pepper, chopped
- 1-2 jalapeno peppers, chopped
- 1 large celery stalk, chopped
- 4 garlic cloves, chopped
- 1 pint shrimp stock (see above), or clam juice or pre-made fish or shellfish stock
- 1 Tbsp Cajun seasoning
- 1/2 teaspoon celery seed
- 1 Tbsp sweet paprika
- 3 green onions, chopped
- Hot sauce (Crystal or Tabasco) to taste
1 Pour 2 quarts of water into a pot and add all the remaining stock ingredients. Bring to a boil, drop the heat down and simmer the stock gently for 45 minutes. Strain through a fine-meshed sieve into another pot set over low heat. You will have extra stock, which you can use for soup, risotto, etc. It will last in the fridge for a week.
2 To make the etouffee, start by making a roux. Heat the vegetable oil or lard in a heavy pot over medium heat for 1-2 minutes. Stir in the flour well, making sure there no clumps. Let this cook, stirring often, until it turns a pretty brown; this should take about 10 minutes or so.
3 Add the celery, green pepper, jalapeño and onion, mix well and cook this over medium heat for 4 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the garlic and cook another 2 minutes.
4 Slowly add the hot shrimp stock, stirring constantly so it incorporates. The roux will absorb the stock and seize up at first, then it will loosen. Add enough stock to make a sauce about the thickness of syrup, about 1 pint.
Add the Cajun seasoning, celery seed and paprika and mix well. Add salt to taste, then mix in the shrimp. Cover the pot, turn the heat to its lowest setting and cook for 10 minutes.
5 Add the green onions and hot sauce to taste. Serve over white rice with a cold beer or lemonade.