Étouffée or etouffee (pronounced: ay-TOO-fay) is a dish found in both Cajun and Creole cuisine typically served with shellfish over rice. It is most popular in New Orleans and in the bayou country of the southernmost half of Louisiana.
In French, the word “étouffée” (borrowed into English as “stuffed” or “stifled”) means, literally, “smothered” or “suffocated”, from the verb “étouffer”. In Louisiana, to “smother” food means to simmer it in a small amount of liquid (usually with lots of seasonings and spices added) to create a gravy or sauce that is served over rice. The usual staple of an étouffée is seafood such as crawfish, shrimp, or crabmeat.
The base of an étouffée is a dark roux which should be dark brown in color, but not burned; like liquid chocolate. As in many Louisiana dishes, onions, green peppers and celery (a combination often referred to as the holy trinity) are added to the roux.
In Cajun country, a roux takes approximately 30–45 minutes to make properly on a gas stove. Roux is typically made with equal portions of liquid lard, grease, or oil along with white flour (sometimes a 2 to 1 ratio oil to flour is used). Some Cajun cooks skip the flour and simply cook down onions in butter. According to Paul Prudhomme, a roux used to make étouffée requires the use of vegetable oil rather than butter. It is difficult to make such a dark roux without burning the butter, though it is possible with the use of clarified butter. Chef John Folse uses a blonde roux and notes that many people use only onions and butter as the base. Such is the variety of all types of Cajun food, and people of south Louisiana (Cajun and non-Cajun alike) can get into spirited debates over the issue of whether to use a roux in étouffée.
Crawfish (or Shrimp) Etoufée
1 tsp salt
½ tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp white pepper
1 tsp dried basil
½ tsp dried thyme
¼ cup onions, chopped
¼ cup celery, chopped
¼ cup green bell pepper, chopped
7 Tbs vegetable oil
¾ cup flour
3 cups, in all, seafood stock (see recipe below)
1 stick unsalted butter, in all
2 lbs peeled crawfish tails or medium shrimp
1 cup green onions, very finely chopped
4 cups cooked rice
Thoroughly combine the seasoning mix ingredients in a small bowl and set aside. In a separate bowl combine the onions, celery and bell peppers.
In a large heavy skillet (preferably cast iron), heat the oil over high heat until it begins to smoke, about 4 minutes. With a long-handled metal whisk, gradually mix in the flour, stirring until smooth. Continue cooking, whisking constantly, until roux is dark red-brown, about 3 to 5 minutes (be careful not to let it scorch in the pan or splash on your skin). Remove from heat and immediately stir in the vegetables and 1 tablespoon of the seasoning mix with a wooden spoon; continue stirring until cooled, about 5 minutes.
In a 2-quart saucepan bring 2 cups of the stock to a boil over high heat. Gradually add the roux and whisk until thoroughly dissolved. Reduce heat to low and cook until flour taste is gone, about 2 minutes, whisking almost constantly (if any of the mixture scorches, don’t continue to scrape that part of the pan bottom). Remove from heat and set aside.
Heat the serving plates in a 250°F oven.
In a 4-quart saucepan melt 1 stick of the butter over medium heat. Stir in the crawfish (or shrimp) and the green onions; sauté about 1 minute, stirring almost constantly. Add the remaining stick of butter, the stock mixture and the remaining 1 cup stock; cook until butter melts and is mixed into the sauce, about 4 to 6 minutes, constantly shaking the pan in a back-and-forth motion (versus stirring). Add the remaining seasoning mix; stir well and remove from heat (if sauce starts separating, add about 2 tablespoons more of stock or water and shake pan until it combines).
To serve, mound ½ cup rice on a heated plate. Surround the rice with ¾ cup of the ettoufée.
Basic Seafood Stock
To make 1 quart of Basic Stock
About 2 quarts cold water
Vegetable trimmings from the recipe(s) you are serving,
1 medium onion, unpeeled and quartered
1 large clove garlic, unpeeled and quartered
1 rib celery
1½ to 2 lbs rinsed shrimp heads and/or shells, or crawfish heads and/or shells, or crab shells (2½ to 3 qts), or rinsed fish carcasses (heads and gills removed), or any combination of these.
Always start with cold water—enough to cover the other stock ingredients. Place all ingredients in a stock pot or a large saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat, then gently simmer at least 4 hours, preferably 8 (unless directed otherwise in a recipe), replenishing the water as needed to keep about 1 quart of liquid in the pan. The pot may be uncovered or set a lid on it askew. Strain, cool and refrigerate until ready to use.
(Note: Remember that if you are short on time, using a stock simmered 20 to 30 minutes is far better than using just water in any recipe.)